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Private fleets hear about benefits of natural gas

KING CITY, Ont. – Natural Gas has come of age as a transportation fuel, offering compelling savings and a competitive advantage, said Allen MacKinnon, a regional field service engineer, with Westport HD.


KING CITY, Ont. – Natural Gas has come of age as a transportation fuel, offering compelling savings and a competitive advantage, said Allen MacKinnon, a regional field service engineer, with Westport HD.

MacKinnon presented at the Private Motor Truck Council’s annual conference this June in King City, Ont. According to MacKinnon, Westport HD-powered trucks are hauling up to 140,000 lbs with the same efficiency and reliability of diesel engines, and can be available within eight weeks for delivery in the yard.

Westport has become a global leader in medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle engines operating on alternative fuels, said MacKinnon, and is heavily focused on the transformation of markets for petroleum-fueled engines to alternate fuels.

The Vancouver-based company has invested $250 million and 20 years of development in alternative fuels. Westport is aiming for market penetration via OEM partnerships and joint ventures, MacKinnon said. The company currently has 400 patents, 130 specific inventions and 30,000 engines.

“In trucking, natural gas has a life-cycle operating cost that is much lower than diesel, with the same horsepower, torque and fuel economy as the base diesel engine,” said MacKinnon. “With downward pressure on natural gas prices, the forecast is for consistently low prices. A price differential of $1.50 (per gallon) between natural gas and diesel is not unheard of.”

Westport is currently engaged in producing and selling technologies for all types of applications.

Its heavy-duty 15-litre engine, for example, is based on the Cummins ISX.

“We outfit it with all our natural gas components in Delta, B.C.,” said MacKinnon.

The ISL G engine, meanwhile, runs a three-way catalyst aftertreatment system, with no selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and no diesel particulate filter (DPF), said MacKinnon.

It has over 80% parts commonality with ISL 9, and is compatible with CNG, LNG, or biomethane.

The cost of maintenance related to ignition and overhead valve adjustments does add incremental maintenance cost to the ISL G versus the ISL 9, but MacKinnon said this cost is typically more than offset by fuel savings with natural gas.

And natural gas engines are up to 10 decibels quieter at idle, he added. The ISX12 G, Cummins’ next product, is set for commercial launch in the first quarter of 2013. It’s currently undergoing field testing.

Westport’s heavy-duty high-pressure direct injection (HPDI) technology, based on Cummins’ 2009 ISX engine, sees diesel fuel injected just prior to the natural gas. A “liquid spark plug” provides compression ignition. Natural gas is injected at high pressure at the end of a compression stroke, with no pre-mixed air/fuel, and with just 5% diesel usage.

The engine performance offers the same power and torque and the same efficiency as a diesel engine, said MacKinnon.
Westport HD’s LNG tank technology essentially “works like a Thermos,” he said.

The gas is stored as a cryogenic liquid, and the tank, with its internal hydraulic pump, pumps the liquid natural gas into the engine to run it. Each stroke turns it into compressed natural gas.

At one or two fuel tanks per vehicle, the additional truck cost ranges from $75,000-$100,000, said MacKinnon.

“You have to go through more volume of the less energy-dense liquid natural gas. A 120-gallon tank has a 300-mile range of 54 gallon diesel gallon equivalent units (at 5.5 mpg US),” he said.

In terms of volatility, MacKinnon said that the LNG tanks are in themselves extremely safe and resistant to damage.

“They are drop-tested from 30 feet and cannot have leaks,” he said. Several fleets have made the transformation to operating natural gas trucks, said MacKinnon.

“Vedder Transport is running 50 Peterbilt LNG tractors in milk haul and regional tank operations, and in waste hauling,” he said.

Robert Transport has a 180 Peterbilt order running the Westport HD 15L engine – it also has over 60 trucks currently running with LNG fuel supplied by Gaz Metro, said MacKinnon.

Alberta-based Ferus Wellsite Cryogenics Solutions is also transitioning its 80-tractor fleet to LNG, and the company expects more than 7,600 tonnes/year reduction in emissions, said MacKinnon. Westport’s target customers are still the more regional or local fleets, as infrastructure for delivering natural gas is still in its infancy.

“Westport is now investing tens of millions of dollars in support infrastructure. Shell has committed to building 200 of these fueling stations at their truck stops over the next few years,” said MacKinnon.


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