Volvo Drops NG Engine Development

Volvo VNL with Cummins Westport LNG engine

Greensboro, NC — Volvo Trucks has put on hold plans to launch its own compression-ignition liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine for North America. The company says it’s “adapting to the pace of the North American alternative fuel market,” and goes on to bemoan the slow progress of natural gas as an over-the-road option.

“Development of the natural gas infrastructure to support long-haul trucking has been modest over the last year, and the needs of customers in the primary markets for natural gas vehicles – regional-haul and dedicated routes – are being met with the company’s current natural gas line-up,” Volvo says.

That line-up includes factory-built VNM 200 and VNL 300 daycabs with spark-ignition Cummins Westport ISL G and ISX12 G engines that can run on LNG or compressed natural gas (CNG) for local and regional-haul applications. Those options were introduced last year.

The proprietary Volvo 13-liter LNG engine that’s been dropped is different. Its advanced high-pressure diesel-ignition technology would provide significant fuel efficiency gains compared with spark-ignited natural gas engines, the company said when it was announced in March 2013, making it “a viable solution” for long-haul trucking applications.

It’s not that Volvo hasn’t tried to promote natural gas. Early last year, along with sister company Mack, it linked up with Shell to collaborate and co-ordinate activities supporting the wider use of LNG as a fuel for heavy-duty commercial vehicles. It was a formal agreement, not a handshake deal, and global. The agreement was to include collaboration on issues like fuel specs and emissions performance, as well as general sharing of knowledge and experience.

The company still believes that dimethyl ether (DME) – which can be produced from natural gas – holds promise as a heavy-truck fuel, and customer field testing of its DME-powered vehicles will continue. Initially, Volvo said it would produce DME-fuelled trucks for North America in 2015 but in today’s announcement that changed.

“The company has decided not to establish a commercialization date as it continues monitoring market and stakeholder interest in the fuel,” today’s press release said.

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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