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CNG vs.

LNG for Heavy Duty Trucks:


Which One is Right for Your Fleet?
Speaking to fleets and truck dealers on a regular basis, it has become clear there is a large amount
of confusion as to which form of natural gas is superior. Both Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) are worthy fuels if you are need to improve your profitability
and increase your competitive advantage by moving to a lower cost fuel. I will spoil the surprise
by telling you upfront that neither of one of these is superior to the other. They are simply
different, and different fleet operations have different priorities. Most natural gas fuel providers
have only invested in one technology or the other. For example, Trillium specializes in CNG
stations, and will tell you CNG is vastly superior. If you talk to Shell, they will likely pitch you
on the benefits of LNG. People sell what they know, and very few fuelling companies in the
industry (with the exception of Clean Energy) do both. This creates a good amount of confusion
for fleets trying to determine the best fit. So what should you do? Simply evaluate your fleet
priorities based on the information below and you can quickly decipher which fuel is best suited
your needs.

1. Introduction to CNG & LNG

Let's start with the basics. CNG and LNG are the same fuel, but stored in a different physical
form on board your truck. CNG is a gaseous fuel that is lighter than air. CNG stations tap into the
local gas utility lines and compress the gas up to 3,600 pounds per square inch (psi). It is then
dispensed into vehicles and stored in a high pressure storage cylinder that looks like this:

On tractor units, the CNG tanks are typically mounted on the frame rails, behind the cab, or a
combination of the two, as seen below:

A Freightliner Cascadia powered by a 12L Cummins engine and equipped with an Agility Fuel Systems CNG storage

system mounted behind the cab and on the frame rails

LNG is the same fuel, but it is stored in a cryogenic form. At approximately -260 F, natural gas
turns into a colourless, odourless liquid fuel. It is produced at an industrial processing facility and
then trucked to the fuelling station where it is stored as a liquid. It is dispensed into vehicles at as
a cryogenic liquid.
2. Fuel Cost

CNG is almost always going to be less expensive than LNG. This is primarily due to the lack of
transportation costs to get the fuel to the station. The CNG distribution system is already in place
via our nation's natural gas pipeline system. This is not the case with LNG. LNG must be trucked
into the station and is therefore costlier. Costs can vary depending on where you are getting the
fuel (onsite vs. retail station). In general, you can expect to pay around $2.20 for a Diesel Gallon
Equivalent (DGE) of CNG and closer to $2.50 for a DGE of LNG. Both fuels provide significant
savings compared to diesel fuel, but CNG is typically going to be even more affordable.

3. Fuelling Experience: Heat of Compression vs. Boil Off

The fuelling experience is a bit different with each fuel. CNG is very similar to fuelling with
gasoline and diesel fuel. It requires no special protective gear and minimal training. There are
two types of CNG stations, time-fill and fast-fill. CNG stations designed for trucking
applications tend to be fast-fill, and they have a unique problem known as heat of compression.
Heat of compression means that compressed gas shot into the fuel tanks at a high rate gets very
hot. The CNG tanks account for this heat by allowing room in the fuel tanks for the gas to expand
as it cools. This means if you are carrying 100 DGEs of fuel, you will likely only get about 80
usable gallons of fuel onto the vehicle. The problem is worse on a hot day and less noticeable in
cold weather. This leads to a need to increase your fuel storage on-board the vehicle. I will
discuss the impacts of that below in the weight section.

LNG is cryogenic liquid and therefore requires a bit more training as well as protective eye wear
and gloves (see below). This may be a consideration if your fleet already has dedicated fuelling
personnel. This is not rocket science, it's just basic safety. Keep in mind diesel fuel is also highly
toxic -- we are just used to diesel as a fuel because it is so prevalent. No fuel is safe enough to
bathe in, except maybe solar.

LNG is not compressed, and therefore it has no issues with heat of compression. Instead, it gets it
own special issue -- boil off. LNG is stored at -260 F and has a natural tendency to heat up. As it
heats up, it begins to boil in the tank and will eventually vent off. If you leave a fully fuelled
LNG vehicle in Las Vegas in the summer for two weeks, you will lose about 5% of your fuel. In
practice this is rarely a major problem. You don't normally fuel your trucks so you can leave them
idle for two weeks. Your fleet is your workhorse, and if you're reading this article, you probably
use your workhorses for a specific job. If you a fuelling your truck every day or two, you will not
notice any major boil off issues.

4. Fuel Economy

Regardless of how you are storing the fuel (CNG vs. LNG), once the fuel hits the engine, it is a
gaseous fuel. Speaking specifically about the current Cummins 12 L gas engine, fuel economy is
going to be a bit lower when compared to a current diesel engine. On a DGE basis, you can
expect to see a 5-20% loss in fuel economy with natural gas in general. This is true with both
CNG and LNG trucks. This impacts the final economics of the program, but it is typically not a
deal killer. As always, transmission choice, driver training, gearing, etc. will heavily impact the
final fuel economy. You need to monitor drivers and attempt to improve this in the same way you
do with your diesel fleet. You don't get a free pass just to ignore these details just because you are
now using an alternative fuel.

