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Shale’s Transport Revolution: U.S. Trucks Shift To Cheap Natural Gas

Ram intends to announce its plan today to produce a heavy-duty pickup this year that runs on compressed natural gas, the Free Press has learned, making it the second Detroit automaker in two days to publicly embrace the technology.

The Ram 2500 bi-fuel pickup will be powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi engine that can run on both compressed natural gas and regular gas, said a person familiar with the plan but who was not authorized to speak publicly about the truck. It will be built at Chrysler’s plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

Ram is to hold a news conference today in Indianapolis at the 2012 Work Truck Show.

General Motors said Monday it plans to begin offering later this year Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups that run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG). Using both fuels, the GM trucks will offer a range of more than 650 miles.

GM’s trucks will be built at its plant in Ft. Wayne, Ind. IMPCO Technologies will install the tanks and fuel system. GM said its trucks will be equipped with a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0-liter V8 engine that can run on either fuel.

The decision by the companies to produce the pickups comes as concern grows over rising gasoline prices. A gallon of regular on average reached $3.77 nationally Monday, up 27 cents from a year ago, according to AAA Michigan.

CNG, on average, costs one-third less than conventional gasoline at the pump, according to Natural Gas Vehicles of America. The U.S. ranked fifth in the world for natural gas reserves as of January 2011, according to the CIA World Factbook.

But as talk about drilling for natural gas increases, so does concern about the potential damage to the environment as some companies use fracking to extract natural gas from the ground.

Fracking can involve injecting millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals into the ground as a way to force gas out.

Some say fracking has caused earthquakes and dangerous water contamination. Federal rules appear under development to possibly regulate the practice.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has long been a proponent of using natural-gas powered vehicles in the U.S. as a way of reducing America’s energy dependence.

Fiat, which holds a 58.5% stake in Chrysler, is the market leader in Europe for engines using CNG. It has a 55% share of light commercial vehicles in Europe that run on CNG, according to Fiat.

“I understand the environmental concerns that have been raised, but certainly it needs to be addressed and it needs to be understood, because we can get there a lot faster if we can get access to CNG as a carbon solution,” Marchionne said.

For now, Ram will only sell the truck to fleet customers because there aren’t enough public fueling stations in the U.S. to support sales to consumers.

There are only about 1,000 natural gas fueling stations in the U.S. — about half are open to the public, according to the trade association Natural Gas Vehicles for the U.S.

Ford said Monday it plans to improve the fuel economy of its Transit commercial vans by using a 3.5-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected V6 engine that Ford calls EcoBoost. It would run on gasoline.

The Transit, which goes on sale in North America next year, replaces the long-serving E-Series that will be discontinued.

The combination of a smaller direct-injection engine and a commercial van that is about 300 pounds lighter than a comparable E-Series will improve fuel efficiency by at least 25%, Ford said.

“This engine has revolutionized the half-ton pickup segment for F-150, and we’re expecting it will have the same effect on commercial vans,” Tim Stoehr, Ford commercial truck marketing manager, said in a statement.

Detroit Free Press, 6 March 2012

see also: Europe’s Plans For Natural Gas Transport Infrastructure

Volvo Trucks is involved in efforts to establish ‘blue corridors’ with strategically placed filling stations to make liquified natural gas fuel more widely available.

The transport industry accounts for around 25 per cent of Europe’s total carbon dioxide emissions, so competitive alternatives to diesel are sorely needed. Natural gas is one such alternative; admittedly it is also a fossil fuel, but it offers many environmental advantages over diesel – and it’s cheaper too. But when liquid biogas (LBG) becomes more widely available, the carbon footprint of the vehicles using it will be reduced by up to 70 per cent.

“We are confident that liquefied gas will come to be used as a fuel throughout the world. It is a clear trend in meeting energy needs and we are part of this”, says Lennart Pilskog, director of public affairs at Volvo Trucks. Volvo Trucks, which is a member of the Natural & bio Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA Europe), was the first and is still the only manufacturer in Europe with a methane-diesel system.

Manuel Lage, general manager of NGVA Europe, says that the technology for driving on LNG is proven, and that there exists a will among haulage firm owners and gas suppliers to push the issue forwards. “When it comes to long-haul transport with heavy vehicles, no other alternatives can match LNG at present,” he says. “We feel it is the perfect solution for long-distance transport needs.”

In many European cities there is an expanding infrastructure for compressed gas – including biogas made from waste products – on a local level. But it is not possible to run heavy long-haul operations on compressed gas because the tanks are heavy and take up too much space. In liquid form, however, gas has a lower volume, making it more suitable for long-haul operations.

Though in order to run long-haul transport on LNG throughout Europe, a filling station infrastructure must first be established. And so the idea of ‘blue corridors’ came about, offering a network of LNG refuelling stations for heavy vehicles. Establishing such an infrastructure will not be simple, because gas suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, haulage firms and various political/administrative organisations at both regional and national levels have to have their say, and extensive coordination will be needed.

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