Big-name trucker calls for gov’t support of LNG trucks

BOUCHERVILLE, Que. — Claude Robert says the Canadian trucking industry faces an uncertain future if the federal government does not support the conversion of fleets to alternative fuels the way the U.S. government is planning to do.

Speaking at a conference of the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Canada earlier this month, the CEO of Quebec-based Robert Transport praised efforts in the U.S. to subsidize the cost of converting fleets to natural gas.

"We hope that our Canadian government will support us in the same way because if it was to (succeed), the Americans will have such an edge over Canadian carriers we won’t be in the game anymore,” he said. “It is very important that this message is brought to the right people (in Canada).”

Robert has put his own company on the path to convert a portion of his fleet to natural gas over the next few years. He said he expects many other carriers to start considering alternative fuels as concerns about price, politics, and environmental sustainability merge.

“Probably with what is happening right now in the Gulf (of Mexico), it will convince a lot of people to go with natural gas rather than conventional oil or diesel,” he said.

As we reported recently, Robert Transport is working on a deal with Gaz Metro, a leading distributor of natural gas in Quebec, to put up to 130 natural gas highway tractors on the road within the next five years.

Incentives will be necessary if natural gas
trucks are going to get significant market penetration

The move appears to be the largest over-the-road operation using natural gas in North America. (Trimac runs 20-some trucks on — ironically (or maybe not) — an LNG-hauling contract in the western U.S.)

Robert described his plan — dubbed Blue Road — as "very costly” for his company, but calculated to realize impressive returns as the cost of diesel inevitably rises.

The cost of LNG over the next decade is expected to be far more favorable to business than that of diesel fuel because of recent technological improvements that have doubled the economically recoverable volume of natural gas in North America. At current production levels, America has more than 115 year’s worth of natural gas resources.

In addition, natural gas offers a significantly lower carbon emissions profile compared to both gas and diesel.

“This is the justification for paying twice as much money for a truck,” he said. “It’s a high risk for a corporation but we believe in the future. We believe that trucking will be there and we have to do it the right way.”

Many companies are also finding that drivers actually prefer the LNG trucks.

“I’ve driven in the truck myself,” Robert said, “and I was convinced that there was no difference from diesel, with the exception of [two things]. No noise, and when you pull the gauge for the oil, the oil is like the day you put it in. There is no carbon going into the engine.”

Our sister publication Transport Routier learned that Robert is planning to buy PACCAR trucks equipped with the high-pressure direct injection 15-liter Westport GX engine. Based on the Cummins ISX, the GX can deliver up to 450 hp and 1,750 lb-ft of torque.

Westport is the largest LNG maker in North America, but Navistar is also gearing up for an entrance into this market. It is partnering with Clean Air Power to develop the MaxxForce 13 engine to run on both natural gas and clean diesel fuel via the company’s ‘Dual-Fuel’ combustion technology.

Given that the present premium for an NGV is in the $50,000-$70,000 range, government support is going to be necessary if natural gas trucks are going to get significant market penetration, industry-wide, says Jean-Robert Lessard, Robert’s vice president of marketing.

"We also need to make sure there is a tax balance between diesel and natural gas, meaning that we must avoid that the government taxes LNG at the same level as diesel."

For starters, Quebec recently announced a depreciation break for natural gas trucks.

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