China has been investing in liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel for a new generation of its highway trucks. The technology is likely to come to the United States, since LNG is much cheaper and more available than petroleum-derived fuels, like conventional diesel. Since the availability of oil is expected to fall over the coming decades as the demand for fuel rises, alternative fuels are only likely to get more attractive.
But is LNG really the way to go?
Natural gas is often presented as a “greener,” more carbon-friendly energy source. That is at least partially true; natural gas is mostly methane, which has fewer carbon atoms per hydrogen atoms than any other fossil fuel—meaning that it produces less carbon dioxide per unit of heat when burned. But using natural gas almost always allows some gas to leak out unburned, and methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is. Harvesting natural gas, often through fracking, causes its own environmental problems.
Ultimately, LNG is probably better, both environmentally and financially, than conventional diesel. But, it still carries a real environmental cost. Whether it makes sense to invest in any new technology that is not truly carbon-neutral is controversial.
And no matter what fuels trucks use, it is obviously better, both financially and environmentally, to use less. To that end, there are steps carriers can take, whether or not they also take on LNG-burning truck engines.
Carriers that adopt GPS tracking software consistently see dramatic reductions in fuel use through three main channels:
- First, knowing where vehicles are in real-time helps fleet managers organize and dispatch more efficient routes. Less driving equals less fuel used.
- Second, tracking software makes it easy to identify and re-train those drivers who engage in inefficient driving behaviors, like speeding and excessive idling.
- Third, GPS tracking software makes it possible to actually monitor the performance of each truck engine in real-time and catch any developing mechanical problems early. When engines function well, the vehicles use less fuel.
Liquefied natural gas is, at best, a stop-gap, a bridge to a genuinely carbon-neutral future—one in which cargo transportation itself will probably have to be very different than what the U.S. knew in the 20th century. Using GPS tracking solutions to make either existing technology or alternative fuel—or flex-fuel trucks—as fuel-efficient as possible is both another bridge to cross, and more than a bridge- no matter how the transportation industry changes, efficiency will always be an advantage.