August 30, 2013

If You Build it They Will Come: Natural Gas Fueling Infrastructure in North America

By Kate Kalnin

As the demand for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) grows in everything from passenger cars to rail, so does the need for the supporting refueling infrastructure. In North America, the natural gas fueling landscape is expanding to accommodate the some 137,205 and growing NGVs on Canadian and American highways (NGV Global 2011).
Data based on information collected from the Transportation Energy Data Book:
NGV owners have increasing options for fueling their vehicles including public and private compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) stations, depot-based stations with slow-fill options and at-home refueling appliances that attach to a homeowner’s natural gas line.

According to the Canadian Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance (CNGVA), Canada currently has about 40 public CNG fueling stations and a small handful of public LNG stations from B.C. to Quebec. According to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Centre, (DOE), the U.S. currently has approximately 602 public CNG stations and 33 public LNG stations.

The total number (about 675) of public natural gas fueling stations across Canada and the U.S. doesn’t include the number of private depot-based refueling stations used by fleets, government vehicles and heavy-duty truck owners. With these, industry organizations estimate 1,311 for both private and public CNG and LNG stations across the two countries. These numbers may seem small in comparison to the upwards of 150,000 gasoline stations across the U.S. alone, but it’s the rate at which natural gas stations are popping up that’s impressive.

A few of the industry leaders are working to propel the development of new fueling infrastructure in response to the significant rise in NGV adoption.

Public Relations Manager at Clean Energy Fuels Patric Rayburn says refuse, transit and airport/shuttle fleets have been the largest adopters of natural gas fuel for transportation and the heavy-duty trucking sector is now gaining momentum in its transition to the fuel.

“In June 2007 the 9 L natural gas engine was introduced; in 2008 approximately 3 percent of new refuse trucks purchased were fueled by natural gas. In 2013 that number is north of 60 percent. Such significant adoption was driven by the fact that owners saw significant fuel savings which resulted in compelling payback times on their natural gas fleet investment.”

Though Clean Energy’s focus is in fleet vehicles, Patric comments that the availability of the right sized engines for each of the transportation sectors is a key for wider vehicle adoption. “Ford’s launch of the F-150 featuring the Westport WiNG™ Power System is a vote of confidence for natural gas as a transportation fuel.”
Clean Energy's Natural Gas Highway. 
Clean Energy owns many of America’s current natural gas fueling stations and is building what it calls “America’s Natural Gas Highway” (ANGH) to make goods movement fueled by natural gas possible from coast to coast and boarder to boarder throughout the United States. Many of

these stations are located at Pilot-Flying J locations and with the first phase of ANGH completed in 2012, their aim was achieved.

“Last year we built 70 new ANGH stations and we plan to build another 30 to 50 stations by the end of 2013. We’re ready to support heavy-duty trucking’s continued transition to cleaner and cheaper natural gas,” Patric added.

To ensure there is a sufficient LNG supply for the new stations, Clean Energy operates two existing LNG plants and is purchasing two natural gas liquefaction plants from General Electric Oil and Gas (GE) featuring its Micro LNG technology; these are slated to come online in 2015.

Other LNG expansion projects include Blu LNG’s target to build at least 50 LNG fueling stations for trucks across the U.S. Shell and TravelCenters of America LLC’s (TA) have also announced they are working together to construct at least two LNG fueling lanes at up to 100 of their existing stations across the U.S.

CNG’s presence at American fuel retailers is also growing thanks to GE and Chesapeake Energy’s 2012 announcement to build more than 250 CNG fueling units aptly named, “CNG In A Box”. The eight foot by 20 foot plug-and-play style containers are designed to simplify and expedite the fueling process for both retailers and NGV owners. The units can be set up wherever there is a natural gas pipeline as they come ready to go with all of the necessary compressors, motors and dispensers.

To enhance the convenience of owning a natural gas vehicle, GE along with companies such as Eaton Corporation and BRC FuelMaker, maker of the “Phill” home fueling device, are working to improve the design and affordability of at-home fueling appliances with target prices around $500. The appliances connect to the homeowner’s natural gas line and power outlet and can be left overnight to fill a vehicle with CNG.

The companies’ efforts are backed in part by varying funding from the U.S. Department of Energy as it pushes to make the transition to natural gas vehicles more appealing.

Canada’s natural gas fueling landscape saw progress in March 2013 when Shell Canada and Flying J opened Canada’s first public LNG refueling station in Calgary. The station’s LNG supply will come from a Shell production facility west of Calgary. By the end of 2013, Shell aims to have this facility supply the first three public LNG Shell Flying J LNG truck stops in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.

From peppering major freight trucking corridors with LNG stations to developing domestic CNG fueling appliances, the growing prevalence of fueling options is tackling one of the main hurdles that’s been delaying the adoption of NGV’s from consumers and fleet owners alike.

