June 29, 2012

The Hurdle of Natural Gas Fueling Infrastructure

The headlines have been buzzing with stories of natural gas fueling the future of transportation – from new fueling stations built to new legislature passed that makes it easier for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) to be the natural choice (pardon the pun). Truck fleet managers can see the benefit of switching to a CNG-powered fleet as the price of gasoline and diesel continues to climb and the differential between these and natural gas gets larger. Even with the higher cost of NGVs at the offset, some quick math shows that the fuel-cost savings over the lifetime of the fleet makes the investment more than worthwhile.(link to cost saving calculator)

So what’s the hold up? When fleet managers consider switching their trucks to natural gas, they face the same problem that has caused a bottleneck in adoption of passenger NGVs: lack of fueling infrastructure. The lack of fueling stations for CNG and LNG is the biggest obstacle that NGVs face, but it’s not one that’s insurmountable. America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) released a comprehensive analysis that defines the scope of the issue in the U.S. and Canada.

Taking a look at countries that have a strong backbone of fueling stations for their NGV’s, such as Pakistan, Iran, Argentina and Brazil, proves that this infrastructure is attainable. While Jim Grambihler – who coordinates three of the four committees within ANGA’s Drive Natural Gas Initiative – agrees that we are a long way from catching up to these countries, he commented in an interview with NGT News that even right now, with the relatively small number of NGVs on U.S. roads, there is already more demand for CNG for transportation use than existing stations can accommodate.

Currently, there are about 1,000 CNG refueling sites in the U.S. (many of which are private access) compared to approximately 119,000 retail gasoline stations. While this can be seen as a significant hurdle to the widespread use of NGVs, it’s also a huge opportunity for natural gas distribution companies to take advantage of the current upswing in natural gas fueled transportation.

Companies like Clean Energy Fuels (who announced its plan to build an American Natural Gas Highway) and Shell Oil Company (who announced a partnership with TravelCenters of America refueling stations) are poised to reap the first benefits of the switch.

June 28, 2012

Grand Opening of the Westport Kentucky Integration Center (WKIC)

One June 26th the Westport Kentucky Integration Center (WKIC) celebrated its official grand opening with staff, distinguished guests, and members of the automotive community. The facility, right next to the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant, is the assembly center for the WiNG™ Power System, which integrates into Ford F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks to enable them to run on both gasoline and CNG (bi-fuel).

(L-R: Mike Biagi, John LaPetz, George Burgess, Carolyn Tandy, Dr. Ted Smith, Ian Scott and John Howell)

Several Westporters and local dignitaries gathered inside the plant for the official grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony. The establishment of WKIC marks not only an investment in the Louisville community and growing automotive industry, but also a visible demand for natural gas vehicles that help reduce the U.S.’s dependency on foreign oil.

Fun Fact: The Mayor of Louisville officially proclaimed June 26 as Westport LD Ribbon Cutting Day!

By opening the facility right across from the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant, the trucks can easily be sent to the WKIC to be fitted with the components required to allow them to run on both fuels and then returned to Ford for distribution to authorized dealerships.

Thank you to the city of Louisville for the warm welcome, and to all those who visited us on our opening day!

June 25, 2012

The Driver's Seat Twitter Campaign - Lance

As mentioned, Westporters are taking turns in The Driver's Seat of our twitter account (@WestportDotCom). To date we've heard from Nick S, Caroline S, John L & John H, and Astrid Z. Our next contributor is Lance F, read on to learn a little more about Lance.

Lance F

Fuel: CafĂ© 

In Lance’s role as Vice President, European Market & Partnership Development he deals with many people in his travels – in fact, extensive travel – but he is a complete newbie on the online and social media side. Lance is responsible for helping to create the commercial arrangements Westport enters into with its partners. He has been involved in designing and negotiating Westport's agreements with Weichai, Volvo, Caterpillar, and Delphi, among others.

Lance enjoys this role structuring commercial arrangements, and, as he puts it, “Working with some very smart people, within Westport and its globally-located strategic partners, to creatively structure the commercial arrangements that extract value for all stakeholders from the opportunities associated with natural gas fuelled transportation.”

When not working and travelling for Westport, Lance enjoys exploring Lonely Planet’s website to find places to visit with his family; he and his wife have three boys and two dogs. Relocated from Vancouver to Lyon, France in 2010, he says his downtime is spent singing his kids to sleep at night, walking through Lyon’s markets with his family, and jogging past the Roman ruins in and around the Lyon area, once the capital of Roman Gaul.

