|Mercedes Benz Natural Gas Semi|
Buyers of these natural-gas trucks have received government subsidies that have helped defray the higher purchase price. According to Clean Energy Fuels Corporation., an installer of natural-gas fueling stations that is partly owned by billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, 15% of U.S. buses and trash trucks run on natural gas.
Trucks configured to burn natural gas cost more than trucks that run on diesel. They need modified engines and bigger and stronger fuel tanks. A trash truck that costs $200,000 outfitted for diesel costs only another $10,000—or 5% more— equipped for natural gas, according to some estimates.
Today, only about 4% of Republic's 14,700 trucks nationwide run on natural gas.
Long-haul trucks present a bigger challenge. In the U.S., they consume about 10 times as much diesel as trash trucks and buses combined. The biggest guzzlers are 18-wheelers, which average six miles per gallon. Some 225,000 were sold in the U.S. last year, but many analysts expect that number to soar to 400,000 this year, as the economy improves. Fewer than 1,000 natural-gas 18-wheeler tractors have been sold in the U.S., industry experts say.
President Obama, 190 Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the natural-gas industry and major trucking firms are promoting a federal bill to broaden that transformation. Under the bill, a company like UPS that spent an extra $100,000 to buy a natural-gas truck would get an $80,000 tax credit.
Federal officials haven't yet officially estimated the bill's cost. But T. Boone Pickens estimates the taxpayer price tag would be about $5 billion over five years, for about 140,000 trucks and the necessary fueling stations. Mr. Pickens and his wife own 41% of Clean Energy Fuels, the installer of natural-gas-vehicle fueling stations. (WSJ, 5/11/2011)