For more information on natural gas station locations check out:
(U.S. map)
(Canadian map)

August 26, 2013

The LNG Era: A New Type of Tank for Over the Road Trucking

As natural gas becomes more-widely adopted as a transportation fuel, large companies, fleet managers and small business-owners face the decision of which fuel to adopt: compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). When it comes to determining which fuel is best suited for which type of application, a crucial decision revolves around fuel storage and tank selection; all engines run on CNG – it’s how to store the fuel that is the key decision, whether as LNG or CNG.

In an earlier blog post, we explored the properties of LNG. There are several compelling reasons which make LNG desirable for long distance trucking: it has comparable fill times to diesel, it’s denser than CNG which allows trucks to drive farther between stops, it’s cheaper than diesel in North America and has fewer local air quality pollutants and produces reduced emissions.

A New Type of Tank: The Westport LNG iCE PACK™ Tank System

With the availability and benefits of cold fuel, Westport created a product that allows more fleets to reap the benefits of LNG. The Westport LNG iCE PACK™ Tank System is designed to work with spark-ignited engines, such as the Cummins Westport ISX12 G and the ISL G. 

The iCE PACK system enables fuel providers and fleets to utilize cold LNG fuel at - 240° F (30 psi), eliminating the need for saturating (warming) the liquid in bulk tanks prior to the vehicle refueling process. Unlike other tank systems, it’s designed with a pump that delivers fuel to the engine regardless of displacement or demand.

“With the iCE PACK, we no longer need to worry about fuel naturally warming since the system has pump that feeds the fuel to the engine,” says Matthew Campbell, Westport marketing manager. “Boil-off CNG up to date has been enough to feed the engine. However, the natural boiling of the fuel doesn’t always happen fast enough to be able to supply the engine for higher displacement – twelve and the fifteen litre engines. What happens next is fuel starvation.”

The iCE PACK increases tank hold times up to ten days and provides up to 10 per cent more operating range compared to tanks using saturated LNG. For fleets, another positive aspect is there is almost no fuel loss back to the station during refuelling, which saves money and refuelling time. After refuelling the truck is ready to drive away immediately, as any operator would expect.

LNG Station Infrastructure 

While there are fewer LNG stations in North America to date than CNG stations, Clean Energy has built 70 LNG stations as part of America’s Natural Gas Highway and the company plans to build another 30-50 stations this year in partnership with Flying J Travel Centers.

There are currently 73 LNG stations in the United States, including private stations. Shell opened Canada’s first public LNG this year in Calgary in May 2013. Canada has six LNG vehicle refuelling stations, private and public, and a further eight are planned. As the alternative fuel landscape for transportation evolves, it’s important to consider the available options: LNG may be the best bet for long-distance trucking.

The iCE PACK™ can be installed on Peterbilt, Kenworth, Volvo, Mack and Freightliner – on any of the trucks that can be purchased with a 12 L, Cummins Westport engine. To learn more, visit Westport’s website.
The Westport LNG iCE PACK Tank System

August 16, 2013

Westport at Work on Incentives

Federal and state incentive programs, in the form of grants, rebates and tax credits are becoming a valuable tool to encourage fleets to purchase natural gas vehicles. 

Incentives help reduce the incremental cost of a natural gas vehicle, and decrease the payback time. We explored this topic in a previous blog post.

Westport works with its customers to guide them through the process of successfully applying for vehicle incentive funding.

Several programs are available to help fleets. Currently, California, Texas and Pennsylvania have the most robust incentive programs for both heavy haul and automotive sectors – many other states offer ongoing incentive programs through tax credits or vehicle rebates.

Valerie Parr, Westport’s Grants Analyst, helps customers complete grant applications in the state or province in which they operate. 

“Government agencies offering incentives are working to get older, less clean technology off the road,” she says. “These programs illustrate how deployment of natural gas vehicles and infrastructure build-out are being encouraged at the federal, state and provincial levels and ultimately propel the transportation industry towards cleaner opportunities.”

Grant applications are evaluated based on specific criteria, such as the age of the vehicle being replaced, expected distance travelled and emissions that will ultimately be reduced. Applications require some calculations and a plan demonstrating how fleets will save fuel and reduce emissions. Many programs have goals to reduce emissions within “non-attainment areas” – areas which have the worst emissions, often near ports or large cities.

Valerie says applications often require proof of how much time a fleet is spending in the designated non-attainment areas; reporting to the funding agency for a few years after the vehicle purchase is standard. Some programs are open for a limited time, often only eight weeks is provided to get applications in, while others are open for nine months.

