For decades the only option available for the trucker was a diesel fueled truck.  This meant that they were stuck paying the high prices for diesel and there were very few options to keep that cost down.  However, there have been vast improvements in the natural gas engine industry.  These improvements have opened up a whole new market for those who want to run their truck with natural gas.  The problem now, however, is that there are benefits to both types of trucks.  So which one should you choose?

Costs of natural gas

The biggest draw to using a natural gas truck is the operating costs.  Now it is hard to compare a gallon of natural gas to a gallon of diesel fuel because the two are vastly different.  However, when you account for the energy output, natural gas comes out far ahead.  To get the same amount of energy from diesel as you do natural gas, you have to spend an additional $1.60 or so.  Natural gas is the clear winner when it comes to operating costs.

Natural Gas and Diesel

Efficiency of natural gas

The problem arises, however, that natural gas isn’t quite as efficient as diesel.  Despite the savings, trucks that operate with natural gas must allocate more space for the larger tank.  More space and weight has to be sacrificed from somewhere, and often it means the truck can’t travel quite as far because it needs to stop and fill up more often.  That can be a problem since natural gas stations are currently few and far between (depending on the state).  Diesel is the winner for traveling further between fill ups.

Forms of natural gas

Part of that size and weight problem can be worked around by choosing a different form of natural gas.  Natural gas trucks operate on one of two forms of gas: compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG).  While CNG is cheaper and more readily available (check out for stations and costs), it requires more space and weighs more than LNG.  LNG is still cheaper than diesel, and you can fit more LNG into a smaller space than CNG, but you pay a premium for it.  If you are considering LNG you will also want to be aware that it must be kept in cryogenic form which makes it a little more of a hassle.  

Cost of the truck

With all of the advantages of driving a natural gas truck, why don’t we see more of them on the road?  The fact is that they are expensive.  A natural gas truck can add about a third to the cost of the rig; so if your average truck costs around $150,000, a natural gas truck will run closer to $200,000.  The savings will help offset that, but if you drive 60,000 miles per year, it will still take 3-4 years before you start seeing any real savings.

You might also want to check within your state because some offer incentives for purchasing a natural gas truck.  This could help even more to offset the cost.

How many miles will be driven

So the real issue comes down to how many miles you drive each year.  If you are driving 100,000 or more, then the costs of running a natural gas truck will offset the higher purchase price much faster than if you are running fewer miles.  Obviously the proximity of filling stations to your route will have a huge impact on whether it is even feasible to run one of these trucks.

Wrapping it up

The bottom line is that it all depends on how many miles you are driving, if you can afford the higher purchase price, and if you live and drive close enough to filling stations.  But since natural gas is cleaner burning than diesel, you will be doing the environment a favor to drive a natural gas truck.  Since the engines run quieter, you will be doing your neighbors a favor.  And since it is cheaper to operate, you will be doing your wallet a favor.
Would you switch to running natural gas?

Comments (4)

Sean Bryant

Sean is a graduate of the University of Iowa where he received a Bachelor's of Arts degree in economics. After beginning his career in banking, he found his love for marketing. Before arriving at ATBS in 2014 he spent time working for two different technology startups as well as his own freelance marketing company.


This is a great article! After reading a few comments, I think I have made my decision. Fairbanks gets extremely cold in the winter. If Diesel is the more powerful of the two in cold weather and it can go longer distances I think that is my choice. Are there any downsides to diesel though?

June 08, 2015 9:30:55 AM

Very informative and to add also if a company decides to run CNG and doesn't train their drivers the differences it could also cost more in repairs and also driving habits would need to be addressed also seeing as how the CNG isn't as advanced as the diesel market is today but it will get there in time.

January 28, 2015 11:30:26 AM

Weather can also be a factor. CNG is definitely improving, but extreme cold can cause issues.

January 15, 2015 15:06:41 PM

Great overview of the considerations and options when considering natural gas vs diesel. This article is well written and informative.

But don't forget other considerations and challenges such as engine B50 life (natural gas vs diesel), ongoing maintenance (i.e. spark plug and filter changes), necessary shop modifications to service NG trucks), tech training, truck resale value, and the time it takes to refuel a truck.. NG vehicles make sense for certain applications and in certain areas of the country. They may, however, require such a huge change in a fleet's business model that careful consideration must be given to factors other than just the lower cost of the fuel.

January 15, 2015 13:07:21 PM