By on April 23, 2013

America sits on one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas, more than enough to make the U.S. independent from the foreign oil imports the electric vehicles failed to avert. While the price of oil goes up, natural gas is now cheaper than 30 years ago. Greenhouse gas emissions from engines powered by natural gas trucks are about 20 percent lower than those powered by gasoline or diesel. One would not notice this at normal “gas” station. Cars and trucks still mostly fuel up the old-fashioned way. A change to natural gas is now brought by UPS.  

UPS will buy about 700 LNG vehicles, supplied by four refueling stations by the end of 2014, Reuters says.  UPS said that with natural gas prices 30-40 percent lower than imported diesel, the investment will see a quick payback. UPS already has more than 1,000 natural gas vehicles on the road across the world and will have one of the biggest LNG truck fleets in the world one the project is completed.

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44 Comments on “Brown Goes Green, Makes Green With LNG Trucks...”


  • avatar
    Toad

    1700 vehicles is a pretty serious commitment and a good sign that LNG/CNG vehicles are not a fad or greenwashing.

    If 10 years ago somebody had told me that in 2013the US would be close to being energy independent AND lowering emissions with domestic fuel I would have laughed.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I kinda want to do one of these as a hybrid- gas/natural gas on a SBC, my biggest concern though is refueling, not many where I live. Power output I’ve heard is also a problem.

      Edit: didn’t mean to post as a reply, but w/e

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        As the popularity of natgas rises, we’ll see more of the home-based natgas compressors around.

        Natgas fueled vehicles have been available in Europe for decades. I owned a used gasoline/natgas Opel Ambassador while stationed in Germany back in the seventies. Most gas stations there, like all Esso, Fina, Texaco, BP and Shell had natgas fueling available, along with LPG, gasoline and diesel. But only Esso would take the military coupons.

        The home natgas compressors are available now but they are pricey, usually aimed at fleet use.

        Basically, you hook them up to your natgas utility line (if you have one) at your house, and the machine takes the 15psi feed and compresses it into a storage tank you can refuel your vehicle from.

        It’s fool proof and similar to refueling a vehicle with propane or LPG. If it ain’t hooked up right, it ain’t gonna work.

        You get a little white foam when you disconnect the filler from the car’s fuel tank, just like with LPG, but it is even easier than refueling with gasoline or diesel.

        For more info on these units contact your municipal natgas fleet manager, if your city/town/metropolis uses a natgas fleet of vehicles. Many do.

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          HDC, the fleet quality natural gas compressors I found would have cost almost $10k installed for the kind without a storage tank. With a storage tank it costs more plus more stringent fire safety requirements come into effect. On top of this, the compressor itself wears out over time. The $10k forklift refueling compressors can be rebuilt, but they can’t be installed inside the garage. The consumer type $5k compressors that can be installed in the garage can’t be rebuilt and have to be replaced when they wear out. I came to the conclusion that running a car on natural gas was more expensive than gasoline even if somebody gave me the natural gas for free. It only starts to make sense if you use large quantities of fuel and get government subsidies. It also makes some sense for Southern California commuters because using CNG can give you solo access to the HOV lanes.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            George B, it’s hard to justify the costs of converting to natgas as a transportation fuel.

            The hope is that an infrastructure will form if and when natgas-powered passenger cars become widely accepted, and available.

            I’m all for expansion of natgas applications in vehicles. I think it is a viable fuel that requires less manipulation than converting oil into refined products.

            In the mean time, I remain a staunch supporter of gasoline for my own use, although I do use LPG alongside the natgas we use at home for heating and outdoor grilling.

            The 250 gallon LPG tank we have on our property is a left over from the days before the utility piped in natural gas to our area.

            We got water, sewer and natgas in 2009 when the utility companies expanded into our area.

            All the houses owned by my wife’s family use natgas, mostly for heating, but some for cooking as well, because they are located in built-up neighborhoods in towns and cities.

            But it doesn’t make economic sense at this point to install a home natgas compressor, in addition to having to pay the premium on a natgas enabled vehicle.

            Gasoline remains the best fuel and the best value for the vast majority of us.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …..Basically, you hook them up to your natgas utility line (if you have one) at your house, and the machine takes the 15psi feed and compresses it into a storage tank you can refuel your vehicle from…..

          That’s quite the high pressure supply. Most natural gas is well under 1 psi in the typical home setup. If you have a need for greater pressure to run, say, a decent sized generator, you may have a higher pressure supply at 2 psi.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            golden2husky, that should be 1.5 as in one-and-a-half pounds per square inch. I screwed up! Sorry. I should have proof-read.