The recently-announced New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program is designed as first-come, first-served until the total amount of funds is exhausted. Kate Muller, Director of Communications, says the goal of the program is to encourage the adoption of new cleaner technologies by reducing the cost to the consumer.

“These early sales help to reduce the price of future vehicles by creating economies of scale in production,” she says. “The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) estimates that this program could encourage the purchase or retrofit of up to 1,000 low-emission trucks in areas of the state with the poorest air quality.”

It includes six million in vouchers of up to $40,000 for the purchase or lease of an alternatively-fuelled vehicle, including a compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle, in New York City.

Westport also works with agencies, such as the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality to ensure our vehicles meet specifications required to qualify for natural gas-related grants, rebates or tax credits. For certain state incentive programs, vehicles must meet EPA and CARB certification standards in order to qualify.

Andrea Morrow, spokesperson for The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, says the program has been an effective way to encourage the transition to cleaner vehicles powered by alternative fuels.

“In the last ten years, the program awarded more than $858 million for the upgrade or replacement of 14,685 heavy-duty vehicles, locomotives, marine vessels, and pieces of equipment,” she says. Upgrades or replacements included natural gas and diesel.

Westport has a list of all the available incentives in North America, updated regularly to ensure up-to-date information, available here.

August 12, 2013

One Year Later - What's Changed Since the Pivotal NPC Study on America's Transportation Future

Last August, the National Petroleum Council (NPC) released Advancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future, the result of a two-year study compiled by more than 300 participants. The study began when then-U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu sought advice from the NPC on “accelerating U.S. alternative fuel-vehicle prospects through 2050 for passenger and freight transport.”

Westport’s CEO David Demers is a member of the NPC; Karen Hamberg, Vice President of Sustainable Energy futures and Senior Advisor Mike Gallagher all contributed to the report, particularly to Chapter 14: Natural Gas.

The report has five recommendations including advising the government to promote sustained resources to twelve Priority Technology areas, how to better evaluate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and encouraging streamlining of permitting and regulatory processes to promote faster infrastructure growth.

In the year since its release, the report has invigorated public discussion around natural gas vehicles (NGVs).

“The NPC study itself has become the Bible for people interested in the future role of natural gas in the transportation sector,” said Mike Gallagher, who has been invited to present at over 20 different conferences and forums over the past year, from Mexico City to Israel.

“It’s been fascinating to see this broader interest from people who we didn’t consider as stakeholders – people interested in energy security and energy in general,” he said. “Often times after I speak, I’m literally swarmed by dozens of people who want to know more.”

He says a large part of the broader awareness, buy-in and realization of the potential for natural gas vehicles in the heavy duty truck segment is a result of the ISX12 G engine from Cummins Westport.

“Keep in mind, it’s only been five years since we put the first heavy duty natural-gas powered truck on the road,” he said.

The refuse sector is a big supporter of natural gas vehicles, comprising up to 50 per cent of the market share in North America. Other vehicles, such as school buses and cement trucks, are also starting to use natural gas as their primary fuel.

Globally, China has outpaced any other country. A recent report by Sanford C. Bernstein & Co estimates that the number of vehicles fuelled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) in China will rise tenfold to 800,000 by 2020. Not surprisingly, China’s Policy 2012 (the 12th five year plan) outlines specific measures to encourage the development of natural gas and specifically LNG vehicles. It includes air quality considerations, incentive schemes, and priority deployment areas.

A North American “pump to wheels” study on the impacts of methane leakage from the well to end-uses along the fuel chain was initiated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and is being conducted by the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE) at West Virginia University.

The study is co-sponsored by fuel producers, providers, manufacturers and fleet operators ­– including Westport – and will measure methane leakage along the natural gas value chain for commercial and heavy duty on-road transportation (see our March post about the study).

“This is a newly emerging industry,” said Karen Hamberg. “The study should focus on and identify those areas where improvements to both technology and operating practices can be made. GHG emission reductions are needed in the transport sector but we must also look at other benefits like enhanced economic competitiveness and energy diversification.”

President Obama’s Blueprint for a Clean and Secure Energy Future, released in March, includes commitments to partner with the private sector to adopt natural gas and other alternative fuels in the trucking fleet.

The sustainability impacts of natural gas as a vehicle fuel are critical, Hamberg says, but the viability of the industry depends on other factors including: original equipment manufacturer vehicle offerings, increased refuelling infrastructure and policies to encourage adoption.

“We are witnessing a shift in each of these areas,” she said.

August 6, 2013

Natural gas organizations bring bi-fuel passenger vehicles closer to “Here and Now”

By Kate Kalnin

A campaign backed by America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA) has set out to offer more options to consumers looking for natural gas powered passenger vehicles.

