VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. — Cold Star Freight’s pioneering journey into the realms of natural gas-fuelled trucking is already paying big dividends for the company.
The company, which transports food from the Lower Mainland onto Vancouver Island, purchased 10 compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Mack Pinnacle tractors last year in a bid to lower its fuel costs. It was a bold move for the company for several reasons: Cold Star was the first Canadian fleet to adopt CNG on highway tractors; it was the first fleet to bring natural gas-fuelled trucks to Vancouver Island; and as a small fleet of just 45 units, its purchase of 10 CNG-powered Macks represented the conversion of nearly a quarter of its fleet to natural gas at one time.
Cold Star Freight’s fleet of 10 CNG-fuelled Mack Pinnacle tractors.
“It has been pretty exciting for us,” Cold Star Freight president Kelly Hawes said during a Webinar held yesterday to promote the upcoming Natural Gas Vehicles Canada conference, to be held in Toronto Oct. 20-22. “We’re very pleased with the results so far.”
Cold Star chose the Mack Pinnacle with the Cummins ISX12 G engine because of its comfort with the local Mack dealer and also because it wanted to draw direct comparisons to its existing fleet of Mack Pinnacle tractors. Cold Star became the first Canadian fleet to put the ISX12 G into service and while Hawes admitted there were some calibration issues to be sorted out at first, it has been smooth trucking ever since.
Cold Star had hoped to reduce its fuel bills by 20% and has exceeded those expectations, generating savings of about 30%. Maintenance costs have been pretty much the same on the CNG units as on the diesel-powered Pinnacles, aside from the engine oil, which costs about $50 more to replace during servicing.
The trucks normally gross less than 80,000 lbs (sometimes as much as 90,000 lbs, though the ISX12 G is not approved for more than 80,000) and performance has not been an issue, Hawes said. The two 45-gallon diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) tanks have a range of about 600 kms, which suits the company’s regular routes of 400 kms per day. The trucks run about 20 hours a day, six days a week and Cold Star Freight partnered with natural gas supplier Fortis to build a fast-fill CNG station near its terminal.
“The nice thing is, fuelling is very simple (with CNG),” Hawes said. “It takes less than 15 minutes to go from empty to full.”
Conveniently, both tanks can be filled from a single connection on one side of the vehicle.
Initially some driver training was required and Hawes acknowledged the CNG engine has less torque and power than a diesel, requiring drivers to drop another couple gears on steep hills. Drivers have had to learn to use the tachometer to hit their shift points rather than relying on the sound of the engine, since the ISX12 G operates so quietly. However, Hawes said there’s a benefit to its quiet operation as well.
“We do deliveries in residential areas and downtown cores,” he said. “We have had e-mails from residents thanking us for reducing noise while doing deliveries.”
As a small fleet, Hawes acknowledged a healthy incentive from Fortis was required to fund the initial purchase. The CNG trucks cost $60,000 more than their diesel counterparts but Fortis paid back 75% of the difference.
“We got a cheque for $45,000 and that was huge for a small company like ours to take the leap and move forward,” Hawes said.
The goal was to displace 38,000 litres of diesel per truck each year, totaling 380,000 litres and Hawes said the company is on pace to exceed this target. One complication was that the trucks rely on B.C. Ferries to get them to Vancouver Island. The ferry operator charges by the foot and a longer wheelbase was required on the CNG units, which led to higher ferry costs.
Still, Hawes is happy with how the trucks are performing. The return on investment with a 30% reduction in fuel costs is less than a year, when the Fortis incentive is factored in. And the savings could get better; currently natural gas costs more on Vancouver Island than in other parts of the province, but Fortis is looking to harmonize pricing across the province in January, which will mean lower CNG prices on the Island.
“We’re very pleased with how seamless the integration was,” Hawes said, noting the company will soon be adding three five-ton Freightliner CNG trucks with the 8.9L Cummins to the fleet. It’s also working with Fortis to build a CNG fuelling site in Nanaimo by the end of next year, which would allow Cold Star to add another five to 10 Class 8 CNG tractors to its fleet, enabling it to cover its entire service area with natural gas-powered trucks.
Hawes will be speaking at the Natural Gas Vehicles Canada conference next month. For more information on the event, visit: www.ngvevent.com/canada/. He will also be speaking at the Surface Transportation Summit Oct. 15. For more information on that event, visit: www.surfacetransportationsummit.com.
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James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies