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NGV Advancements: Fueling, Maintenance, Technology, Fleets

Developments in the natural gas vehicle (NGV) sector accelerated at the end of November, led by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT) request for industry help in developing 37 public access compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations for public transit systems around the state.

PennDOT's public partnerships office (P3) issued a request for qualifications (RFQ), seeking responses by Dec. 23, to gauge the market for developers that can design, build, finance, operate and maintain CNG stations throughout the state.

The state agency said it will issue a short list of qualified bidders in January and plans to issue a formal request of proposals in the spring. The expectation is that most of the CNG facilities will be added to existing fueling stations for the transit systems.

The head of PennDOT and P3, Barry Schoch, called the proposed buildout "a tremendous opportunity" for the  state agency and transit districts to work with private-sector partners to take better advantage of the state's robust natural gas supplies.

Elsewhere, national truck dealership Rush Enterprises is expanding its ability to service NGV trucks and buses from a wide variety of manufacturers, including Peterbilt, Navistar International, Hino, Ksuzu, Ford, IC Bus and Blue Bird.

Rush now has NGV service bays at its relocated truck center in Orlando, FL, and an expanded dealership in Abilene, TX. Early next year, Rush said it will open its first dedicated NGV servicing facility in Houston at a $700,000 service center that will include fuel tank inspections.

CEO Rusty Rush told Fleets & Fuels newsletter that by 2017 he expects 10% of its industry sales will be NGVs, noting that during the past 10 years Rush has sold more than 3,300 NGVs, and nearly half of those sales have taken place in the past two years. "We see the popularity of NGVs increasing," Rush said.

A current example of the increased shift of truck fleets to natural gas is found in Ryder System's deal with Tops Friendly Markets in New York state to provide 55 CNG tractors by the middle of next year to convert the market chain's entire fleet to NGV tractor trucks. Tops also does business in northern Pennsylvania and western Vermont.

In addition to providing a fleet of Freightliner Cascadia CNG tractor trucks, Ryder will provide maintenance of the vehicles from its Buffalo, NY, facility, which is being upgraded to meet the latest natural gas servicing standards.

The tractor trucks will be powered by Cummins Westport 11.9-liter ISX12 G engines and CNG fuel cylinder assemblies from Quantum.

In Canada, another fleet went solely to CNG when the town of Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec converted its fleet to biomethane-based CNG with the assistance of the Canadian utility Gaz Metro and CNG infrastructure company ANGI Energi.

Saint-Hyacinthe is the first municipality served by Gaz Metro to convert its city fleet to CNG, and it will use locally produced renewable natural gas from the city's waste treatment facility. It is using anaerobic digestion to make biogas for vehicles and heating municipal buildings with any excess supplies going into the Gaz Metro system.

Also north of the border, Vancouver, BC-based Westport Innovations on Wednesday said it has acquired Netherlands-based Prins Autogas System for $15.1 million, broadening its NGV fuel systems offering to include propane (LPG) autogas systems. Prins had sales of about $26.8 million for the first nine months this year, Westport said.

The Canadian company, which has been long associated with NGVs, now has a "comprehensive product offering of a full suite of alternative fuel systems for bi-fuel, mono-fuel and dual-fuel applications using LPG, CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG)," according to Westport officials.

Westport Executive Vice President Mehran Rahbar called Prins "a globally respected product line," offering a steady stream of innovations and new product introductions combined with long-standing relations with original equipment manufacturers (OEM).

An innovation in Southern California was announced just before Thanksgiving by Eco-Motive with its securing of a patent for its "H" engine, which features a split design with two banks of cylinders -- one powered exclusively for gasoline and the other for natural gas.

The patent allows Eco-Motive to develop a prototype four-cylinder, 139 hp unit. Separate crankshafts allow independent operation by the driver. "Each piston bank operates independently of the other but is housed within the same engine block and has separate lubrication systems," according to the patent summary.

Eco-Motive officials said the OEMs can adapt their development to any internal combustion engine with an even number of cylinders to power any truck, SUV or car.

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