The Drive Natural Gas initiative and its “Add Natural Gas” campaign promote just that - the concept of being able to choose to “add natural gas” when purchasing a new car.

From Left to Right: 2012 Honda CR-V EX 2WD, 2012, 2012 BMW X3 XDrive, 2012 GMC Acadia Denali
Photo Credit: Gladstein, Neandross & Associates
In partnership with brands such as Honda, GM, BMW, Ford and Hyundai, Add Natural Gas is showing people that this plentiful resource as a transportation fuel has potential for more than just fleets and heavy duty trucks.

Kathryn Clay, Executive Director of the Drive Natural Gas campaign explains some of the “driving” motives behind the push. “Europeans currently have many options when it comes to natural gas vehicle choices and we think American consumers deserve more choices too when it comes to the fuels that power their vehicles.” Add Natural Gas is designed to show a vision to American consumers of what natural gas can be.

The campaign features bi-fuel converted vehicles from six different manufacturers. Specifically, six types of passenger vehicles ranging from a sports car to a full-size SUV. The purpose, Kathryn says, is to show the potential in both the manufacturing category and vehicle type category. 

The first three cars from left to right: 2012 Ford Mustang GT, 2012 Hyundai Sonata Limited, 2012 Chrysler 300C AWD
Photo Credit: Gladstein, Neandross & Associates
With each vehicle conversion, the engineering team focused on maintaining its stock performance specs to make it a fair comparison with the demo vehicles’ original counterparts. Something Kathryn says is of utmost importance when considering taking on this campaign.

“We made it so consumers wouldn’t have to make compromises in performance, handling, look and feel and of course storage space," she said. "We designed these vehicles so that the actual tank does not impede on the trunk space.” By maintaining the original particulars of each prototype’s gasoline-fueled equivalent, Add Natural Gas aims to dispel any suggestions of NGVs not being able to “match up.”

Aside from creating a buzz around four-wheel passenger vehicles adopting natural gas technology, the venture also supports the development of infrastructure, both on the road and at home. 

“We are seeing exciting announcements from companies like GE and Whirlpool pertaining to at-home fueling appliances,” says Kathryn. “Our vision is that those types of companies will compete and bring those prices down, making the appliances available at big box stores where people buy their TV’s and other home appliances.” At-home fueling equipment allows NGV owners to fill up using their home’s own gas line, an attractive quality while the roadside infrastructure is being expanded.

While these vehicles are only prototypes at the moment, the Add Natural Gas team says that they have high expectations for natural gas as a key transportation fuel, along with the advent of more passenger cars with corresponding bi-fuel technology.

Check out the campaign:

August 2, 2013

Sharing Knowledge and Experience with the Next Generation

Simon Fraser University students got a taste of what it takes to make it in the world of technology start-up companies when Westport’s Chief Technology Officer, Patric Ouellette, was a guest lecturer at the Mechatronic Systems Engineering on July 16. A class of about 80 students in this engineering entrepreneurship course learned about the early success factors in the founding of Westport, a Canadian University spin-off.

Lecturer Maureen Hnidy said having experts who can provide real-life examples of how a company moves from a start-up to a commercial entity is invaluable to the students.

“The insights and expertise Patric shared were particularly relevant and helped to illustrate and ‘make real’ abstract concepts from course material,” she said. “The students clearly responded to his relaxed and approachable style.”

The course covers a variety of topics relating to entrepreneurship for engineers such as protecting proprietary interests, marketing and operating strategies. Students are completing senior-level projects, some of which have commercialization potential.

During his lecture, Patric talked about the experience of writing Westport’s first business plan.

“I wish I could tell you that it’s not important to write a business plan,” he said to a few cheers in the room. “But in reality, it’s an extremely important part of the business strategy.” He discussed how valuable it was to to look back after almost ten years at Westport’s first business plan and see how much the company has grown.

He asked the students to estimate how many natural gas vehicles are in the world today. Guesses ranged from 100,000 to ten million. The correct answer of more than 16 million garnered some surprise reactions in the room.

In addition to talking about the history of Westport and the company’s business planning and strategy, Patric discussed: people and culture, patents and papers, financing and partnerships and technical integrity. He said attracting and maintaining great talent and global partnerships have been a key ingredient in Westport’s success.

Students asked about everything from why Wesport decided to focus on natural gas, to how much a patent costs, to how a business acquires financing. One of the most interesting questions was what advice Patric would give to students about the type of career he’d choose given the knowledge he has now.

“Starting a spin-off is challenging, all-consuming, stressful and full of unknowns,” he said. “Working in a start-up can also be the most rewarding and satisfying experience you can have in business.”

The Early Days of Westport: Patric Ouellette (farthest back on the right), Dr. Phil Hill (centre), Alain Touchette, Brad Douville and Mike Baker.