Natural gas: a fuel to consider

Natural gas: a fuel to consider

When compared to diesel or gasoline as a fuel for commercial vehicles, natural gas is cleaner burning, is domestically produced, is here for the long term and can save you money.

ks with diesel engines. Ryder’s Perry said, “We have introduced vehicles into our inventory that, aside from any subsidy or grant, have a price point 40% to 50% higher than an equivalent diesel-powered vehicle.” Such a situation would appear to make pay back a tough nut to crack, but, as we shall see, not an impossible one.
Clean Energy Fuels is currently building America’s Natural Gas Highway, which will deliver LNG to commercial vehicles across the country.
While there are other manufacturers working to deliver new natural gas engines to the marketplace, essentially all of the dedicated natural gas fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks and busses currently on our nation’s highways are powered by Cummins Westport engines. This joint venture was formed over a decade ago by Cummins and Westport Innovations. We all know Cummins, but Westport’s name  is not as well known. This company develops technologies that allow engines to operate on clean-burning fuels such as natural gas, hydrogen and hydrogen-enriched natural gas. The joint venture delivered its first natural gas heavy-duty engine in 1991 and has continued to develop natural gas technology producing engines meeting enhanced emissions standards in advance of regulated deadlines.

There is another avenue to take advantage of the low cost of natural gas as a fuel. Instead of purchasing an NGV with a dedicated gas engine, it might be possible to convert one of your existing trucks to run on a combination of diesel and natural gas. EcoDual, for example, provides conversion systems for heavy-duty diesel trucks to operate with up to 85% natural gas. The company claims that its conversion system offers a pay back in less that 12 months of typical usage. Its latest technology is authorized by the US EPA for conversion of trucks with 2004 to 2009 Cummins ISX and ISM engines and is currently available. Other applications are soon to follow.

Perry indicated that his company is currently evaluating conversion kits and if they prove to be reliable might make them available on vehicles it leases. He said, “We may find them to be a viable bridge for organizations that want to adopt natural gas but don’t have the appetite to spend the amount necessary to purchase dedicated NGV vehicles.”

Short haul savings
Long haul is not the only application NGVs offer savings. Natural gas is a commonly used fuel by refuse, bus and metropolitan fleets. It is also offering savings in other commercial applications. Ruan, for example, which was recently honored with a SmartWay Excellence Award, operates one of the largest CNG fleets in the country hauling dairy products in Indiana. The use of CNG in this operation will eliminate as many as 1.8 million gallons of diesel fuel each year.

Tucson, Arizona-based Golden Eagle Distributors is another fleet saving money with NGVs. The company converted its Tucson fleet of 24 distribution trucks to natural gas to address its steadily rising fuel bills. We’ll let Bill Osteen, the company’s senior vice president of Business Operations tell his story. “It was about three years ago that I was at a conference in Tampa and saw a presentation on running trucks on straight vegetable oil. We did some exploration with Ryder on that possibility but determined that it did not offer a solution for our problems. We did however begin to look at other options–CNG, LNG and propane as well as hybrids.

“As a result we started working in earnest with Ryder to look at CNG. We came to terms with them on trucks that made business sense for us. By leasing the vehicles as opposed to using our dollars upfront, we were able to put together a situation that would be cost beneficial for us from the very beginning.  It made the decision a lot easier.”

Most of the company’s fleet is comprised of Freightliner M2s powered by Cummins Westport 9L engines pulling 28-ft delivery trailers. It also runs a number of 48-ft trailers. Most of its routes are in the 50- to 100-mile range although it does have some trucks that run longer distances in other parts of the state. Its delivery fleets in Tucson and Casa Grande, where it has already started to convert to natural gas, all run 100 miles or less per day.

With that as background, it’s nice to hear Osteen say, “We’ve been saving money on these vehicles right from the beginning. The trucks cost is about 20% more for the lease, but we’re saving close to 50% on fuel. Right from the very beginning they’ve been beneficial cost-wise. There are other savings available, in particular for the licensing. We also expect the maintenance over time to be less than what we pay for diesel fueled vehicles.”

It’s time to look for a natural gas fueling station near you that’s set up for servicing commercial vehicles. Your local gas utility will be able to help you. If you’re lucky enough to find one, consider trying an NGV to see if it offers you the savings it does many other operations.

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