CNG-Powered Vehicles Take Root Across North America
McNeilus Companies helps Nebraska put its first CNG-powered refuse truck into service at Uribe Refuse Services. Many companies across the country are converting to compressed natural gas because of significant benefits and cost savings.
Uribe Refuse Services in Lincoln, Neb., ia running the state’s first natural gas-powered refuse truck — a McNeilus® Heavy Duty Rear Loader with a back-of-cab CNG fuel system, exclusively engineered and installed by McNeilus technicians.
Waste Advantage Magazine © May 2014By Kelli Sandhurst
The move from traditional diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles continues to accelerate. The trend is taking root in a variety of industries and in areas of the country where the technology previously had not been widely adopted. The industries involved in this shift include refuse haulers, both large and small, as well as heavy-duty construction vehicles, concrete mixers, over-the-road trucks, delivery vans and more.
The Growing Demand
In fact, the first CNG-powered garbage trucks in Nebraska are about to go into service, thanks to McNeilus Companies in Dodge Center, MN. Uribe Refuse Services of Lincoln, NE, is a third generation family-owned and operated company established in 1976. A Uribe spokesperson said its first CNG-powered refuse truck, built by McNeilus, will travel the company’s heaviest route to gain optimum cost savings. Uribe plans to replace some of its other trucks with CNG over the next few years.
Utility companies supplying natural gas for CNG-powered vehicles, such as Black Hills Energy, are also seeing growing demand for the clean-burning and cost-effective fuel. Paul Cammack, Black Hills Energy natural gas vehicle expert, says, “Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) have actually been in use for decades, and CNG technology has developed to a point where converting (to compressed natural gas) is often the practical and cost-effective choice.”
A growing CNG distribution network plays a vital role in supporting the expanded use of the fuel. More than 1.2 million miles of natural gas pipeline crisscross the country, and the number of natural gas fueling stations, which recently passed 1,000, continues to grow rapidly. In Lincoln, NE, for example, there now are three fueling stations: one at the Lincoln Airport, a second at Black Hills and a third station just opened near Cornhusker Highway.
“Black Hills helps local communities develop and sustain economic development and community betterment programs. It also helps fleet managers think about compressed natural gas and NGVs by offering ideas and information as an extension of those partnerships,” said Cammack.
Bottom-Line Operating Costs
Now more than ever, refuse haulers are considering CNG-powered vehicles. While reducing a company’s carbon footprint is an important factor, bottom-line operating costs are equally important. McNeilus customer Northside Carting of North Andover, MA, is a family-owned, full-service waste disposal and recycling company that’s considering converting its fleet to CNG for those very reasons. “We’re thinking of moving to compressednatural gas because of the environmental considerations and the cost of fuel. Our goal is to continue providing excellent service and support to all of our customers, and CNG would help us do that,” said Bill Thomson, Northside Carting owner.
McNeilus, one of the refuse industry’s top manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles and CNG solutions, has also witnessed the growing movement toward alternative power sources firsthand. Senior Program and Product Manager Greg McCarty says the cost savings provided by converting to compressed natural gas have played a big part. “The move to CNG-powered vehicles in the refuse industry continues to accelerate across the country, as haulers of all sizes better understand the significant benefits,” said McCarty. “In comparison to conventional diesel power, CNG conversion nets a substantial return on investment, especially through lower fuel costs.”
The benefits to haulers that come with CNG conversion have been relayed loud and clear to those responsible for developing the fuel systems at McNeilus. “We are hearing very positive feedback from haulers who have garnered enthusiastic comments from their residential and commercial customers,” said McCarty. “Not only do CNG-powered vehicles run cleaner, save money and reduce a company’s carbon footprint, they are much quieter when operating. That’s a significant community benefit, especially on early morning residential routes.”
Compressed natural gas burns more cleanly than traditional fuels like diesel. Any buildup or by-products that come from fuel combustion is little to none with CNG. This provides one of the biggest advantages to haulers that have chosen to run CNG-equipped vehicles. Maintenance is made easier because spark plugs remain cleaner, crankcase oil is not contaminated or diluted, and there is no need for a diesel particulate filter, or DPF.
Improvements Over the Years
Several improvements and enhancements have also been made in recent years to make CNG systems even more efficient. Fuel vessels have moved from heavy, all-metal construction to a lighter metal shell or liner with a fiber-carbon wrapped tank. An even lighter option now available features a fiber-carbon wrapped vessel with a plastic, gas-tight liner. Other advancements in technology include improvements to thermal pressure release devices (PRDs), which sense high temperatures around the fuel vessel and allow gas to be safely vented. Now PRDs offer more protection by covering the entire length of the CNG tank, rather than the previous “zone protection.”
One drawback of CNG conversion has been the lack of fueling stations and delivery options, compared to traditional fuel sources. However, with the rising use of CNG-equipped vehicles has come the widespread development of more natural gas fueling stations across the country. This will only continue to improve as more fleets are converted to CNG configurations.
And the benefits of CNG conversion are outweighing any drawbacks for many companies. In the construction industry, Argos USA (part of Cementos Argos S.A. of Colombia and one of the world’s largest producers of ready-mixed concrete) recently purchased 40 CNG-powered concrete mixers for its operations in Dallas and Houston, TX. The vehicles are the first CNG trucks purchased by Argos worldwide. Cost savings played a part in their decision to convert to CNG, as well as the quality of the manufacturer producing the systems.
“We challenged several manufacturers to present a wellconfigured CNG ready-mix vehicle to us. After careful deliberation, we determined that the McNeilus CNG package is the best one available at this time,” said Daryl Mizell, Argos USA sourcing manager.
A Support Network
That’s high praise for a technology that’s still relatively new to the industry, but it’s praise that McNeilus has worked for. McNeilus takes pride in its innovations, like the CNG fuel systems, and in the long-term relationships its people have developed with customers like Northside Carting, Uribe Refuse Services, Argos and many others worldwide. “We have a team of experts and partners who can walk any customer through the process of CNG conversion. And we have a support network to back it up after the sale,” said McCarty. McNeilus has invested in a large support network infrastructure and offers service locations across the country to provide customer support. These locations offer installations, service, inspection and replacement parts for nearly any CNG fuel system.
Making the leap to CNG is a decision that is not made without careful consideration, and it may not be a fit for every hauler. But ensuring that a company has a record of experience and knowledge in CNG systems is the practical first step in choosing who will take you through the conversion process.
Kelli Sandhurst is a marketing representative for McNeilus Companies, Inc. McNeilus, an Oshkosh Corporation company, is a leading manufacturer of refuse truck bodies, concrete mixers and batch plants, with an extensive network of factory-owned service and support centers.