            The heater for our outdoor pool and hot tub has a gas pressure gauge on it and it ranges from 1 to 5 psi on a 1″ dia blackpipe line.

            We converted from LPG to natgas in 2009.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    There is pretty good information that NG-powered vehicles are not going to be limited to local delivery fleets that refuel every night, such as city buses and UPS delivery trucks.

    Apparently, a number of long-haul trucking firms are investigating, in a serious way, the feasibility of using LNG to fuel their trucks’ engines. I believe, in addition to the fuel costs savings, there are other benefits. As any diesel engine mechanic knows, diesel engine combustion is a pretty dirty process, which among other things, makes high demands on lube oil. Eliminating that could have a very significant positive effect on service intervals and moving parts wear, a significant consideration in engines which run many hours in a short time. CNG isn’t volumetrically efficient enough for use other than in local fleet vehicles, which can be refueled every day.

    And, in certain areas (where electricity is generated by burning coal), a CNG vehicle is actually going to be much cleaner than a so-called “zero emission” electric vehicle.

  • avatar
    chris724

    I’ve seen a lot of CNG fueled garbage trucks recently. I assume these used to be Diesel powered. Does anyone know, are these CNG trucks still Diesels, or do they change to spark ignition?

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      Spark.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It can be done with spark or compression. Spark works similar to a gas engine. Compression still uses some diesel. Typically they will idle on diesel only and will continue to use diesel at that rate while under power. They just introduce the natural gas on the intake stroke and then inject a little diesel to light the fire. Very similar to propane injection on regular diesels.

      • 0 avatar
        Silvy_nonsense

        Every natural gas refuse truck that I’ve ever encountered is running an engine that was purpose built for natural gas and runs exclusively on natural gas (and uses spark plugs).

        A hybrid diesel/NG system would be a horrible choice for a refuse truck because you’d have the weight of the diesel emissions controls combined with the weight NG tanks, reducing your payload capacity by about a ton. Where refuse trucks are running NG, its typically because its required by the municipality/franchise authority/whatever as an environmental measure. Running diesel would defeat the purpose.

        Where are they running diesel/NG hybrid refuse trucks?

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Who said anything about refuse trucks. I sure didn’t.

          In most cases using the diesel ign system is done on conversions so you can avoid replacement or retrofiting an existing truck where there are govt forces in action.

          For info on how a diesel ign CNG sytem works cleanairpower.com/duel-technology.php

          However since you brought up the whole refuse truck thing around here the new trucks are exclusively CNG and it has nothing to do with being green and is all about saving green via lower fuel cost.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Given the insane costs to do a CNG conversion to an existing vehicle ($10K to $13K) I would much prefer the ‘guberment handing out $7.5K tax paydays to do CNG conversions than to buy a Volt. It just makes so much more sense when you look at distribution, fill up time, performance and range impact, cost, and emissions. Not to mention, the modifications to the engine is rather unremarkable to run on CNG, and the energy yield is similar to gasoline.

    No ethanol, no oil, no leaky storage tanks under gasoline stations. Oh wait, no ethanol. No corn subsidies, no fat checks to producers, lower food costs…now I get why the ‘guberment won’t do it.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I’m sorry did I miss where electric vehicles were “supposed to avert oil imports” I think you are unfamiliar with the term “side benefit” electricity is not a fuel just a medium of transport of energy. That energy could easily come from a nat gas fired power plant, and re-fueling is as easy as plugging in at home.

    Anyways where I live in MA there are a number of CNG stations around, the average consumer can sign up for access and Honda offers the CNG Civic. Would be a pain sticking to 2-3 fuel up locations but possible for the average consumer to take advantage of.

    I am curious how the LNG vehicle works it has to have cryogenic cooling equipment to keep the gas liquified?

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    There are no public CNG stations in the DC area, although there are plenty of private ones – one of the presenters for the annual TRB conference missed his presentation time slot because he drove his CNG honda down from New England and had to go to Baltimore to fill it up!

    Like DC Bruce said, you can’t fit enough CNG onto a vehicle to make it good for long distances, at best you get the range of a regular tank of gasoline, but minus the trunk space. With the current refueling structure, it makes more sense for centrally located fleet vehicles, like busses, delivery, and govt civics (DC uses them). There are fast-charge and trickle-charge CNG fueling – fast is just as fast as gasoline, and the slow takes 6-8 hours, parked in a central lot. There is a home compressor that acts like this, but in your garage. It’s like having a furnace running 6 hours a night, except it compresses ng and puts it into the tank.

