Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

5 Factors to Consider When Converting to an NGV Fleet

September 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

CenterPoint Energy began its natural gas initiative in 2011 and expects to have 85 natural gas trucks, mostly ½-ton pickups, by the end of 2013.
CenterPoint Energy began its natural gas initiative in 2011 and expects to have 85 natural gas trucks, mostly ½-ton pickups, by the end of 2013.

A growing number of fleets have discovered that, in the right applications, it pays to go green. This is especially the case for those fleets converting to vehicular natural gas, which offers savings as much as $1.50 per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) and $1.65 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE), based on the latest alternative fuel pricing data from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The low prices are being driven by the fact that the fuel is produced and readily available in the U.S.

A clean-burning fossil fuel comprised mostly of methane, natural gas can be used in gaseous (compressed natural gas/CNG) or liquid form (liquefied natural gas/LNG) to fuel cars and trucks, while reducing smog producing pollutants by as much as 20 to 45 percent, according to the DOE.

Waste Management operates 2,500 Class 8 refuse collection trucks powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), which represents 15 percent of its total fleet.
Waste Management operates 2,500 Class 8 refuse collection trucks powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), which represents 15 percent of its total fleet.

“Compared to diesel, every natural gas truck we put in service saves us $30,000 every year in fuel costs,” said John Lemmon, director of fleet & logistics with Waste Management, a provider of comprehensive waste management services in North America. The company operates 2,500 Class 8 refuse collection trucks powered by CNG, which represents 15 percent of its total fleet, with approximately 90 percent of all new truck purchases being natural gas vehicles (NGVs).

“We started experimenting with natural gas trucks in the mid-1990s in a few markets. After a comprehensive analysis in 2006, we decided natural gas was a viable fuel opportunity for us to take nationwide,” Lemmon said. “By 2008, we had pretty well jumped into natural gas with both feet.”

And, Waste Management is not alone. Several high-profile fleets have made substantial investments in NGVs, such as UPS, AT&T, and Ryder. Yet, despite the fuel cost savings and environmental benefits, vehicular natural gas is not for every fleet. So, what should you consider before going “all-in” with natural gas? Keep these five factors in mind:  

Review the Available Fueling Infrastructure

This is the most important factor to consider. If there’s not sufficient and affordable access to the fuel, natural gas won’t be practical.

“We’re converting vehicles to CNG for the fuel-cost savings, but we’re also making sure the vehicles are operating out of a service center where there is nearby fueling infrastructure,” said Ana Hargrove, sales manager, Texas region for CenterPoint Energy’s natural gas operations. Headquartered in Houston, CenterPoint Energy began its natural gas initiative in 2011 and expects to have 85 natural gas trucks, mostly ½-ton pickups, by the end of 2013.

Hargrove said that CenterPoint opted for a bi-fuel configuration, which enables trucks to operate on either gasoline or CNG, instead of a dedicated system, which operates exclusively on natural gas, to extend range.

“Our trucks are bi-fuel in order for our operations team to be comfortable with the CNG technology,” Hargrove explained. “The primary reason for that configuration is that there aren’t enough fueling stations for our drivers to be 100-percent comfortable with a dedicated natural gas vehicle.”

(As of press time, there are 602 CNG and 33 LNG public access stations nationwide. To find the nearest natural gas refueling stations, see the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center at www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/natural_gas_stations.html.)

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