Does Natural Gas Make Sense for Freight? Environmental and Resource Implications of the “Pickens Plan”

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Primary Investigator

Paul Meier
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1500 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706


In the two years since the “Pickens Plan” was introduced by American financier T. Boone Pickens, the plan to reduce foreign oil has become one of the most talked about U.S. energy plans in history. A major component of the plan is its recommended use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for heavy-duty trucks, a technology choice with a range of benefits and potential problems. CNG-powered freight is a technically feasible alternative to diesel, and one of few near-term strategies for reducing carbon emissions and health- damaging air pollution from this important economic sector. However, the same characteristics that make natural gas (NG) an attractive “clean” fossil fuel for the freight sector also drive NG interest in the electricity sector, especially as a substitute for coal- burning power plants. We propose to examine the cost and environmental benefits of CNG- powered freight and compare against expanded NG use in the electricity sector. Our analysis will take into account both carbon emissions and air quality impacts, as well as supply, cost, and safety. Results from this study could inform national, regional, and local decision-making on truck technology – especially near major ports and in other areas exceeding federal air pollution limits.


We aim to evaluate whether natural gas powered freight transport makes sense as a cost-effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, meet air quality objectives and allocate this valuable domestic fossil fuel.


  1. Develop three NG usage scenarios: a) Reference case; b) high-NG in freight sector; c) high-NG in electricity sector.
  2. Calculate fuel use and emissions for the high-NG scenarios relative to the reference case scenario.
  3. Calculate costs associated with fuel use under a range of NG price assumptions, freight vehicle conversion, and relative changes to electricity cost.
  4. Evaluate changes in ground-level air quality for NG scenarios.
  5. Report and discuss the cost-benefit comparison.

Project Information

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Dates: July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011
  • Budget: $75,000
  • Student Involvement: One graduate student
  • Modal Orientation: Highway
  • Project ID: CFIRE 04-22
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