    LNG is another beast altogether. It’s kept at very low temperatures, so fueling will require training and PPE. Also, lots of stainless steel for all the fittings. Filling station design has to capture the boil off gas and either save it to re-liquify or burn in a generator… if the boil off gas is vented or even flared it becomes pretty detrimental to the environment. Those big tall LNG tanks can only be emptied to the 1/3 mark before needing to be re-filled – the extra space means lower pressure and more boil-off.

    All in all, neat stuff. It will be interesting to see how the LNG Wartsilla engine trials go with the 1,000 trucks at Port of Long Beach.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “Like DC Bruce said, you can’t fit enough CNG onto a vehicle to make it good for long distances, at best you get the range of a regular tank of gasoline, but minus the trunk space.”

      If CNG has the range of a regular tank of gas, how can it not be good for long distances? I don’t understand what you are trying to say there. Were you commenting on the lack of refueling infrastructure?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Natgas does not pack as much energy as gasoline or diesel.

        • 0 avatar
          Silvy_nonsense

          @highdesertcat, He said you can get the same range as with gasoline, so I’m not seeing a problem. It’s like saying your 10 measly dimes don’t offer the same buying power as my 4 big quarters.

          The comment on loss of trunk space is legit. Maybe that was the point? Again, I don’t see what that has to do with traveling long distances.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Silvy_nonsense, based on my own experience, albeit dated, that seventies Opel Ambassador I had in Germany gave me about HALF the range on CNG than it did on gasoline.

            It had an 80-liter CNG tank that took up most of the trunk space, and a 15-gallon gasoline tank under the rear seat.

            The way I used it was mostly on CNG because it was dirt cheap, even back then.

            But whenever I ran out of CNG, I flipped a couple of toggle switches in the glove compartment, while coasting, and within seconds the gasoline would take over.

            But I do recall that the range on CNG was considerably less than on gasoline.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        In the case of the natural gas powered Honda Civic GX, you get a compromise vehicle with half the trunk space and half the range of gasoline powered Civic. The tanks are that big. If you have lots of refueling stations, you could take a road trip in a natural gas powered Civic GX, stopping every 200 miles, but you couldn’t carry much luggage. However, because the refueling time can be reasonably fast without hurting vehicle life, the natural gas powered car can do a road trip in a way that the battery electric vehicle can’t.

        • 0 avatar
          Silvy_nonsense

          I wasn’t aware that the CNG tank in the Civic only offered about half the range of the gasoline version.

          BTW is that half the range based on CNG fast fill? I assume the only way to slow fill a passenger car is if you have a CNG compressor at home.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          The highway range on the Civic CNG is about 300 miles, but you’re right that the luggage space is halved. There are quite a few of them on the roads here, since there are a couple CNG stations selling the stuff for as little as $2.06 a gasoline-gallon-equivalent. That’s half price by local gasoline rates. The CNG option still carries about an $8,500 premium, so there are probably other forces than economic ones at work.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The nearest CNG station in my area is at White Sands Missile Range, an Army installation, not accessible by the general public. Besides that, I think there may a couple more throughout the state of New Mexico. But that’s all.

      That would mean you would have to invest in a home-fueling station if you want to go with a natgas vehicle in New Mexico.

      Ranchers and farmers in my area are big on LPG. And LPG is plentiful, albeit at a higher cost than natgas. Just about everyone in the outlying areas where I live has a huge LPG tank that is refilled weekly by an even bigger tanker truck.

      Since we have a large UPS distribution center located about 30 miles from where I live, and since they have a large number of their UPS vehicles parked there every night, I wonder how this UPS center is going to handle the gradual conversion to natgas, especially since their UPS vehicles travel several hundred miles in four directions every day to make the outlying deliveries.

      • 0 avatar
        Silvy_nonsense

        They will obviously only convert routes to CNG that can be run on CNG, based on the max range of their CNG trucks. Box bodied trucks can put CNG tanks on the roof, adding tanks until they either get the range they need or run out of space.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          No need to put tanks on the roof there is more than enough room under floor for lots of tanks or in the case of UPS’s EV and Hybrid step vans lots of batteries.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Good for them. So long as I’m not legislated into a corner where I have to do it, all will be well.

  • avatar
    RobAllen

    When going from a gas to a diesel, you gain a monster amount of torque and better mpg of fuel (in general) compared with a similar size/displacement gasoline engine.

    What’s the trade-off or gain when moving to *NG?

