NASHVILLE, TN. Several trucking operations with extensive experience operating natural-gas vehicles (NGVs) related why they run engines fueled by CNG (compressed natural gas) and LNG (liquefied natural gas) and what advantages these powerplants are delivering. The fleet managers spoke during a well-attended technical session presented here yesterday during the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting.

Steve Sutton, UPS automotive & engineering manager, pointed out that the package-delivery giant has an “all-of-the-above strategy” in place for alternative fuels “as there is no blanket solution yet.” He said examining each alternative involves considering mitigating the risk of operating with it, its impact on environmental sustainability and the role of legislation. “All play a part in choosing the fuel” for a specific truck application, he said.

As for CNG, he reported the company has been operating trucks powered by it since 1989 and now over 1,000 of its package cars use it. He said UPS was the “first in the industry to purchase” LNG - in 2000 - and now runs a group of tractor-trailers powered by it in its West Coast fleet.

“We’ve found that CNG is suited to mid- to lower [mile] range operations and view LNG as looking particularly attractive for long-haul Class 8 applications,” Sutton related.

He said making a decision to adopt either CNG or LNG must be based in part on the “diesel/alternative-fuel price spread, with the idea being to spread out the higher initial purchase cost for these vehicles through the fuel savings attained.”

Turning specifically to LNG for over-the-road use, Sutton said it can cut petroleum use by 95% and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 25% while providing a 500- to 550-mi. operating range between fill-ups. “LNG tractors have been shown to reduce operating costs, he noted, “but [that must be weighed] against higher initial costs.”

On the other hand, Sutton said new Class 8 NGV engines coming to market “may reduce vehicle costs sufficiently to enable attractive investments [by fleets] without [outside] financial assistance.”

Regarding UPS package cars that have been running on CNG, he said based on the company’s 20 years of experience, their maintenance costs are “on par” with other fuels and there are “no issues with drivers or technicians” when running these trucks.

Sutton also advised that all NGVs must be serviced in designated shop bays that meet the National Fire Protection Assn.’s Code 30A for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages.

Scott Perry, Ryder’s vice president of fleet management solutions, said the company now has 300 NGVs in service, giving it 10 million miles of experience. “We operate NG-compliant maintenance shops in California, Arizona and Michigan—with other locations being upgraded—and two LNG/CNG fueling stations.”

He advised of a long list of “business case considerations” that must be examined before making a decision on CNG or LNG:

  • Vehicle range
  • Time-fill vs. fast fill refueling
  • Out-of-route mileage caused by access to fueling sites
  • Added fueling time (vs. diesel) affects driver hours
  • Added vehicle weight of 200 to 600 lbs.
  • Whether to build fuel stations or contract with a 3rd party plus private vs. public fuel sites

“In Ryder’s operations,” said Perry, “decreased costs from NGVs resulted from no DPF cleaning or DEF being required as well as from [substantial fuel savings.”

Investments needed to run NGVs, however, are pricey, according to Perry:

  • Facility modifications run from $250,000 to $500,000
  • Technician training/tooling equals $25,000
  • Maintenance inventory adds $10,000
  • Vehicle premium for tractors runs $50,000 to $60,000
  • Vehicle premium for large straight trucks runs $30,000 to $40,000
  • Vehicle premium for small straight trucks runs $10,000 to $20,000

Perry said Ryder’s return on these investments will be influenced by running costs “and right now the fleet is still young” and fuel savings that will be determined by miles run and fuel prices. “Residual values for NGVs,” he added, “are unknown at this time.”

“Reliability, sustainability and capability” are the watchwords when it comes to deciding on running NGVs, said Michael Birk, Frito Lay’s senior national fleet sustainability manager. “Five or six years ago, the company adopted a national fleet operations strategy before adding alternative-fuel vehicles to our mix,” he noted. He said the idea was to “maximize the return on invested capital by optimizing [our] criteria across a suite of possible [NGV] solutions.

“As a result, in 2013,” Birk continued. “CNG tractors will be operating out of 50% of our sites and will make up 20% of our entire [tractor] fleet.”

He said Frito Lay approached the question of fueling by “sending out proposals for suppliers to respond to regarding establishing infrastructure.” He advised that the plan now calls for building public fueling locations near Frito Lay fleet sites.

“There’s no silver bullet [when it comes to alternative fuels],” Birk summed up. “It takes people, a commitment to process and [accepting] technology [to reach decisions].”