UPS announced that it has purchased 48 heavy tractor trucks fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and plans to help build a publicly accessible LNG station in Las Vegas, NV.

Atlanta-based UPS said the trucks -- manufactured by Kenworth and powered by Westport HD Systems -- would replace older generation diesel vehicles and be used for a shipping route between Ontario, CA and Las Vegas.

"This is an important step not only from an environmental standpoint but from the viewpoint of U.S. energy security," said Mike Britt, UPS director of vehicle engineering. "[LNG] is a cheaper, cleaner-burning fuel that is better for the environment and more sustainable than conventional diesel. And it's also a fuel that's in abundant supply inside the United States; it doesn't have to be imported."

When completed later this year, the LNG fueling station in Las Vegas will serve as UPS' base for the new trucks and help the company expand the number of long-distance routes in the West on which they're used. Funding for the trucks and the fueling station are being provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Clean Cities program and the South Coast Air Quality Management District's UPS Ontario-Las Vegas LNG Corridor Expansion Project.

The DOE estimates that the 48 LNG trucks would help displace about 1.25 million gallons of petroleum every year. And according to UPS, an LNG truck can make the round-trip between Ontario and Las Vegas -- a distance of about 460 miles -- on one tank of fuel. The trucks will produce 25% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to the older trucks and use 95% less diesel fuel.

"The added advantage of LNG is it does not compromise the tractor's abilities, fuel economy or drivability, and significantly reduces greenhouse gases," Britt said. "These trucks have a solid 600-mile range and with reliable fueling infrastructure make an excellent alternative fuel system."

The new LNG station in Las Vegas would complete a trucking corridor from California to Utah. Clark Quintin, president of Vancouver, BC-based Westport, said, "Connecting California's existing LNG fueling stations with developing ones in Utah will create valuable LNG capability on a busy goods movement corridor." He also praised UPS for the company's "environmental leadership."

According to UPS, the company worldwide operates a fleet of 1,914 vehicles powered by alternative fuels. Of those, more than 1,100 are powered by natural gas, including another 11 LNG trucks based in Ontario. Other UPS vehicles are powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), propane and electricity, including electric hybrids.

"But at the moment, LNG is the only suitable alternative to diesel for the really heavy, long-haul tractor trailers you see on the highway," Britt said. "As a fuel, LNG is very dense, providing a large amount of energy for the amount of space it occupies. This makes LNG an excellent potential fuel for large trucks that need to travel a long distance before refueling."

The Westport HD System is composed of a 15-liter engine, proprietary fuel injectors, fuel tanks with integrated cryogenic fuel pumps and other electronic components. The engine is certified and compliant to 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board emission standards in North America.

In November Peterbilt Motors Co. sold 180 LNG trucks powered by Westport HD System engines to Robert Transporter, a Canadian trucking company based in Quebec (see Daily GPI, Nov. 18, 2010).

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