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Building the blue road

QUEBEC CITY, Que. - The stars have come into perfect alignment for Canada's first liquid natural gas (LNG) corridor for trucking: A generous tax incentive from Revenue Quebec, an order for 180 liquid ...

BREAKTHROUGH: Robert Transport is the first Canadian fleet to place a major order for LNG-powered trucks similar to this one.
BREAKTHROUGH: Robert Transport is the first Canadian fleet to place a major order for LNG-powered trucks similar to this one.

QUEBEC CITY, Que. –The stars have come into perfect alignment for Canada’s first liquid natural gas (LNG) corridor for trucking: A generous tax incentive from Revenue Quebec, an order for 180 liquid natural gas (LNG) Peterbilt tractors by Robert Transport and a partnership between Robert, LNG distributor Gaz Metro and LNG engine manufacturer Westport Innovations.

Gaz Metro will break ground in spring 2011 for three LNG fueling stations: one each in the Greater Montreal area, the Greater Quebec City area and the Greater Toronto area.

Gaz Metro has yet to name their exact locations, but confirms that they will be driver-operated, like cardlock fueling stations, and be big enough to accommodate Btrains and long combination vehicles (LCVs).

“A certificate of competency is required for the use of tanks and LNG stations. The Ecole de Technologie Gaziere of Gaz Metro will provide training to clients that will ask for it. Drivers holding their competency cards will fuel their own trucks,” Gaz Metro explains.

Robert, which is reaching for the new Holy Grail of trucking: the interprovincial operation of LCVs (two 53-foot trailers) which have huge fuel savings over single trucks, has high hopes for an LCV/LNG marriage; LNG fuel savings are said to be around 25-30% compared to diesel.

“Think of the greenhouse gases we could save with an LNG/LCV combination. Normally we run two tractors and trailers between Montreal and Toronto. We will do the trip with LCVs, hauled by trucks powered by LNG. This will allow us to reap important fuel savings and make a big reduction in greenhouse gases. I dream of running LCVs with LNG tractors,” says Daniel St-Germain, vice-president asset management, Groupe Robert.

“The ‘Blue Road’ is the biggest LNG project for the transport sector in Canada,” says Gaz Metro. “The main driver for building it is to reduce the carbon footprint of the trucking industry using natural gas. For the moment, no other market-ready technology can reduce the GHG emissions of this sector by 25%. The Quebec City-Windsor corridor is the most polluting transportation highway in the country. If something needs to be done to reduce freight movement GHG, this is where it should start.”

The Peterbilt tractors, models 367 and 386, will be equipped with Westport’s 2010 GX 15l engines. Earlier in 2010 Robert reported that the tractors will include two engine ratings: 400 hp/1,450 lb.-ft. torque and 450 hp/1,650 lb.-ft., but these configurations have not been finalized, according to Westport.

Westport starts with Cummins engines, without the diesel components, and adds its LNG systems.

“It becomes, and is branded as a Westport engine. Then it is shipped to the truck plant with the LNG tanks and other systems,” explains Jonathan Burke, vice-president, global market development, Westport.

The Quebec government provided critical impetus in its 2010-2011 budget that tipped the balance in favour of Robert adopting LNG technology: Revenue Quebec raised the capital cost allowance (CCA) for new trucks or tractors designed for hauling freight to 60%, from the old 40%. As well, Revenue Quebec is allowing an additional 85% deduction on top of the 60% CCA deduction, for LNG-fueled vehicles.

“Without the added depreciation, I don’t think the project could work,” says St-Germain. “As it is, it will take about six years to break even on the project.”

Maintenance costs will also be higher than with diesel engines. “In our opinion, it will cost 20% more to operate these trucks for eight to 10 years,” St-Germain explains.

Robert is taking the long view with the adoption of LNG.

“There is a big possibility that LNG prices will be more stable than diesel in North America. It also means less dependence on Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Middle East fuel sources,” St-Germain says.

For Gaz Metro, which distributes 97% of all natural gas products in Quebec, the Blue Road is its first foray into supplying LNG to the transportation sector. Westport wants to sell engines. There are currently about seven LNG trucks operating in Canada, the majority of which are engineering technology trucks in Vancouver.

“The Robert order kicks off the emergence of LNG trucks in Canada,” Burke says. Truck deliveries are expected to start after March 2011.

Keep your ears to the ground for news of more LNG corridors in Canada.

“We are looking at other corridors; for example, in the Maritimes and Western Canada. There are no problems running in the Rockies. We have done a lot of test work on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, with weights from 80,000 lbs to 140,000 lbs GVW,” Burke says. “We see the ideal cross-border LNG corridor running into Buffalo and Detroit. Given the beginnings of LNG trucks in California, we can see corridors running north into Alberta and British Columbia.”

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