Nat-Gas Engine Unveiled as Some Wonder About Its Future

by Evan Lockridge

Online Exclusive Feature

VANCOUVER, B.C — Cummins Westport Inc. is broadening its offerings in natural gas engines for commercial vehicles as some are wondering what the future holds for this alternative fuel in the wake of lower diesel prices.

The ISB6.7 G model is a 6.7 liter medium-duty, factory built, dedicated engine for medium duty truck and vocational applications as well as for school bus and shuttle bus applications.

It’s based on Cummins ISB6.7 diesel engine platform. This new model will operate exclusively on compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG), using Cummins Westport’s proprietary spark-ignited, stoichiometric combustion with cooled exhaust gas recirculation (SEGR) technology, first introduced with the 8.9 liter ISL G model engine.

The ISB6.7 G features three-way catalyst aftertreatment, which is packaged as a muffler and is maintenance-free. No diesel particulate filter or selective catalytic reduction after-treatment will be required, according to the company.

Preliminary specifications include a range of ratings to 260 hp and 660 lb.-ft. torque and automatic transmission capability. 

It is expected to be certified at launch to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board emission standards including 2016 U.S. greenhouse gas and fuel economy regulations.

The engine is currently in field trials, with full production expected to begin in mid-2016 at Cummins’ medium-duty engine plant in Rocky Mount, NC, as part of the joint venture between Cummins Inc. and Westport Innovations Inc.

This news comes as sales of natural gas powered trucks have cooled from expectations of a couple of years ago, according to a recent report from commercial vehicle industry data provider ACT Research.

The reason? The decline in the cost of diesel fuel, compared to a year ago, has made the return on investment for the adoption of natural gas less lucrative and longer, due to the higher cost of a natural gas powered vehicles over ones using diesel.

Original projections were that 2015 would see a 5% penetration of natural-gas-powered heavy-duty trucks, but based on 2014 actual results and the sharp drop in oil prices starting in the fourth quarter of 2014, the report calls such a forecast optimistic.

While oil and diesel prices have rebounded lately from multi-year lows, there is a general consensus by analysts that prices won’t return soon high levels. However, that doesn’t mean natural gas has no future in trucking.

One recent research report, published in March, said demand for natural gas is expected to grow even more on a worldwide basis, due in large part to increased use of natural gas for generating electricity.

This, coupled with evidence from the same report, that natural gas production is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, could result in natural gas prices being lower than now, making it more attractive when compared to diesel.

Add to this the environmental benefits of using the less polluting fuel that some shippers and even carriers like to tout and there is no reason to think natural gas for trucking is dead.

Last week trucking and parcel delivery giant UPS said it was adding 64 liquefied natural gas tractors to its fleet, increasing its worldwide numbers to 2,500.

Earlier it said it planned to build 15 compressed natural gas fuel stations and add 1,400 CNG tractors to its fleet over the next ten years.

So while you may wonder if there is a future for natural gas, the largest carrier in Canada and the U.S. has already made up its mind.

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