Natural gas has become the fuel of choice for several large companies with vehicle fleets. Now, smaller firms are beginning to catch on to the trend, too.
With a little nudging, companies that don't have their own refueling stations are finding ways to start moving their goods and workers on natural gas.
"The fact that it's $2 a gallon cheaper makes it a no-brainer," said Mike Little, director of transportation for Bryan-based Mid South Baking, which delivers buns and other products to quick-serve restaurants across the South.
On an energy equivalent basis, diesel costs around $3.65 per gallon in Houston, compared with around $2.19 a gallon for natural gas, according to data from AAA and Houston-area natural gas stations. Natural gas has been more than $2 cheaper than diesel at times over the last two years.
Fuel savings that large have meant a lot for The Woodlands-based NewTexPlumbing, said William Collora, who owns the company.
"We can beat the competition with the savings we get on our trucks," Collora said. "We'll be more competitive than they will be, and that's the goal."
National giants including AT&T, UPS, Waste Management and Frito-Lay have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to buying natural gas vehicles. AT&T alone spent $350 million by the end of last year for a fleet of more than 8,200 natural gas vehicles, according to the company.
While big business has been able to invest in building refueling stations and buying vehicles that can benefit from the deep price discounts for natural gas, the option hasn't been as accessible for smaller companies and consumers.
Now, as more natural gas refueling stations are beginning to sprout up in Texas and around the country, the fuel is catching more interest from companies of all sizes.
The number of publicly accessible compressed natural gas refueling stations has jumped by about a third nationwide since 2012, to 664 stations, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Most fleets run on compressed natural gas. Some long-haul trucks use liquefied natural gas, which is more expensive but also more dense, enabling trucks to carry more of the fuel.
As early adopters begin enjoying the benefits of natural gas, other companies may follow suit, said Mark Gamber, a Houston account manager for Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which owns refueling stations nationwide.
"It's the whole snowball effect," Gamber said. "As a fleet starts to do it, their competitors see that they're doing it and they look at why they are doing it."