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Right fit

Dec. 9, 2013
Deployment of natural gas vehicles fits operating needs of carrier

Backed by its owner’s preferences, and lured by the low cost and green benefits of the fuel, Dillon Transport has made the leap into the world of natural gas tractors. The Burr Ridge, IL-based liquid and dry bulk carrier has taken delivery of 25 Kenworth T800s with the Cummins Westport ISX12 G natural gas engine, bringing its fleet of natural gas tractors to around 60.

Dillon has another 100 units on order, which would bring its total natural gas units to about 35% of its 450 or so trucks by the middle of 2014.

“Before we used some biofuels and biodiesel…[but] we felt like natural gas was the proper fit,” says Charles Musgrove, vice president.  “The first trucks we ran had the ISL G 9L engine because the [ISX12 G] was not available, but all the new [tractors] we’ve added are the ISX12 G.”

Dillon operates both Kenworth and Peterbilt natural gas models and utilizes both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG).  All the engines range in horsepower between 350 and 400 for vehicles running about 550 mi./day.  The CNG models have a slightly shorter operating range of about 350-400 mi./day.
The trek toward natural gas for Dillon began in 2009 when oil prices skyrocketed.  Musgrove says ownership did not want to rely on fuel surcharges.

“The owner wanted to look for a different solution,” Musgrove relates. “We saw that natural gas was less expensive and more stable [price-wise] and that Clean Energy Fuels was [deploying it in ports].  So we went out to the Ports of  Los Angeles and Long Beach [to see for ourselves].”

TRIED AND TRUE

The first natural gas project for Dillon was with customer Owens Corning in Ohio. That was back in 2012.  Clean Energy, which is intending to build a network of facilities along what it is calling the “natural gas highway,” opened a fueling station in Seville, OH, at a Pilot Flying J, and Dillon began hauling raw product to Owens Corning production plants.

That project went so well that Dillon has now deployed another 25 vehicles in Dallas, TX, to haul asphalt, sand and other raw bulk products.  In Texas, Dillon is operating Kenworth T800 short hood day cabs powered by the ISX12 G.  The trucks are spec’d with both 72-gal. and 150-gal. LNG tanks for an operating range of 650 mi. Vehicle fueling takes place twice a day at a local Clean Energy station.

“All of the trucks are double-shifted and there is an hour or two gap in between shifts [for fueling],” says Jeff Bonnema, director of fleet.

Last month, another natural gas facility for Dillon use opened in Tampa, FL.  There, a fleet of Peterbilt Model 384 day cabs running CNG are fueling.  The facility is a Trillium CNG station.

According to Bonnema, driver reaction has been positive. “The drivers like these trucks better because there is a lot more torque off the line,” he says.

One concern, of course, remains range. Musgrove says that was a consideration when spec’ing the vehicles. “Range is one of the biggest issues,” he says, “so if you are overly optimistic [on what the truck can deliver], you’re not going to get the performance you expect.”

That has not been a problem for Dillon, which operates within the expected range of the vehicles and has only had a few instances of the trucks running out of fuel.  Each of those, though, can be attributed to fueling errors and not truck performance, says Bonnema.

“If you don’t fill the vehicle completely, you are not going to get the range,” he adds.  “But we’ve had diesel trucks run out of fuel for the same reason.”

For Dillon, as future vehicle specs will now call for natural gas as a first option, the only concern is whether there will be enough fueling locations to keep up with demand.

“The only issue going forward is the timing of the infrastructure,” Musgrove says.  “But there is so much interest in natural gas right now, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

And Dillon trucks will be right there at the forefront of that natural gas highway.

About the Author

Brian Straight | Managing Editor

Brian joined Fleet Owner in May 2008 after spending nearly 14 years as sports editor and then managing editor of several daily newspapers.  He and his staff  won more than two dozen major writing and editing awards. Responsible for editing, editorial production functions and deadlines.

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