Demand for gas-powered trucks more than doubled last year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and could triple this year as operators and their customers ramp up efforts to meet net zero targets, according to industry experts.

Phillip Fjeld, chief executive of CNG Fuels, which develops and operates CNG refuelling stations, said the company had seen “mad growth” in the first three months of this year, after a record year in 2020.

He predicts that the number of CNG trucks will rise from around 500 to up to 1,500 this year and double again in 2022.

He added: “There are a lot of fleets out there saying they are done with diesel.”

Matthew Hunt, Gasrec key account director, estimates a current total of around 1,100 CNG and LNG trucks on UK roads.

Gasrec operates six LNG refuelling stations and three offering both LNG and CNG. Hunt said: “Last year we saw a 200% growth on 2019. Currently we are filling 700 trucks a day, compared to 250 at the start of last year. Covid slowed the demand a little in 2020 but this year everyone is keen to reduce their carbon footprint. I think demand will double again this year.”

He added: “The fact that truck manufacturers are now producing gas-powered trucks has given the market confidence to drive these trucks.”

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Fjeld said three main factors were driving growth. “Customers want to demonstrate their green logistics credentials. Cutting fuel consumption by 2% using telematics just isn’t good enough anymore.”

He added: “Green logistics is increasingly becoming the norm in a number of industries, such as food retailers. Thirdly, there is a general and growing focus on greening the economy and meeting net zero targets.”

Both firms are boosting their infrastructure roll out to meet demand. Fjeld said CNG Fuels is “going into overdrive” building new CNG fuelling stations. It currently runs six public access stations and plans to open 14 public access stations over the next two years as part of an £80m programme.

Similarly Gasrec recently opened a refuelling station for Gregory Distribution at Cullompton in Devon, another at Boroughbridge for Reed Boardall and plans to open further three by mid-year.

However, both firms said delivering infrastructure has its challenges. Fjeld said: “What often holds us back is the planning process which has become even slower during the pandemic.”

Hunt added: “There is a lack of infrastructure. You can get a truck quicker than you can a station. It takes nine months to get a station – we can supply one on a temporary basis quicker than that, but operators do need to plan ahead.”