Fleets switching to natural gas fueling

UPS announced plans to build an additional 12 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations and to add 380 new CNG tractors in the US. This announcement is indicative of a growing trend in North America toward long-term commitments to CNG as a major fleet motor fuel.


UPS, a global leader in transportation and logistics, recently announced plans to build an additional 12 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations and to add 380 new CNG tractors to its alternate fuel and advanced technology truck fleet in the US. The expansion involves purchases totaling $100 million. This announcement is indicative of a growing trend in North America toward long-term commitments to CNG as a major fleet motor fuel. The range of vehicles, the development of fueling infrastructure, and the awareness of the benefits of this technology are all on the upswing.

UPS has history with CNG

UPS operates a motor fleet of 100,000 vehicles worldwide, including local delivery vans and large intercity truck-trailer combinations. The company has evaluated the use of CNG as a motor fuel since 1989, and beginning in 1999 participated in a detailed study by the U.S. DOE on CNG vs. diesel motor fuel at two Connecticut UPS locations. The results of that study were published by DOE in 2002 and included documentation on fuel economy, vehicle maintenance, emissions, and vehicle performance.  Since that time, UPS has periodically expanded its natural gas fleet.

As part of its corporate commitment to sustainable energy use, the company also uses hybrid electric, propane, and composite light-weight body vehicles. UPS had set a goal of achieving one billion miles on its alternate fuel and advanced technology fleet. It met that goal in 2016, one year earlier than initially expected.

] Approximate locations of public CNG fueling stations in the U.S. Note: New facilities are continually being added. Illustration courtesy U.S. DOE.

Commitment based on long-term value

In a 2016 statement, Mark Wallace, UPS Senior Vice President global engineering and sustainability stated, “At UPS, we own our fleet and our infrastructure. This allows us to invest for the long term, rather than planning around near-term fluctuations in fuel pricing.” In addition to the 380 new CNG road tractors, in 2015 the company also announced the purchase of 64 liquefied natural gas (LNG) tractors for its fleet of more than 3,000 natural gas vehicles.

Worldwide trend

The UPS commitment to natural gas as a primary fleet fuel is part of a growing worldwide trend toward this preferred energy source. According to the organization Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica), there are currently about 153,000 natural gas vehicles on U.S. roads. This includes 39,500 heavy duty vehicles – transit buses, school buses, refuse trucks, regional haul trucks, and municipal vehicles. It also includes 25,800 vehicles classified as medium duty – delivery trucks, government vehicles, utility trucks, and airport, university and miscellaneous vehicles.

For all these fleet vehicles, various fueling strategies are used, depending on the daily use pattern and proximity to public or private rapid fueling facilities. For vehicles that normally return to a central site and are not in use in a predictable pattern, many owners choose to install a timed-fill fueling station. For other vehicles that may not be on a predictable daily use pattern, the choice is often to use a public or private fast-fill facility. Such fueling stations are being installed in many urban and interstate highway locations.

Kenworth road tractor with CNG storage tanks behind the cab. Photo courtesy Agility Fuel Solutions.

Fueling systems fit the customer

Agility Fuel Solutions is a leading provider of natural gas fueling systems for heavy-duty and medium-duty vehicles. A spokesperson for Agility, Steve Whaley, was recently a presenter at a Technology & Market Assessment Forum sponsored by the Energy Solutions Center. His presentation focused on the growing opportunity for vehicle providers to reduce operating costs, reduce emissions and offer a positive public presentation by selecting natural gas vehicles.

Whaley points outs obvious first candidates for natural gas fleet use. “The common characteristics are a defined area of travel and overnight refueling at a central location.” A very visible example is transit buses. “Years ago, natural gas adoption in the transit bus market became very popular. They commonly have a central location that the entire fleet can use.” Today, about 30% of the transit buses in the U.S. are fueled with natural gas.

Local-use vehicles an attractive opportunity

He notes that a similar characteristic is seen in the refuse truck market, and today that is a growing area of adoption of natural gas fueling. Similar opportunities exist for ready-mix concrete and parcel delivery trucks. For these types of vehicles, Agility and other companies provide CNG vehicle tank configurations in a wide variety of types to meet the gallonage requirement of the owner, with a choice of the most practical placement of the fuel tanks.

Many new CNG and LNG fueling stations have been built near major interstate highway locations with ample facilities for fleet fueling. Photo courtesy Agility Fuel Solutions.

Over-the-road requires more storage

In addition to the local transit and delivery vehicle markets, there is growing interest in CNG fueling for over-the-road tractors. Whaley points out, “Now that CNG fuel stations are becoming much more common with strategic placement along major highway routes, the heavy-duty trucking industry is the next emerging market for natural gas adoption. These vehicles have much larger fuel storage requirements than buses and refuse collectors, which average 60 to 80 diesel gallon equivalents (DGE).”

He notes that Agility has developed system configurations to meet the range requirements of much longer haul routes. “Side mount systems range from 17 to 120 DGE and behind the cab systems range from 30 to 170 DGE (and sometimes combinations of both) are being implemented to achieve the necessary amount of fuel needed for the route application.”

For the applications such as the UPS purchase of CNG road tractors, companies like Agility help owners evaluate the economic benefits of the purchase. Whaley indicates that the incremental cost of adopting natural gas fueling is proportional to the size capacity of the system purchased. “The most popular for this market segment has been the 160 DGE behind-the-cab system that provides over 600 miles of range and costs on average an additional $45,000.”

Higher vehicle cost offset by fuel savings

He notes, “If the life cycle of this vehicle is specified as 750,000 miles, with the disparity of diesel to natural gas fuel cost at $.80/gallon, the total savings over the life of the truck is over $10,000. When diesel prices are above natural gas by $1.00/gallon, the savings become well over $30,000. If diesel prices were to get past $2.00 per gallon more (as they have done in the past), the net lifetime fuel savings would climb to $150,000 per truck. “

The growing use of natural gas as a primary fuel for both local and over-the-road fleets promises operating savings, lower air emissions, and a secure domestic supply of fuel. Photo courtesy Agility Fuel Solutions.

Lower maintenance costs

Regarding maintenance costs, Whaley points out that because natural gas engines require spark plugs, maintenance costs are slightly higher in the first one to two years. “There is a dramatic reduction after year three, however, due to the expensive diesel exhaust treatment systems needed to comply with emission standards.” Whaley explains that natural gas engines meet EPA and CARB emission standards without the expense of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), particulate filters, or the need for regeneration.

Environmentally sustainable solution

Whaley adds that companies are increasingly requiring environmentally sustainable measures, both as truck buyers and as customers of transportation services. “They are finding that the the natural gas transportation solution is not only environmentally sustainable; it is also economically sustainable.” He adds, “Natural gas provides less expensive and cleaner energy than diesel, and by utilizing our domestically produced energy, we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil.”

More information:

Agility Fuel Solutions

DOE Alternate Fuels Data Center

Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance

Natural Gas Vehicles for America

This article originally appeared in the Gas Technology Spring 2017 issue

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me