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OM in the News: Fill ‘Er Up…With Natural Gas

May 23, 2013
LNG pump at Blu filling station in Salt Lake City

LNG pump at Blu filling station in Salt Lake City

If you drive down I-15 in Beaver, Utah, you’ll see a 30-foot-tall silo with white letters that spell out “Blu.” Next to it is a truck stop. It is no ordinary truck stop. The silo contains liquefied natural gas (LNG) chilled to -200° F and ready to fuel specially outfitted 18-wheelers. The facility is owned by Blu Transfuels, which expects to build 50 natural-gas filling stations nationwide this year, according to Fortune (May 20, 2013).

Drawn to the vast potential of America’s fracking boom, Blu plans to convert natural gas into a liquefied form and use it to power the country’s fleet of 8 million heavy and medium-weight trucks, which account for 15% of U.S. oil consumption. The company’s partner, ENN, already operates 238 natural-gas stations in 59 cities in China. Blu’s VP of sales says, “LNG will allow our transportation fleet to save money and at the same time reduce its carbon footprint by 25%.”

Blu is not alone. Clean Energy, a company backed by T. Boone Pickens, says that it will have about 150 natural-gas stations in 33 states by year-end. Shell’s first LNG station opened in April in western Canada. Shell’s president says, “LNG has the potential to transform the transportation sector in a big way.”

The new LNG trucks should cost only $30,000 to $40,000 more than diesels. Given that a typical 18-wheeler travels 100,000 miles a year at 5 mpg and that LNG is about $1 to $1.50 a gallon cheaper than diesel, a driver can save as much as $30,000 a year in fuel — a one-year payback. Many trucking companies lock in their fuel costs for five years, which would provide a total savings of $120,000 over the life of the contract.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is LNG a supply chain topic in operations?

2. What major US shippers have announced plans to convert to LNG-powered fleets?

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Supply Chain Management Research

Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

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