Caterpillar: The largest chicken on the planet

Chicken-and-egg situations are what you can expect to hear at conferences in any way connected to the use of natural gas.

It’s a chicken-and-egg problem and how do we address the situation correct? This is what we have been waiting for, someone else will pronounce, the answer to our chicken-and-egg conundrum.

The High Horsepower Summit 2012 in Houston, the first conference focused on natural gas for high-horsepower applications, was no different, with speakers last week tackling head on the overused metaphor representing the biggest challenge facing gas use in the United States.

What would come first, experts said, more engines to use natural gas or plants and distribution networks to supply users?

“I think that debate’s over,” declared Joel Feucht, director of gas engine strategy for Caterpillar’s energy and power systems division. “I think the largest chicken on the planet just answered that question.”

The remark drew laughs from the crowd at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, but Feucht was attempting to draw a line in the sand.

Caterpillar, he said, was committed to building natural gas-powered engines for the most fuel intensive uses, like mining trucks and oil field pressure pumps.

“There’s a huge economic incentive to move to gas,” Feucht said. “That’s the real story.”

But Feucht’s attempts to respond to concerns about natural gas today came along with the fact that much of the infrastructure and products to support gas use is still years away.

New natural gas high-horsepower engines announced by Caterpillar are likely at least two years away, company representatives said.

And while natural gas suppliers and storage companies said they were ready to expand delivery infrastructure, many acknowledged it was still a struggle that came down to chickens and eggs.

The solution will start with collaboration with companies that actually produce gas, said Richard Heckmann, CEO of environmental solutions firm Heckmann Corp., which transports water in oil fields.

“I think producers in this business are the perfect place to solve the chicken and the egg,” Heckmann said.