Indulgences for this physicist cum lawyer cum negotiation expert include watching sports with his sons (or imposing educational programming on them) and having dinner out with his wife. Foods he particularly enjoys are Thai green curry, Vancouver sushi, or Rhone valley cheeses. When asked the question who he would have dinner with if it could be anyone from any era, even fictional, Lance replies, “...it would be Newton and Einstein together – just to see the sparks fly.”

Even folks who know him may not be aware that Lance has a collection of electric and acoustic guitars and loves to play them. This writer is still trying to figure out when he would have time for this!

June 22, 2012

Infographic: Will Natural Gas Fuel Our Future Economy?

This infographic created by Hart Energy is a great visual key to the economic benefits that come with the shift to natural gas.

The graphic draws from several sources for its statistics on everything from job creation to household benefits. It highlights that an increase in natural gas production will not only help to stimulate the economy and create more jobs for Americans, but will also reduce CO2 emissions, increase the average household’s disposable income and reduce the U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

Graphic source: Unconventional Oil & Gas Center. Source site: http://www.ugcenter.com/Shales/US/Bakken/

June 20, 2012

Westport Attends NGV2012 Bologna

Several Westporters are currently in Bologna, Italy, attending Europe’s largest conference focussed on natural gas vehicles. NGV2012 Bologna runs June 19 to 21 and is the 3rd edition of the NGVA Europe conference. With shows and workshops that focus on natural gas vehicles including bio methane, CNG, LNG, dual fuels and hydrogen blends, this conference is a key event for the transportation industry, particularly given the European Union’s strategy to move towards alternative fuels in the transportation sector. But the conference isn’t limited to European attendees – more than 36 countries will be represented from all over the world.

There are five workshops that will examine and discuss the evolution of technology featuring natural gas through the following topics:
• The perspectives of international OEMs on CNG
• LNG, dual fuel and dedicated technologies for heavy vehicles
• Biomethane and hydrogen blends, today solution for a large-scale sustainable mobility
• The virtuous circle in urban transport: biomethane from cities and farming landfills
• Natural gas distributors: CNG’s potential, synergy and political will

Ian Scott presented at the OEM Workshop on June 19 and Nicholas Sonntag will be moderating the LNG Workshop on June 20. Both members of the Westport executive team took time to reflect on attending the conference:

What are you most looking forward to at NGV Europe?

Ian Scott: NGV Europe is a great opportunity to present the collective Westport LD family, particularly our European capabilities based in Italy and Sweden, to our partners and customers. It also provides a strong platform on which to share insights and ideas with our peers

Nicholas Sonntag: Reconnecting with the European players in the NGV industry. Hearing the perspectives from OEMs and suppliers on the growth of LNG as a primary fuel for trucking in Europe.

Are there any ‘hot topics’ or trends that you anticipate being explored at NGV Europe?

Ian Scott: I believe that natural gas infrastructure build-out will be a topic of interest as infrastructure development remains an enabler for higher natural gas growth. New OEM product offerings will be of interest as well.

Nicholas Sonntag: Fueling infrastructure – timing and location.

Why do you feel it is important for Westport to attend the conference/Expo?

Ian Scott: As a leading natural gas solution provider, I feel it is Westport's duty to share our learning, products, and views with the collective stakeholders at the conference and exhibition. In return, we have the opportunity to learn of the latest advancements in our industry. Westport has a very large footprint in Europe, in Italy in particular, and we can give back to this region for all the support we have received as we have grown our operations here.

Nicholas Sonntag: For staying current in the state of NGVs in Europe and maintaining Westport’s brand as a world leader in NG engine and vehicle technology, in addition to meeting with key OEMs, suppliers and potential partners.

The conference, which ends on June 21st, is just one of the NGVA Europe’s many events. Others include the 40th Annual European Transport Conference and Gastech 2012. NGVA Europe also provides valuable statistical data on the use of NGVs in Europe and throughout the rest of the world through their informative website. 

June 15, 2012

Coming soon: LNG at your pit stop

Last week, energy giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC (Shell) made an announcement that will help pave the way for increased use of natural gas vehicles in the United States. Shell announced a partnership with TravelCenters of America, an American gas station operator, to supply LNG for heavy-duty trucks at 100 fueling stations across the U.S. by 2013.

What does this mean for the future of natural gas? When a major player in oil and gas makes a commitment like this to an alternative fuel, it’s a game-changer. Shell has made a commitment to natural gas not only as a practical transportation fuel, but also as the fuel that will replace oil as prices continue to skyrocket.