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Because natural gas isn’t very dense, it’s hard to fill the cylinder with both air and natural gas. For a normally aspirated engine that means less peak horsepower for the same engine displacement compared to the same size engine running on gasoline. The typical solution is larger engine displacement. Might be less of a problem for a turbocharged direct injected engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Lower operating costs.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      Using a class 8 truck chassis as an example, a CNG engine is much more expensive than a comparable diesel engine. CNG packs less energy than gas or diesel but is far cheaper, so you come out ahead financially despite burning more fuel to do the same amount of work. NG engines are more quiet than comparable diesel engines and don’t emit soot particulates. CNG tanks take up more space and weigh more than gas/diesel tanks, however diesel trucks carry heavy, expensive emissions control equipment that CNG trucks don’t need.

      Diesel fleet operators can send drivers to a nearby truck stop or have a fueling service come at night and top off all the tanks. For a CNG fleet operator, you’ll need lots of capital dollars to construct a CNG compression station and distribution rails. These investments are expensive and may not be a workable option for small fleet “mom and pop” operators.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    EVs didn’t fail to avert anything, and neither will LNG if it only offers a 20% reduction in ‘greenhouse gases’.

    Methane leakage in the production process is supposed to be 25x worse as a ‘greenhouse gas’ than CO2, so it is estimated that LNG really only improves matters by 6-11%. Heck, driving the speed limit will do that in your regular vehicle.

    The special handling of highly flammable fuel that’s at -260F would be a treat.

    How is LNG ready for prime time, but an EV isn’t?

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    T. Boone Pickens has been preaching the benefits of natural gas for large trucks for at least a decade. For a fraction of what we squandered on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could have upgraded our infrastructure to make it economical for longhaul trucks to run on natural gas, a practice that would save them money, reduce greenhouse gases, reduce dependency on foreign oil and indirectly reduce demand for oil,and thereby lower gasoline prices. I’m wondering whether the most economical design for a long-haul natural gas powered big rig would be a gas turbine/electric set up.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Had the plans to convert an old vw to propane (I think). Kits are cheap but nobody apparently seems to make a diy kit for anything with FI. Had a local mechanic who converted an old cavalier. Among the benefits are that the engines apparently last longer. Seems to me that the biggest drawback to running NG or Propane is the cost of conversion.

    I know the taxman also reared his ugly head and was assessing extra taxes if you used the propane in a car. I do not mean to introduce confusion by switching back and forth between propane and NG but the benefits and drawbacks seem similar. Any clues on why NG has the focus when propane is so available.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    Natural gas does seem like a very viable option for the US. Unfortunately, the anti-any fossil fuel mentality in Washington is holding it back. I currently drive 125 miles round trip 4 days a week and drive past a station that sells CNG. The price has been $1.79 / gallon equivalent since they installed the systems about 6 months ago. Doing the math on that, I could easily pay for a CNG Civic (for example) just on the savings over gas – and probably would if I was going to be doing this drive long term. Electric cars are a novel concept, but the range concerns and recharging times are a deal breaker for all but a narrow segment of the market. People take long trips occasionally and an e-car isn’t an option in that situation. Would the infrastructure to support natural gas vehicles not be much easier to build out than it would be for electric cars?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Much easier and cheaper to build out an EV charging network than CNG which is much cheaper than that to build out LNG. Electric power is most everywhere including in most peoples homes. Even the fastest charger is much cheaper than a CNG refueling machine.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      At that price, they can’t be collecting any of the fuel taxes levied on gasoline and diesel. I’d be wary of governments adding the taxes later.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Up here Purolator has brought into their fleet LPG/Electric hybrids on Grumman chassis. The drivers *hate* them. Absolutely no pickup. The local UPS boys already have the CNG trucks deployed but I haven’t talked to them on how the trucks perform.

  • avatar
    d002

    @”UPS said that with natural gas prices 30-40 percent lower than imported diesel, the investment will see a quick payback.”

    Except that CNG uses about 40% more fuel than diesel, and then there’s the conversion costs.

    CNG isn’t used in Europe, South America or Australia, where diesel is much more expensive than USA, so its unlikely to take off there either.

    CNG vehicles are used in Pakistan, where diesel imports are subject to “political” constraints, but mostly in small ignition engine vehicles like four cylinder pick ups and mini-buses, not large trucks.

    CNG might be viable in taxi fleets, if the LPG price continues to rise.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No they are referring to the overall cost of the fuel considering fuel economy. For commercial vehicles that use a lot of fuel the projected savings can be $100K or more over the life expectancy of the vehicle, assuming of course that the price differential holds out, which it won’t over the long run. If it does replace diesel on a large scale then there will be a glut that will lead to lower diesel prices and if demand goes up significantly for NG it’s price will rise.


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