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Capstone Develops CNG-Powered Microturbine EV Hybrid

A crossover of natural gas vehicle (NGV) and diesel technologies with a microturbine-powered system configured for battery-electric or series hybrid electric operation, has been unveiled by Capstone Turbine Corp.

The announcement by the veteran California-based microturbine maker underscores a move by the electric vehicle (EV) sector to compete in the heavy-duty drivetrain space dominated by NGV technologies.

Capstone recently released details on a compressed natural gas (CNG) system for delivery vehicles that has completed track testing that confirmed high-speed performance and operation on 20% grades.

The company outfitted a Class & Kenworth T370 tractor with a C65 microturbine and Corvus-Xalt battery pack driving twin Jing-Jin Electric Technologies' (JJE) motors for series plug-in hybrid EV operation. The vehicle also was fitted with a 60-diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) back-of-cab CNG fuel system from Agility Fuel Solutions. The truck has a 65-kW, CNG-fueled Capstone C65 turbine configured to charge an onboard 47-kWh lithium ion battery pack, which in turn drives the motors.

Capstone CEO Darren Jamison said the project demonstrates "the considerable fuel economy benefits, lower emissions and significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions" of a microturbine-powered delivery or work vehicle.

"EVs are excellent for the environment, but the ability to save money from improvements in fuel economy is critical to making these vehicles both sustainable and cost-effective," he said.

The truck is fitted with a refrigerated box body that uses electric power to provide payload cooling while on the road, eliminating the need to operate a separate diesel engine generator set with its associated fuel consumption and additional emissions.

"EVs are gaining market traction in buses, automobiles and heavy duty trucks, and programs like this allow Capstone to maintain its leadership position in the application of microturbines in the growing electric vehicle industry," said Executive Vice President Jim Crouse of sales/marketing. "With recent announcements from major manufacturers such as Tesla and Cummins that underscore the industry’s growing acceptance of heavy-duty electric drive trains, Capstone intends to be an active participant in this emerging technology shift.”

The project was funded in part by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The manufacturing facility is in Riverside, CA, east of Los Angeles (LA). LA Metro officials said local employment was a factor in its selection of the company to supply as many as 600 CNG transit buses.

In June the LA Metro governing board approved the purchase of 295 40-foot CNG buses to be fueled by renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane. LA Metro is the nation’s largest CNG bus operator; the agency’s last diesel bus was retired in 2011.

Using RNG in combination with low-nitrogen oxide engines, the buses are considered "cleaner" than electric-power versions using natural gas-fired generation, according to the SCAQMD. Pre-production meetings to finalize design and components of the vehicles is to begin in the next few days.

Globally, the attraction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for heavy duty fleets and marine transportation was further underscored in Germany and Scandinavia as LNG was bunkered to a vessel in international waters in the Baltic region.

More than 100 Scania LNG-powered trucks are to be used in northern Germany, in an initiative to make the transport activities of the Volkswagen Group more environmentally compatible.

And for the first time, Sweden LNG marine supplier Skangas’ Coralius bunkered LNG to a vessel in international waters in Northern Kattegat between Frekerikshavn, Denmark and Gothenburg, Sweden. The Fure West, a 144-meter-long oil and chemical tanker operating mainly in the Baltic, was retrofitted to run on LNG in 2015. Earlier this month, Skangas Coralius made its maiden voyage delivering LNG to its terminal in Ora, Fredriksten in Norway.

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