HOUSTON, Texas — As trucking fleet manager for a large Ohio dairy company, Chuck Diehl said he’s tired of hearing the lack of natural gas fuelling infrastructure referred to as a chicken-and-egg scenario. “It’s the cow and the milk,” he corrected, when speaking at the Natural Gas Fleet Vehicles North American Congress here today.
Living up to its motto “Clean air makes happier cows,” Orrville, Ohio.-based Smith Dairy has committed to transitioning its 110-tractor/50 straight truck fleet to natural gas. Diehl said the patriarchs of the Smith family are “certified tree-huggers” and wanted to green-up their operations. Diehl said the company had exhausted the low-hanging fruit solutions, employing wide-base single tires, idle-reduction strategies and trailer side skirts.
“We looked after the low-hanging fruit, what’s left? The high-hanging fruit. It was our fuel. We said ‘Let’s address the fuel’ and that led us to our CNG proposal,” Diehl said. “We chose not to wait on government intervention, we chose not to wait on grants or credits, and we chose not to wait on another fleet to build the site. We knew we had to do it ourselves, and that’s what we did.”
The dairy company built one of Ohio’s first tractor-trailer-friendly compressed natural gas fuelling stations and then ordered 40 CNG-powered Freightliners with the Cummins ISL9 G engine. Those trucks would serve as the fuelling station’s first customers. The station opened the same day Smith Dairy took delivery of its first CNG trucks.
For his part, Diehl said the conversion to natural gas has relieved him of the headaches in having to manage diesel inventory. Natural gas is available on-demand, which simplifies the company’s fuel management. It also eliminates the need for diesel tanker deliveries, further reducing the company’s environmental footprint; natural gas is delivered undergound via pipeline.
“My inventory headaches have started to go away,” Diehl said. “I don’t have to treat this fuel. In northeastern Ohio, it gets cold. I don’t have to go to a winter blend, I don’t have to pre-treat the fuel, I don’t have to treat the tanks for algae.”
Smith Dairy’s fuelling site was operational within 90 days of breaking ground. The trucks were deployed into routes within 30 days of taking delivery. Diehl said they were put into normal routes; nothing was changed to accommodate them.
“Our motto for our ROI was based on running routes just the way we run the routes,” Diehl said.
The entire program was deployed within a year.
Diehl said the CNG initiative was embraced by drivers and technicians.
“Our technicians were ready for something new and exciting and challenging,” he said. “Our guys saw this as exciting and wanted to be involved.”
Drivers have appreciated the quiet-running engines and automatic transmissions. Diehl said he knew the trucks would be accepted when the biggest driver complaints involved the quality of the radio speakers.
So far, Smith Dairy’s CNG tractors are averaging 5.4 mpg compared to 6 mpg for its traditional diesel fleet. It’s paying $1.95 per diesel gallon equivalent of CNG compared to $3.90 per gallon for diesel. Annual fuel savings are $14,444 per truck, with an incremental cost increase of $60,000, resulting in about a five-year payback. Now, Diehl said the fleet wants to roll natural gas out to its yard tractors and reefer units.
When rolling out a natural gas program, Diehl urged carriers to do some research before selecting partners with whom to work. “There are folks out there that talk a good story about what they can do for you with CNG. Prove them out.”