Volvo Trucks unveils “Blue Power” natural gas strategy for North America

MIAMI, Fla. — Volvo Trucks has announced it will launch its own 13-liter liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine for the North American market in 2014, claiming “significant” fuel efficiency gains compared with current natural gas products.

Combined with the company’s previously announced offering of compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs, the new diesel ignition engine provides Volvo with a range of natural gas-powered transportation solutions. Volvo is also testing another fuel that can be produced from natural gas, DME (dimethyl ether), which Volvo executives believe has the potential to become an attractive alternative for the North American market.

“Our focused strategy is not to put all our eggs into one basket. In the future there will be regional differences and we don’t know which way alternative fuels will go. We want to keep our options open,” said   Olof Persson, president of AB Volvo and Chief Executive Officer of the Volvo Group.

Through high pressure diesel ignition technology – using trace amounts of diesel to ignite the natural gas – Volvo’s LNG engine will deliver a 30% fuel efficiency improvement compared with spark-ignition (SI) engines, making it a viable alternative for demanding long-haul applications, explained Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales & Marketing. The Volvo 13-liter LNG engine will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 20% compared with current diesel products.

Huibers also says the engine will accomplish these savings without sacrificing power, torque or fuel efficiency, all of which are critical attributes for on-highway operations. The company’s proprietary Volvo I-Shift automated mechanical transmission also will be available for customers to specify.

The company also recently announced that it is operating natural gas-powered VNL demonstrator trucks. The larger, more robust VNL model features a 12-liter Cummins- Westport ISX12 G gas engine. Factory production of the natural gas-powered VNL daycab will begin in conjunction with commercial availability of the 12-liter gas engine in early 2013.

The Volvo Group has conducted hundreds of thousands of miles of customer field testing of trucks equipped with DME, which can be produced from natural gas. The results – from 10 vehicles operating in a variety of applications in Europe – indicate DME holds much promise as a heavy-truck fuel, and could become a viable alternative in North America to CNG or LNG when it comes to performance, environmental impact, safety and distribution, Persson and Huibers said.

DME most closely mirrors the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel while significantly reducing GHG emissions. It is a compression ignition fuel which, like diesel, requires no separate ignition mechanism. Unlike LNG, it does not require cryogenic temperatures; it is handled like propane, with tank pressures of 75 psi (vs. 3,000 psi for CNG), and it is non-toxic. DME burns with a blue flame and requires no diesel particulate filter. DME packages densely enough to allow long range transports or to allow room for vocational truck equipment on the frame.

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