Volvo Trucks Bringing LNG Engine, But Looking at Other Fuels

(L to R): Ron Huibers and Olof Persson sit down to talk fuel.

MIAMI BEACH, FL. — Volvo Group President and CEO Olof Persson joined Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Trucks North American sales and marketing, in Miami on Friday to announce Volvo’s plans to launch a 13-litre liquefied natural gas engine for North America in 2014.

It was one of handful of press conferences and announcements the company held this past weekend.

The LNG engine is just one part of Volvo’s new “Blue Power” strategy, and is aimed to compliment their compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs. The Swedes are also testing another fuel: DME (dimethyl ether). That fuel, they say, has the potential to become an attractive option for North American fleets.

The Engine

Trace amounts of diesel will ignite the the natural gas in the new 13-liter engine, delivering a 30 percent fuel efficiency improvement over spark-ignition engines, Volvo said, adding that the engine will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared with diesel products. Volvo is aiming the engine at long-haul applications and says that they can meet the above numbers without cutting into power, torque or fuel efficiency.

The I-Shift engine will be available for customers to spec, Volvo noted. And while the engine will be a certified Volvo engine, the company is working with Westport in its development.

“We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Persson said during a roundtable discussion with trucking journalists. “We don’t know where it will go,” Persson stated bluntly on the topic of new fuel alternatives. Volvo still has some questions regarding CNG and LNG as viable long-term fuel options.

While Persson stressed that they want to bring the tech that Volvo customers are asking for — like the CNG and LNG engines — an immature infrastructure, as well as the fact that natural gas is not a renewable fuel has, among other things, given them pause in diving headfirst into CNG and LNG. “None of these fuels is a slam dunk,” Huibers said.

The Other, Other Fuel: DME

It’s why they are looking into DME as a long-term solution that, reportedly, can be derived from natural gas as well as coal, and, more importantly, biomass.

“Tests are very positive in Europe,” Persson said. “We have vehicles running on it.”

Volvo also said they like the DME option as the tanks are more akin to a propane tank, cheaper and lighter than CNG and LNG tanks. No DEF is needed, and possibly no SCR. DME, the company said, mirrors the the performance and energy efficiency of diesel while significantly cuts GHG emissions. And like diesel, it needs no separate ignition mechanism. While LNG requires cryogenic temperatures, DME needs a tank pressure of 75 psi versus CNG’s 300 psi. Non-toxic, DME burns with a blue flame (hence “Blue Power”). But time, research and money will tell more.

Huibers, who made the trek down to Miami in a Volvo truck, stopping to talk to customers along the way, stressed the fact that at the end of the day, it came down to whether a solid business case could be made. “The customer will make the choice,” he said.

Harmonization of regulations is something that Volvo would like to see, and they are currently talking with various associations and governments on the issue. Persson noted that there are many barriers to entry from a policy point of view.

“We must be prepared for everything,” Persson said in regards to new fuels. And while it may be more expensive to follow three separate fuel rabbits down three different holes, “The money we spend gives us increased knowledge and experience,” he said.

More from Volvo later this week.

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