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Earth Day: Alternative Fuels Seek to Keep the Party Going

With Earth Day as a backdrop, alternative fuel advocates, including natural gas vehicle (NGV) proponents, put on their party hats and marked a variety of milestones in the clean fuel sector, starting with the metropolitan transit authority in San Antonio, TX.

VIA Metropolitan Transit on Thursday rolled out the first of more than 400 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, kicking off what the transit officials called a "historic conversion" of the agency's fleet as a "salute to Earth Day," which is Saturday (April 22). Annual fuel cost savings are estimated at $8.5 million, the transit company said.

Calling it a change to "cleaner, greener" buses, VIA has embarked on a multi-year plan to significantly reduce vehicle emissions, decrease operating costs, and allow the completion of planned service enhancements. When complete, the transformation is supposed to reduce the transit fleet's nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 97%.

"Today we celebrate the move toward a new, environmentally sustainable era in public transportation for our region," said VIA CEO Jeffrey Arndt. "VIA's conversion to an all-CNG fleet is where the rubber meets the road for [the transit company's] commitment to drive innovations and connect our region with a cleaner, greener future."

As part of VIA's focus on what Arndt called "environmentally sustainable mobility in the region," a new 10-pump CNG fueling station, the nation's largest, will be operational later this year.

VIA's buses were manufactured by Nova Bus and measure 40 feet long with 67-passenger capacity. They will replace aging buses between 12 and 15 years old. More that half the fleet will be replaced by late summer and total conversion is scheduled by 2020.

More celebrating is scheduled for the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, CA, May 1-4, where Kenworth Truck plans to display two dedicated NGV trucks with near-zero emission (NZ) Cummins Westport engines.

The Kenworth T880S mixer truck with an 8.9-liter super low-NOx engine will be on display. This includes the Cummins Westport ISL G NZ engine. The engine maker plans to introduce a 12-liter NZ NGV engine, the ISX12 G, next year.

ACT Expo 2017 will include a "Game Changer 2.0" workshop on the implications of NZ NGV engines that use renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane, as fuel.

Last Wednesday, Landi Renzo USA said that in May it will be taking orders for model year 2018 Ford F-150 CNG pickup trucks that will be ship-thru via the Ford assembly plant in Kansas City. In addition, Landi has ship-thru plans in place for heavier F450/550 or F650/750 trucks from Ford's Ohio assembly plant, OHAP, in Avon Lake, OH.

The ship-thru approach promises to make Landi Renzo's NGV trucks "the most cost competitive" in the industry, according to Paul Shaffer, executive vice president for business development with Landi USA. Shaffer also boasted the Landi is now offering fleets "the best warranty [three years/50,000 miles] in the industry."

In the political arena, the former CEO of  Subaru America and co-founder of CNG fueling company VNG Co., Harvey Lamm, is challenging Democratic congressional leaders who are urging not to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reopen fuel standards. Lamm wants to have them reopened as a means of building what he called "more respect and recognition" for natural gas as a transportation fuel.

In the meantime, VNG is pushing to open more CNG fueling outlets, partnering with a variety of retailers, including BP, Valero, Shell and Circle K. With stations already in Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, VNG plans to significantly expand it footprint, COO Robert Friedman told Fleets & Fuelsrecently.

In marine transportation, liquefied natural gas (LNG) continues to draw new advocates, including Finland's Wartsila LNG, which is providing a half-dozen LNG-diesel dual fuel engines along with onboard LNG storage. A large suction dredger vessel being built in Europe and an even larger construction vessel in Asia are slated to be equipped with the Wartsila LNG equipment.

The 538-foot Spartacus and 689-foot Orion will have four nine-cylinder 46DF and two eight-cylinder 20 DF dual-fuel engines as well as the onboard LNG storage.

Another Earth Day event was held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and other state officials demonstrating the use of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (EV) as a push for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and other ZEVs are expected to "play an important role in the state's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum dependence and improve the state's air quality," a CEC spokesperson said. California energy and environmental agencies are collaborating on a variety of initiatives to help reach a statewide goal of 1.5 million ZEVs, including hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, on the road by 2025.

Separately, Toyota Motor Sales North America launched Project Portal, a demonstration in which a modified Kenworth T660 tractor-trailer truck operates with two fuel cell stacks. It is fed by fuel stored in four Type IV all-composite hydrogen fuel cylinders. This is a test of applying fuel cell technology to heavy duty trucks.

The Project Portal vehicle is designed to support port drayage operations using a Toyota hydrogen drive that generates more than 670 hp.

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