Is CNG or LNG the alternative answer to rising fuel costs? Chris Mullett reports from Louisville Kentucky.
According to the commodities experts the United States could well become an exporter of natural gas by the end of 2014, ending the nation’s reliance on foreign imports. But does the newfound wealth of the gas drillers produce a global solution for transport operators looking for an alternative to diesel fuel?
When America has a problem it also has a habit of letting the solution it comes up with override any full critique. It often seems to be a case that the end justifies the means.
The latest expansion of the coal seam gas exploration industry, taking place all over America, looks at first sight as though it is the panacea for unemployment. Could this be the rapid way for the nation to reduce a budget deficit of alarming proportions and at the same time provide the means to kick-start the US economy?
The drillers obviously say yes. The methods used in the extraction process of “fracking” requires thousands of new trucks to haul equipment, plus tankers to carry the water and chemicals used to pump under ground to fracture the substructure.
As the nation taps into the gas boom, it’s all systems go for the natural gas exploration industry. And while your company is drilling for gas and finding plenty of reserves that require very little in the way of refining to make it usable, why not run your vehicles on the stuff? After all, it’s up to half the price of petrol and it’s clean as far as emissions regulations are concerned.
The only drawback to all this excitement is that we seem to have very little knowledge available as to how the ground will react to what is taking place sometimes thousands of feet below. Whether the toxins released by the fracking process can seriously damage the environment, turning the ground barren and poisoning water, appears to be a possibility. But all this is lost or forgotten in the search for financial gain.
For Westport Innovations Inc. the availability of clean gas has led to the company developing advanced technology natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) engines, fuel systems, and components for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) light-duty automotive and industrial markets.
Westport also offers OMVL by Westport and Emer by Westport brand aftermarket kits and components for conversion of engines from petrol, to CNG and LPG.
Westport LD (Light Duty) currently collaborates with global manufacturers of motor vehicles, including Ford, GM, Hyundai, Magna-GAZ, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and Volvo Cars with sales in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia.
For industrial applications, Westport also offers complete engine solutions to industrial vehicle OEMs and stationary packagers globally. The Westport 3.8-litre engine provides robust performance for harsh applications such as material handling, oilfield and power generation.
CNG at the pump is close to half the price of diesel or petrol in the US. While there are currently fewer natural gas fuelling stations than traditional petrol stations, the natural gas station numbers are growing, and it’s now possible to do a long-haul trip entirely on natural gas.
The media spin for the gas industry is all about clean energy. One distributor alone has already added 150 LNG refuelling sites across America in the past year and there are currently 23 LNG and 39 CNG sites up and running in Texas alone. Not surprisingly, the drilling companies proudly operate their light, medium and heavy-duty trucks on CNG, LNG or a combination of either fuel with petrol or diesel.
Bi-fuel capability, provided by the Westport WiNG Power System, eliminates the risk or anxiety in long-distance driving. But, as the number of CNG stations grows, it will become easier to do extended drives on CNG alone.
Since the second quarter of 2012, Westport LD has become an authorised Ford dealer distributor, able to supply 2012 Ford Super-Duty trucks with Westport WiNG Power Systems fully pre-installed.
Designed to meet both EPA and CARB standards, the standard Ford 6.2-litre, V8 petrol-fuelled engine for conversion to CNG application is fitted with hardened valves and seats to cope with the lack of lubrication when running on CNG.
The tank, which is made from composite carbon fibre enclosed in an impact resistant Thermoplastic Polyolefin casing, is available in two sizes: 70 or 92 litres (US gallon equivalent GGE). This is mounted within the cargo tub and provides a combined fuel range of over 960 km.
Unlike previous LPG systems where the engine starts on petrol and then switches to gas, the WiNG system starts the engine on CNG and remains using the gas supply until exhausted, at which point it makes an automatic transition to petrol.
This natural gas-powered Ford F250 has a 480 km driving range on CNG alone, and a 1,050 km range with both CNG and gasoline tanks full. Fuel economy performance between CNG or petrol operation is basically identical.
The decision to convert to CNG obviously is based on overall whole-of-life costs. In the American example, where the CNG purchase price is half that of petrol, this is factored in against the cost of the original conversion.
At around $8,000, this represents a price increase on the base vehicle of 20 percent at US costs for a Ford Super-Duty F250 or F350. Moving up the scale to medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks, a similar LNG or CNG conversion is priced in the region of $60,000 – $80,000 above the base price, largely dependent on the size of the fuel tanks fitted to the vehicle.