While Shell already made a similar arrangement for the routes between Fort McMurray and Vancouver in Canada (the Green Corridor Project), this move to provide natural gas fueling infrastructure in the U.S. will enable the adoption of natural gas vehicles on a larger scale. Shell has made this strategic move in response to the continuing rise of diesel and gasoline prices and the growth of the natural gas industry. In 2012, for the first time in Shell’s history, the company’s gas production outpaced its oil production.

James Burns, Shell’s manager of LNG transportation fuels has said that Shell intends to entice truck fleets to buy LNG-powered trucks and to pump Shell LNG by selling long term contracts with fuel price guarantees of natural gas remaining at least 30% cheaper than diesel for the lifetime of the trucks. With an incentive program like this, the chicken and egg situation – whereby fleets are hesitant to invest in natural gas vehicles because of lack of infrastructure, but infrastructure isn’t developed due to lack of fleet demand – may no longer be an issue. Between Shell and Clean Energy, who intends to create “America’s Natural Gas Highway”, the future of natural gas infrastructure has a clear path for growth.

June 12, 2012

Inside Westport: What’s a Test Cell?

Test cells are essentially an isolated space where Westport engineers, technicians and technologists can run batteries of tests and record the findings with highly sophisticated technology. Test cells are an integral part of Westport operations: they’re for research and development as we test and experiment with new technologies; they’re needed to regularly test the durability engines or fuel systems, and they let us replicate the conditions our customers face ‘in the field’ in order to identify and troubleshoot issues.
Here at Westport we do almost all our engine testing in-house using 13 test cells located in Vancouver. Our original headquarters houses three original test cells and the newly built high-tech centre houses another 10. Of these 13, some are running tests 24/7 – particularly those that test durability.

At our Detroit facility Westport will install seven engine test cells and one vehicle chassis test cell near the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. These will be used to evaluate, develop, validate and implement engine, natural gas fuel system and controls systems hardware and software for use on the Westport Global Light Duty applications (including our Swedish, Italian, Australian and Canadian projects). The vehicle chassis test cell will be used to apply those systems to specific light-duty vehicles similar to the current Ford F-250 and F-350.

In Italy there are three vehicle test cells – two in Brescia at our Emer facility and one in Pernumia at our OMVL facility. Two of these are vehicle emissions test cells used for developing and fine-tuning calibrations, while the third is a “power only” cell used for calibration work with the bi-fuel units that control the compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied propane gas (LPG) fuel systems.

Once fuel system components are designed and manufactured, it’s important to prove that they’ll stand the test of time. Part of our quality control involves testing each of these components to ensure they meet their expected lifespan. At any given time there may be an engine in one of the test cells that’s been running for more than 2,700 hours – with pauses only to inspect and recalibrate according to procedures and regulations. These tests measure everything from changes in efficiency and emissions to standard performance testing.

The remaining test cells that aren’t constantly running durability tests are used for current product support, and research & development. For current product support, Westport technicians work with our customers to replicate any fuel system issues. If there’s a problem that’s affecting the function, here’s where we work to correct it. Often these issues happen when a particular component of the fuel system changes. Our technicians also regularly test different calibration modifications, to provide regular, ongoing support to customers in all geographic regions where our engines are deployed (different geographic climates can affect necessary engine calibration).

Our research and development team probably has the most flexibility in the test cells. They experiment with different components and run an exhaustive array of tests to create new technologies. Each test cell has sophisticated equipment that measures everything from emissions to temperature of the engine, and can even replicate road conditions (such as changes in speed, incline, load and torque) to simulate a realistic environment for testing.

June 11, 2012

The Driver's Seat Twitter Campaign - Astrid

As mentioned, Westporters are taking turns in The Driver's Seat of our twitter account (@WestportDotCom). To date we've heard from Nick S, Caroline S, John L & John H. Our next contributor is Astrid Zeppenfeld, read on to learn a little more about Astrid.

Astrid Z

Based in: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Fuel: Coffee in the morning, tea all day

In her role as Program Director at Westport, Astrid’s responsibilities are to cross-functionally manage all stakeholders and ultimately deliver the HHP Fuel System to the customer, on time and on budget. These are the Westport projects for very large engines such as those in locomotives.

Astrid enjoys the broad, collaborative role she has, bringing together people of varied skill sets and several departments to find solutions and deliver the targets. Westport is a growing company and Astrid finds satisfaction in forming procedures and processes as the program and team develop.

Though she is not a seasoned social media user, Astrid is dependent on email to communicate with family and friends in her native Germany, and she is a fan of Amazon for shopping! Thursday evenings you will find her scouring The Weather Network website to determine her outdoor adventure for the upcoming weekend. As an outdoor enthusiast, and immigrated to Canada only two years ago, Astrid is busy travelling all over BC with her husband every chance she has. They have a truck camper and they take many weekend or longer trips driving throughout BC, the Yukon and Alaska.

