Fueling for the future

by Carroll McCormick

BOUCHERVILLE, Que. – By about Dec. 1, Robert Transport trucks fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) will be hauling freight from Montreal to Toronto, topping up their cryogenic tanks at an LNG fueling station at the carrier’s Mississauga terminal and heading back to home base to fuel up, hook up and head out again.

This will be the realization of a project by the Quebec carrier to at least partially switch over its fleet to LNG, which it regards as the fuel of the future. Robert estimates that savings over diesel will be at least 30% and that the LNG engines will emit 25% fewer greenhouse gasses. However, each truck can cost as much as $80,000 over the price of a similarly equipped diesel truck.

“All of the trucking to Toronto will probably switch over to LNG,” says Yves Maurais, the engineer at Robert in charge of the LNG project.

As for putting LNG trucks on other lanes in Canada and the US, the limiting factor today is the lack of fueling stops. In Canada, anyway, Quebec natural gas giant Gaz Metro has begun investing in fueling stations, which it owns, and the mutually supportive supply/demand relationship it has with Robert speaks well for the gradual development of a national fueling infrastructure.

Gaz Metro started building the country’s first LNG fueling station this July in Robert’s yard in Boucherville, just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. The first LNG truck took on fuel there on Sept. 19. Gaz Metro also built the Mississauga station this summer and was just waiting for word from Robert that it was ready to begin regular runs to Toronto before doing the one-week commissioning this fall.

Gaz Metro will build a third fueling station in Quebec City in 2012, although the location is still a matter of internal deliberations between Gaz Metro and Robert Transport.

While waiting to begin Montreal-Toronto operations, Robert has been running a B-train between Montreal and Lac-Megantic, south of Quebec City and 53-foot, two-, three- and four-axle trailers in the Montreal area – easily within the 1,000-kilometre range of each truck’s pair of seven-foot long, 119-gallon (US) cryogenic tanks.

By the end of October, Robert had acquired two new Peterbilt 386 LNG tractors with 228-inch chassis and wide-base tires, and eight used LNG tractors, including six Kenworth T800s and a modified 2005 Volvo, purchased from around North America. More of the 180 LNG tractors it has ordered from Peterbilt will have arrived by now, and the rest of the order will be delivered over the next three years.

Robert settled on two Peterbilt models: the 367 and 386, equipped with Westport’s 2010 GX 15l engine, with two engine displacements: 400-hp/1,450 lb.-ft. torque and 450-hp/1,650 lb.-ft.

The Boucherville fueling station has two positions for trucks: One is a self-standing unit, rather like a pump in a regular gas station; the other position is built into a robust cement wall that protects a labyrinth of stainless steel cryogenic piping, steel-encased wiring, air-actuated valves and a 10×40-foot high glossy white tank – a two-walled thermos bottle actually – that holds 15,000 US gallons of LNG at a frosty -162 degrees Centigrade.

By the end of October, 10 trucks a day were filling up at the Boucherville station. A second tank will be installed on a concrete pad alongside the first tank once the LNG fleet outgrows the single tank. Gaz Metro purchased three 12,000-gallon road tankers to feed the three stations.

The Ecole de technologie gaziere of Gaz Metro is providing the bulk of the training for the Robert technicians and is providing assistance at the pumps. Robert is giving its drivers two hours of classroom time and one hour of hands-on training.
Fueling is straightforward. Drivers carry gloves and a face shield in their trucks, which they must wear to protect themselves from any errant spray of LNG that might result from a defective nozzle seal.

A driver uncouples the fueling hose from the fueling unit by pulling back on two handles on the hose, plugs it into one of the side-by-side curbside or roadside tank connectors and pushes the handles forward to secure the connection.

The driver pushes a big green button and voila, the LNG flows until the tank pressure reaches a pre-set fill level, between 90-95 gallons, and then automatically stops flowing.

The remaining 20% of the space is for vapour. The driver then disconnects, returns the hose to the fueling unit and bon voyage, he’s ready to go.

Robert has been busy this fall modifying a special maintenance bay for the trucks, and 12 technicians had already completed their training. More technicians are expected to receive training in 2012.

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  • Where is that great photograph that Mr.McCormick took of the LNG station in Boucherville? It was so avant garde.