All along the millions of miles of highways that crisscross North America, wheels are in motion to remake the truck stop. Signs rise like palm trees from these oases for thirsty big rigs, shouting out $4-a-gallon diesel fuel. But this year will mark the first major deployment of service stations adapted to new energy realities; they’ll offer 18-wheelers a place to pull in for a fill-up with natural gas.
Thanks largely to the hydraulic fracturing boom in the United States, it would be far cheaper today to run those heavy trucks on natural gas than dieselâ€”and potentially cleaner, too. Those rumbling rigs are the fastest-growing contributors to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Widespread use of cleaner-burning natural gas is a step that could address climate change, although the environmental impact is complex and still under study.
There’s no question that the trucking industry would present an enormous new market for natural gas: Heavy-duty trucks account for more than one-tenth of all U.S. oil consumption.
But there’s at least one big stumbling block on the road to natural gas trucks: In most places, there’s nowhere to fill up.