Anyone will tell you the scenery and the fishing are wonderful in BC, so when asked her favourite food, I’m not surprised Astrid tells me it’s smoked fish – personally caught and smoked by her husband (yum!) – but she loves a great curry dinner with friends as well. When asked about her indulgences, Astrid is pensive. She concludes, “Well, we are building a sauna in our backyard.” Again, if Astrid’s not working, she’s outdoors!

June 7, 2012

The Batmobile – Fighting Air Pollution with Natural Gas

You’ve read here about the world’s fastest car running on natural gas, and what we think is the world’s coolest car also runs on CNG. The batmobile, a concept car that every Caped Crusader fan has at one point dreamed of driving, is tough on crime but kind on the planet. With its powerful Corvette V8 engine, this replica of the batmobile from the popular 1989 Batman film was converted by Semi Service Inc in Utah so that the Utah Clean Cities Coalition could take it throughout the state to educate the public on the advantages of CNG and other alternative fuels.

Metroweek did a fantastic video segment on the CNG batmobile, and there’s lots of great photos of the car circulating the web.

The car isn’t street legal, maybe because of the flame throwers and functioning guns. The motor, guns and afterburner all run on CNG. This is a ride that Bruce Wayne would have been proud to roll up in!

Inside Westport: Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs

At Westport our focus is not just developing leading technologies for allowing engines to run on natural gas; we work with industry partners to help develop the market for natural gas vehicles. For instance, our Manager of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Tahra J. devotes her time to, in her words, “breaking down barriers for the deployment of natural gas vehicles (NGVs).”

Tahra’s role at Westport is integral to the increased adoption of natural gas vehicles. She works with internal and external stakeholders to provide information and to pursue current and upcoming grants and incentives applicable to Westport products and research. Not only does she seek incentives that might help businesses shift their fleets to natural gas, she also advocates on behalf of Westport and works to affect legislation and policy for the increased use of natural gas in transportation. In jurisdictions where incentives don’t yet exist, she works with industry peers and local governments to examine how natural gas can help satisfy air quality requirements and ease the finances of local fleets through the adoption of cleaner lower cost fuels. How does she decide where to focus on developing incentives? She gives priority to areas where there are many Westport customers for whom funding would be helpful.

On any given day, Tahra is doing government relations and regulatory work for primarily our heavy-duty business. This includes assessing legislation and regulations that affect the deployment of natural gas vehicles or technologies and ensuring that Westport is well informed about what is happening within the natural gas industry and the external political environment.

In addition, Tahra also works to ensure Westport is represented in key meetings and conferences to provide input to advance the discussion on transitioning away from diesel fuel and to provide leadership and expertise to fleets, policy makers and the public on the advantages of natural gas for transportation .

June 1, 2012

Fleets of Natural Gas Vehicles – Conversion Report

We’re seeing more and more headlines about entire city fleets switching to natural gas as transportation fuel, and the cost-savings they expect thanks to the adopting natural gas engines. Here’s a round-up of some of the latest conversions:

Trussville, Alabama: Earlier this week, Mayor Gene Melton announced that the city’s police car fleet will now run on compressed natural gas (CNG). He estimates savings of approximately $17,000/year per vehicle. Trussville began using CNG vehicles three years ago, and also operate the city dump trucks on CNG.

Canton, Ohio: In May, the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority rolled out its first six CNG buses. The SARTA Executive Director suggests savings of ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in fuel costs per year. By the end of August SARTA expects that 23 of its 85 buses will run on CNG. By 2013 it expects to have eight 40-foot buses, ten 35-foot buses and 32 smaller paratransit buses that will all run on CNG.

Chesapeake, Virginia: The city recently announced that it is planning to convert its fleet of Class 8 solid waste collection trucks from diesel fuel to CNG.

Thomasville, Georgia: The city council has an eye to convert its fleet vehicles to run on CNG where appropriate, and has already approved the construction of a CNT time-fill station. The City plans to purchase four CNG-fueled refuse trucks in the near future, and to convert all 12 of its refuse trucks to CNG during the next three years. Thomasville says it will save $200,000 annually in fuel costs, along with the benefits of reduced emissions and dependence on foreign oil.

Washburn, Wisconsin: Bayfield County purchased five CNG vehicles to be used by various departments. The public grand opening for the Washburn CNG fueling station took place on May 31, 2012.

The adoption of natural gas vehicles by municipalities demonstrates that not only do NGVs offer better fuel cost-savings, but they also produce fewer emissions which is better for the communities being served.