Saturday, March 23, 2013

Charting a longer-haul course for natural gas

Diesel fuel isn't going away any time soon, but there are companies out there paving the way for natural gas alternatives. These companies include Chart, which has developed a large tank to suit regional and even long-haul applications for heavy-duty trucks.

We caught a glimpse of the 108-inch tank, which holds enough liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to equal 100 diesel equivalent gallons. It's more than a baby step in this field, as those spec'ing longer-haul trucks have questioned the range of natural gas trucks. The LNG tank answers some of those questions, and is more realistic for longer hauls than compressed natural gas, or CNG, would be.

The new tank from Chart  holds LNG at 100 psi at minus-200 degrees Fahrenheit, for 10 days without any release of gas due to warming or expansion, Chart Product Manager Peter Murray told Land Line during the Mid-America Trucking Show. Previous versions of LNG tanks would begin losing small amounts of gas after seven days.
Even if the truck sits for a few days, an hour's worth of drive time will always return the gas to 100 psi at minus-200 degrees.

"When the engine takes in fuel, it extracts heat and cools it," Murray said.

More and more regional and longer-haul operations, including over-the-road, are waiting on natural gas fueling infrastructure to be in place before they make the leap to new trucks and tanks. The move is not going to be for everyone.

Questions about tank weight and payload remain concerns for owner-operators and trucking companies.

Right now, most LNG fueling stations including those built with Chart technologies reside with municipal vehicle fleets, refuse companies and the like. Public fueling is on its way, according to many OEMs and folks at Chart who are in the know.

"You will see Chart equipment at public fueling stations," said Paul Sjogren of the company's Minnesota plant. Chart is based in Cleveland, OH, with manufacturing plants in Minnesota and Georgia employing about 2,000 people. They are currently equipped to manufacture about 100 tanks per day, but the Chart folks say they could easily upgrade their facilities to reach the thousands if and when the demand hits.

Fueling stations currently hold about 6,000 gallons of LNG, but upgrades to 16,000 gallons are on the way so tankers can deliver full loads.

Fueling Chart's new 108-inch, 100 diesel-equivalent-gallon tank takes about five minutes, a much shorter duration than a CNG fill.

Murray says Chart LNG tanks have made it onto many OEMs' trucks including Navistar, Mack, Volvo, Peterbilt, Kenworth and Freightliner models.

Oh, and about the cost? While the company won't give specifics, they hinted at numbers "under $35,000" for the new LNG tank. That may seem expensive, but considering that companies can lock into a fixed price for natural gas for up to 20 years and that natural gas trucks could save 30-50 percent in fueling costs over the life of a truck, the payback could be quick.

"They would see a 12- to 18-month payback," Murray says.

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