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The long term view

Seeking to take advantage of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of between 25 and 30% compared to diesel, Groupe Robert is completing negotiations for an order of more than 50 liquid natura...


Seeking to take advantage of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of between 25 and 30% compared to diesel, Groupe Robert is completing negotiations for an order of more than 50 liquid natural gas-fueled (LNG) tractors manufactured by Vancouver-based Westport Innovations. Equipped with GX 2010 15l engines, the tractors will include two engine displacements: 400 hp/1,450 ft-lbs and 450 hp/1,650 ft-lbs. Groupe Robert has not yet chosen the tractor manufacturer.

“It is important to have technologies that have a good marriage between economical operations and good environment,” says Daniel St-Germain, vice-president of asset management for Groupe Robert. The fuel savings are said to be around 25-30% compared to diesel.

(S&T)2 Consultants used GHGenius 3.15 – Natural Resources Canada’s lifecycle emission model for transportation -to compare GHG emissions for LNG and diesel at five stages of handling: extraction, processing, fueling, transportation and storage, and emissions at end use. A 25%-plus difference was calculated specifically for Quebec.

The Quebec government provided important impetus in its 2010-2011 budget for the carrier’s move to adopt LNG technology. First, the capital cost allowance (CCA) for new trucks or tractors designed for hauling freight has been raised from 40% to 60%. As well, Revenue Quebec will allow taxpayers to deduct an additional 85% of the 60% CCA if the vehicles are fuelled by LNG.

“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.

The carrier 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.

Groupe Robert, a vigorous supporter and adopter of energy savings technologies such as aerodynamic equipment, has its eye firmly on what is the new Holy Grail of trucking: the interprovincial operation of long combination vehicles (LCV). This combination of two 53- is a well-established configuration in Quebec, but is new in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

“Think of the greenhouse gasses 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 gasses. I dream of running 25 LCVs with LNG tractors,” St-Germain reveals.

Groupe Robert has entered into a partnership with Gaz Metro. Details of the partnership have not been made public yet, but Gaz Metro, which distributes 97% of all natural gas products in Quebec, makes and stores two billion cubic feet of LNG a year at its liquification plant in east Montreal. It converts the LNG gas as needed to compressed natural gas and shoots it into its distribution system to 180,000 customers.

Westport is the other partner in Groupe Robert’s venture. “We are very actively engaged with [Groupe Robert president] Claude Robert to help build out the corridor that will help this program,” says Nicholas Sonntag, executive vice-president of new markets development, and president of Westport Asia for Westport Innovations.

On July 6, Westport announced that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had certified the GX to 2010 emissions compliance. Sonntag explains the basics of its engine and how it works: “The engine is branded as a Westport engine. It is manufactured by Cummins without the diesel component. Westport carries the warrantee and we are the manufacturer of record. The engine provides the same performance as the diesel engine.

“The LNG is pumped out of the cryogenic tanks and vaporized and warmed to about 100 F and 4,500 psi (40 C and 30 MPa). Since the natural gas will not ignite with compression, we add diesel [averaging about 3%, according to Groupe Robert] to the natural gas as an injection fuel. We call it a liquid spark plug. Ours is the only engine with compression ignition with direct injection.”

On a purely product support basis, Westport will provide driver and technician training. Driver training takes about a half hour, and no special licence is required to fuel trucks. They learn to look for gas leaks and to check valves on the inside of the LNG tanks. They learn to fuel the tractors, which is as quick or even quicker than fueling up with diesel. Inside the cab, they learn to read a display monitor that shows the LNG tank level and which shows any messages the system might have for the driver, such as lot fuel level.

For technicians, Konrad Komeniecki, customer care manager for Westport says, “We have designed a three-and-a-half to four-day course where technicians learn proper work procedure and everything about our system and subsystems. A second part of our course focuses on electronic tools.”

St-Germain comments: “Westport will come to Groupe Robert to train our technicians. We have to modify a special bay to work on LNG. We cannot work on these trucks in a regular bay. We need spark-proof electrical outlets and other things.”

As a training run for the delivery of the fleet of LNG tractors, this year Groupe Robert purchased a Kenworth with a Cummins GX engine; a modified ISX diesel engine. It is the first LNG truck ever in Quebec. “We want to use it to validate its performance and [have a chance to] deal with any emerging technical issues. We also want to use it to train the technicians. They need to become familiar and comfortable with it,” St-Germain explains. “We also plan on taking delivery of a pilot prototype -a day cab and sleeper -to make sure everything is perfect before we place the final order.”

With a second LNG fueling station to be built in Mississauga (the first one will be built at Groupe Robert in Quebec), the first goal is to cover the Quebec-Toronto corridor, but also to do regional work in the Montreal area. “The truck will not be used for city work. In our opinion, we would lose money running LNG in the city. Five to six miles per gallon and a lot of mileage is economical at the current state of the LNG option,” St-Germain says.

Some of the trucks will be used to haul B-trains. The round trips that are planned can be done on one fill-up, as each truck carries two 120-gallon cryogenic tanks, which give a range of about 1,000 kilometres.

Having a fueling station will give Groupe Robert the option to consider compressed natural gas-fuelled vehicles for local deliveries. For now, however, the focus is on developing the routes for the new fleet of LNG trucks. “We would like to be clear to drive the Quebec-Toronto corridor. This is our first goal,” St-Germain says.

Within five years, St-Germain predicts that there will be more LNG fueling stations at truck stops between Quebec and Toronto. “We want other carriers to do this too. Claude Robert is an industry thinker. He is convinced that LNG is good for other people, industry and citizens.”


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