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LNG Sterling Trucks Help Clear The Air At California Ports

LONG BEACH, Cal. - Breathing near the California seaports at Long Beach and Los Angeles is probably a little easier now, two months after Daimler Trucks North America began delivering 232 natural gas-...


CLEANER, GREENER: Natural gas-powered Sterling trucks will help clear the air at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Cal.
CLEANER, GREENER: Natural gas-powered Sterling trucks will help clear the air at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Cal.

LONG BEACH, Cal. – Breathing near the California seaports at Long Beach and Los Angeles is probably a little easier now, two months after Daimler Trucks North America began delivering 232 natural gas-fueled day cab tractors to customers working in and around the two busy cargo hubs.

All of the new units – intended to replace aging, much less environmentally-friendly ones – are Sterling L-113 flat-roof conventionals, powered by 8.9-litre Cummins Westport ISL G engines rated at 320 hp and 1,000 lb.-ft. of torque. More than half the total, 132 to be exact, went to California Cartage Company, a family-owned drayage and warehousing firm with operations across the US. The other 100 were destined for smaller carriers and owner/operators doing business with the ports.

These “green” trucks were not cheap. They sold for roughly US$160,000 a copy. Cal Cartage, however, was rewarded for being an “early adopter” under a local initiative called the Clean Trucks program, the goal of which is to reduce air pollution at the ports by more than 80% by 2012.

As such, the company was able to score a significant discount on its purchase, thanks to a collaborative funding project between the US Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The agencies put together grants and tax incentives totaling nearly US$12 million, or about US$90,000 per truck. The amount of governmental subsidies available for other buyers was unclear, although some assistance seems certain because the ports now levy fees on containers to sponsor a truck replacement program.

Obviously, the cost of engines burning natural gas, whether compressed or liquefied, is much higher than that of comparably-sized diesels. But truckers switching from the latter to the former do benefit somewhat from lower fuel prices – even though diesel offers better economy.

The chief advantage of natural gas is its effects, or lack thereof, on the environment. During a press event to publicize Sterling’s sizable sale at the ports, officials from Daimler Trucks North America referred to the Cummins Westport ISL G as a “near-zero emissions” engine.

They said that it already met the EPA’s 2010 diesel exhaust mandate – without particulate filters or other aftertreatment devices. The engine uses an advanced combustion system, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a three-way catalyst to quell emissions. Nitrogen oxide emitted from the engine is at a CARB-compliant 0.2 gram per brake horsepower/hour; particulate matter is at 0.01 gram bhp/h. Greenhouse gases are almost nonexistent because natural gas contains little carbon.

DTNA president Chris Patterson, speaking at the event, pointed to yet another benefit of natural gas: It’s abundant throughout North America. “Each of these tractors will reduce the use of imported oil by 500 barrels per year,” he said. Multiplied by 232, the total reduction could be as much as 116,000 barrels annually.

Of course, the abundance of domestic sources doesn’t mean the fuel is readily available on the street, at least yet. Bob Lively, vice-president of strategic planning for Cal Cartage, says the ports currently have just one LNG fueling station. Until more are built, this could pose problems for drivers who might spend a lot of time waiting for their turn at the pump, especially because the trucks in question have an operational range of only 250-300 miles between 100-gallon fills.

Lively says truckers and other motorists actually have better access to CNG, which also holds true here in Canada. Still, he’s bullish about the future of both types of natural gas, and he expects his company to continue buying trucks powered by those fuels.

That might be true, but it won’t be ordering many more with a Sterling nameplate. Last fall, DTNA announced the brand’s discontinuation (scheduled for March) in an effort to cut costs during these lean economic times. Officials have chosen Freightliner’s M2-112 to replace Sterling’s L-113 as the designated medium-and heavy-duty natural gas vehicle.

Whatever body panels are used, executives said, the environmental benefits of these new trucks will be considerable, noticeable and immediate. Cal Cartage president Bob Curry Sr. agreed, saying he was proud to be involved with an effort to improve the area’s air quality:”At our company, we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”

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Sterling NG L-113 Basic Spec’s:

Front axle: rated at 12,000 lbs., set back

Rear axle: rated at 40,000 lbs.

Front suspension: Taper leaf Rear suspension: AirLiner

Fuel capacity: single 119-gallon stainless steel tank

Cab: 113-inch BBC Flat Roof

Engine: Cummins ISL G, (320 hp @2,000 RPM, 1,000 lb.-ft. @ 1,300 RPM)

Transmission: Allison 3000 HS Automatic


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