Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Author: Matt Buxton

Sep 27th, 2016

FAIRBANKS — Last fall’s test of a larger trailer for natural gas was a success for the Interior’s natural gas utility, and there will soon be more on the road.

Fairbanks Natural Gas tested a one-of-a-kind 53-foot, five-axle, 13,000-gallon capacity liquefied natural gas trailer during the winter, seeing if it would fit into the company’s fleet. CEO Dan Britton said in an interview with the News-Miner that it did and that the company purchased it and ordered three more.

“It’s been working out well, and we purchased the one unit that was in the pilot project, and we have three additional on order,” he said. “Any time you can increase your capacity and haul more product with the same transport unit, as long as the capital is not too much greater, it can make sense and reduce the variable cost of moving LNG by truck.”

The trailer can hold about 30 percent more than traditional LNG trailers. The one that was used in the pilot project was built in a partnership by manufacturers Tennessee-based Heil Trailer and Washington-based Western Cascade Trucking Equipment with Alaska in mind.

When the new trailers are added to the trucking fleet next summer, Britton said it won’t necessarily make more gas available, but said it’ll mean fewer trucks will be needed on the road.

“It makes the shipment more efficient,” he said, adding that right now the system needs more LNG. “We need more LNG production supply. Ultimately that’s the first step to making more consumer use. We actually have plenty of transportation capacity right now and after we get more production supply, storage is the next part of the equation.”

Fairbanks Natural Gas serves about 1,100 customers with natural gas trucked north from Cook Inlet to Fairbanks.

The state and Interior utilities are working on a partnership with a private company to build a new, larger processing facility in Cook Inlet. It was the topic of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board meeting last week, but negotiations are continuing.

The Alaska Railroad is also positioning itself as a potential shipper of natural gas. Last week, it launched a demonstration project with two intermodal LNG tankers, which will mark the first time LNG has ever been shipped by rail anywhere in the country.

Those 40-foot tankers can be taken from the railway, loaded on a flatbed truck or put on a barge to be transferred from place to place.

Britton said he doesn’t see the purchase of the new trucks conflicting with the Alaska Railroad’s work. Transporting gas by railway is still unproven economically, which is part of what the demonstration project seeks to determine.

“I believe if the rail works out, there will be a period of time that a combination of truck and rail would be used,” he said. “It is also a good idea to have a backup plan if there were to be any problems on the rail.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or mbuxton@newsminer.com.