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A natural solution

NAPA VALLEY, Cal. - Earlier this year, Sterling Trucks announced the availability of its liquid natural gas (LNG)-powered Set-Back 113 tractor designed for US West Coast port operations.


FUELING CHANGE: Natural gas is less expensive than diesel, resulting in savings of up to US$6,000 per year, according to Sterling Trucks.
FUELING CHANGE: Natural gas is less expensive than diesel, resulting in savings of up to US$6,000 per year, according to Sterling Trucks.

NAPA VALLEY, Cal. –Earlier this year, Sterling Trucks announced the availability of its liquid natural gas (LNG)-powered Set-Back 113 tractor designed for US West Coast port operations.

The truck was made available to the trade media for the first time at a recent ride-and-drive, where it lived up to claims of quiet operation and diesel-like performance.

The Set-Back 113 with LNG, however, won’t likely be coming to a highway near you anytime soon. Instead, a compressed natural gas (CNG) version is under development, which will be more practical in Canada where CNG is much more widely available. CNG has several benefits over LNG, said Robert Carrick, general manager, western region with Sterling Trucks. For starters, drivers can fill up their own trucks -a special licence and protective clothing are required to handle the natural gas in its cryogenic liquid form. There’s also already a CNG filling station infrastructure in place.

“We’re hoping that in the late first quarter or early second quarter of next year, we’ll start with some CNG products,” Carrick said during an interview.

He said the fuel apparatus will be similar to the LNG truck that was on display, with “a different tank configuration and controls.”

The initial natural gas-powered Sterling trucks used LNG because the ports of California and Long Beach wanted to maximize the distance the vehicles could travel, Carrick explained.

“LNG allows more fuel to be put in a more compact space. In a tractor application, they wanted to use LNG for greater range.”

But outside the ports, the vast majority of natural gas is available in compressed form, even in the US. The performance characteristics of both types of natural gas are the same, Carrick said. “The engine doesn’t know the difference.”

In Canada, Sterling trucks operating off CNG will be a fit for “any application where they utilize about 60 gallons of diesel fuel per day or less and where they have access to CNG fueling and if they can get the amount of fuel they need on their chassis,” said Carrick. Frame rail space is an issue on some types of chassis and in some applications.

But where feasible, the natural gas-powered Sterling trucks will certainly be an attractive option as fuel prices continue to rise. Sterling officials said fuel savings of about US$6,000 per year can be achieved by opting for natural gas versions of their vehicles. In the US, tax incentives make natural gas even more appealing. Better yet, while diesel prices aren’t expected to decrease anytime soon, there’s already enough natural gas available in North America to meet the continent’s needs for 120 years, said Richard Shearing, manager, product strategy with Sterling Trucks

“The timing is right,” Shearing said at the ride-and-drive. “Over the last five years, there has been more legislation with alternative fuels than the last 30 years combined.”

He noted that 4% of the vehicles in California already use alternatives fuels, adding “where California goes, others will follow.”

Sterling already plans to deliver 400 LNG-powered trucks this year alone. The Sterling Set-Back 113 with LNG is powered by a Cummins Westport ISL G engine with ratings up to 320 hp. It’s already EPA2010- compliant and a well-to-wheel analysis shows the technology produces 5-20% less greenhouse gas emissions than a 2010-complaint diesel, Shearing explained. An Allison automatic transmission is standard. LNG runs about $3.15/gallon in California compared to diesel which is about $5/gallon, but natural gas does have less energy content. The Sterling Set-Back 113 with natural gas has a range of about 275 miles per 119-gallon tank (the equivalent of a 65-gallon diesel tank).A second tank is optional.

“Natural gas technology has come a long way…these next generation NG powertrains have more power because less air is needed for combustion,” Shearing said.


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