5. Weight, Range & Incremental Truck Price

The primary driver of the choice between CNG and LNG comes down to weight and range. You
can simplify this entire evaluation by asking yourself this one question:

How sensitive is your operation to weight and how far do you need to go before refuelling?

Lets start with CNG. CNG cylinders are very safe and very strong due to their pressure
requirements, but these attributes come with one downside: weight. Despite numerous advances
in material sciences, CNG fuel systems continue to add significant weight to the truck when
compared to a traditional diesel vehicle. You get to delete the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and
the Diesel Emission Fluid (DEF) system on the truck (which your maintenance team will
love). However, if you add 80 DGEs of CNG storage, you can expect to add at least 1,000 lbs of
weight.

Work closely with your dealer and the fuel tank manufacturer to get the exact weight difference
between the diesel and CNG platform. If your trucks have a shorter route and you only need 60
DGEs of fuel to get through the day, this may not be a major issue. If that is the case, then CNG
is most likely the best fit. This is also good time to right-size your fuel storage spec. Most fleets
these days carry WAY too much fuel. I think this is a basic driver / range anxiety concern. Are
you burning 50 gallons / day and carrying 100? Why? Don't carry fuel you don't need. You
obviously want a buffer, but be realistic. Take this opportunity to actually determine the correct
fuel storage spec. You will need to make sure your account for the heat of compression factor we
discussed above. If you are burning 50 gallons a day and will be using a fast-fill CNG station, a
spec of 70-80 DGEs is very reasonable.

This leads us to the final factor: incremental truck cost. Natural gas trucks carry a premium over
diesel units. The vast majority of the incremental cost of a CNG truck is due to the fuel tanks.
They are expensive. A 100 DGE fuel storage system can easily add $70,000 to the truck
price. So again, make sure you have the right fuel spec nailed down. If you have shorter routes,
and right-size the fuel storage spec, you should see a payback period somewhere between 2-3
years. Conversely, if you need 1,000 miles of range before refuelling, you CAN do this with
CNG, but is it cost effective? There are CNG storage systems well above 200 DGE available
now. But this will obviously add a lot of weight and a LOT of cost. So if you find yourself
looking at that option, it may be time to shift over to an LNG evaluation.

LNG storage tanks are essentially highly insulated diesel tanks. Fully loaded, they will weigh
less than a comparable CNG system. They will also cost less in higher storage specs. For
example, a 100 DGE storage system might be a $70,000 premium with CNG, but only $40,000
with an LNG system. So you get the same basic range, with a lower incremental cost and a lower
weight penalty. This may be worth the slightly higher fuel price of LNG. If you are extremely
weight sensitive AND you have a long range route, LNG is worth a look. This why you see rail,
mining, and marine vessels all going to LNG. They all have extreme range requirements and are
incredibly sensitive to weight limits.

Summary & Resources

I know this is a lot of information, but don't make it too complicated. Trucking firms and logistics
providers no longer have the option of simply ignoring this transition. If your competition reduces
their fuel cost by 40% and you do not, you lose and they win. Period.

If you have shorter routes and are not ultra-weight sensitive, CNG is most likely going to be a
better fit. Trash trucks, for example, are almost always CNG because they typically have short
routes. CNG works well in this application and quickly improves profitability. If you are running
long routes and max out the weight each and every time, LNG needs to be in your evaluation. A
good example might be a sand and gravel hauler running a 700 mile round trip before refuelling.
This is probably a good fit for LNG. I recommend starting with a CNG evaluation and
determining if you would need to run additional routes to move the same amount of product. If
you do, then take a look at LNG and see if you can do it without additional routes. Put your
dealers to work for you and have them work up costs and weight comparisons on both options.
Then put your fuel partners to work and take a look at fuelling locations already available +
onsite fuelling options. You can typically justify a new fuelling location with 25 trucks phased in
over five years.

For payback, below are links to both a simple payback on the incremental truck cost, as well as a
much more advanced calculator that allows you to input the weight of the tractor and trailer.

Simple Payback Calculator

Advanced Payback Calculator


The Alt Fuels Data Centre is a great resource that can show you station locations, as well as
financial incentives that may be available in your State. For example, Colorado has a $20,000 tax
credit for heavy trucks natural gas trucks, as well as a grant that can supply an additional $22,000
per truck. ($42,000 per unit!) They also have a 1,000 lb weight exemption for natural gas trucks,
making CNG a VERY attractive option. Many other States such as Texas and Pennsylvania also
have vehicle incentives currently available for natural gas truck purchases.

Alt Fuels Data Centre Fuelling Locations

Alt Fuels Data Centre Incentives By State