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Natural gas trucks still in early days

Dallas, TX, US: Temperature-controlled logistics provider CR England, which runs 4,800 trucks, is struggling to achieve a payback on its 5-strong fleet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled trucks, says its chairman, Dan England, speaking at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference last week.

The LNG fueled Kenworth T800 trucks, with the Westport 15-litre HD LNG engine, run a dedicated route between Southern California and Las Vegas. The five trucks were deployed last October and are running a loop for Coca-Cola that takes them 250 miles in each direction daily. There are LNG filling stations at each end of the route.

The trucks are on a full-service lease with Paccar but “pretty staggering” maintenance costs of about 11 cents per mile (compared to 5-7 cents for diesel-powered vehicles) are eating into the fuel savings, England said.

England said the LNG trucks require oil and fuel filter changes twice as frequently as their diesel counterparts and valve adjustments have been required after 60,000 miles compared to 500,000 miles on diesel tractors.
“You begin to see, there are some additional costs associated with running LNG versus diesel,” England said.

There have also been more frequent breakdowns with the LNG trucks. One was placed out of service for two consecutive weeks and of 19 engine-related breakdowns, 10 were related to the LNG system itself, England said.

“We’re not real high on what’s happening with our application right now,” England said. “To get to a break-even point on a 15-litre engine, we have to be out there with a diesel cost of about $4.80 and it isn’t there now, so obviously we’re not breaking even with these 15-litre trucks.”

He said Paccar has been working with the carrier to address issues and that he still feels natural gas is a viable option. He said the 12-litre ISX G will likely be a better fit for CR England’s application and he also said engine costs must come down to make natural gas more feasible.

“Quite simply, the cost of these engines has got to come down,” England said. “And it will, with volume it will come down.”

But there are benefits to transitioning to natural gas he said. “Natural gas is still new and evolving and we have no doubt that we’re going to see a pretty good percentage of our fleet five years down the road running natural gas.”