Truck News


Natural gas brings new opportunities to Vedder Transport

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Being an early adopter of liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered trucks has landed Vedder Transportation Group some new business opportunities, including the formation of a solid waste division, which seems an unlikely fit...

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Being an early adopter of liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered trucks has landed Vedder Transportation Group some new business opportunities, including the formation of a solid waste division, which seems an unlikely fit for a company whose core business has been hauling dairy and food grade products.

Fred Zweep, president of Vedder Transportation, said the opportunity came along in August 2010, when word was beginning to spread about the company’s investment in natural gas trucks.

He vividly remembers the phone call he received while travelling to Calgary to visit a client. The caller said he’d heard Vedder was investing in natural gas trucks and asked if they’d be able to service a solid waste haul contract shuttling trash from Metro Vancouver to a landfill in Cache Creek, B.C.

“People often ask how did we get into the business of hauling garbage when we’re a food-grade hauler?” Zweep recalled. “That was because of the natural gas technology. I remember when they phoned. I said ‘We haul food, you want me to haul garbage?’ He said ‘Will you think about it?” and I said ‘I’ll have to think about it’.”

Today, Vedder has 15 LNG-fuelled Peterbilt 386s dedicated to the trash contract, hauling solid waste between Vancouver and Cache Creek, grossing a whopping 140,000 lbs each way along the 410-mile round-trip.

“Where we’re travelling with the solid waste is in a very sensitive airshed,” Zweep said. “This equipment produces 27-33% less greenhouse gases (than diesel-powered trucks).”

The route between Vancouver and Cache Creek was also a good test for the LNG trucks.

“I would have to say, 200 of those miles are probably some of the toughest pulling in the province of B.C. that you’d find, maybe anywhere in North America, with 6-8% grades over about 50% of that round-trip,” Zweep said.

Vedder Transport deployed the latest of its 50 LNG-powered Peterbilt trucks in March 2012, and has now collected enough data to declare the program a resounding success. The trucks are operated across three divisions: 22 in the dairy fleet (140,000-lb GVW); 15 in the solid waste fleet (140,000-lb GVW); and 13 in the food-grade fleet (105,000-lb GVW). The highest-mileage units now have about 250,000 kilometres on them.

“From a mechanical perspective, we’re seeing very good results,” Zweep said. “We’re now starting to pull oil samples and we’re seeing the cleanest oil samples we’ve ever seen in our fleet, and we’ve been around for over 50 years.”

Last month marked a milestone for Vedder Transportation, as its fuelling station – offering LNG, CNG and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) – opened for business in mid-December. Up till then, Vedder had been fuelling its trucks via a temporary filling station.

The new fuelling site has been opened as a commercial cardlock, available to other fleets operating natural gas-powered vehicles.

Zweep said he watched 11 of Vedder’s LNG trucks fill up at the new fuelling station during a half-hour interview with Truck News. “We’re fuelling 77 times a day on average,” he said.

Vedder’s investment in natural gas trucks has been an unmitigated success, according to Zweep. Not only did it launch a new solid waste division, but Zweep said the carrier is in discussions with two additional companies to operate natural gas trucks for them within their own fleets.

The trucks have been up to the task, with no widespread reliability issues. Any mechanical issues the trucks have experienced have not been related to the natural gas components.

“It’s definitely a technology that works,” Zweep said. “There’s no question, we’re seeing the durability out of the technology. Was there reason to be skeptical at first? No question. Were we nervous? Absolutely. But we also recognized from an economical perspective that we needed to satisfy our requirement of managing our fuel costs, so that’s why we took a good long look at the technology.”

Vedder Transportation extensively researched natural gas trucking before taking the plunge, and Zweep said there have been no surprises.

“We took a lot of time to plan,” Zweep said. “We were in the discovery and planning stage for about 18 months. We visited a number of locations, so we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of what was really going on in the market.”

Zweep wouldn’t disclose specific fuel savings, but he said they were right in line with expectations, as were maintenance costs. Upgrading the shop to accommodate LNG vehicles required an investment of $80,000-$120,000.

“The enhancements to the shop aren’t about the tools to work on the equipment,” he noted. “It’s about the safety protection for the people who are functioning in the shop. You have to install methane detectors, automatic door openers and exhaust fans to be able to ventilate the building in the event methane is detected.”

Zweep said drivers and technicians alike have embraced the technology.

“From day one, the driving fleet bought into it and the technicians that service the equipment bought into it,” Zweep said. “From a driver perspective, there are three things they’re proud of: they know they’re driving cleaner technology; the decibel level of operating that vehicle is significantly reduced because of the quietness of the natural gas engine; and they’re proud to be on the leading edge of technology. They know our organization pioneered it in the region we operate within, and they’re proud of it.”

Currently, Vedder’s 50 LNG tractors are consuming nearly 500,000 diesel equivalent litres of natural gas per month.

Vedder has employed dedicated fuellers to ensure the trucks are receiving consistent fills. Each of the initial 50 trucks are in return-to-base duty cycles, returning to the yard every 10-12 hours. Now, Vedder is looking to transition its long-haul flatdeck fleet to natural gas.

“We run a fleet of 100 vehicles every day between the Lower Mainland of B.C. and northern Alberta servicing the oil and gas industry with materials coming off the docks in Vancouver,” Zweep said. “The average length of haul one way will be 875 miles with a 105,000-lb GVW.”

Zweep said he’s already been in discussions with Peterbilt to spec’ a natural gas truck for the long-haul fleet.

Zweep said he still receives one to three phone calls per day seeking information on natural gas. While other carriers are just now beginning to consider the possibilities, Zweep added “It’s so mainstream in our business today, we hardly even think about it.”

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