Veteran Savage drivers Mike Gurule and Johnny Westbrook stand in front of a new Kenworth truck that has a natural gas system installed to power the ISX Cummings diesel engine under the hood.
The fueling nozzles for the truck Savage has been testing is quite simple, with nozzles attaching to the fillers on the left side of the truck.
The wave of the future might be here for Savage Trucking. For the last week they have been testing innovative engine fuels. For a new Kenworth that was parked in the shop last week, natural gas has been the choice of power as the truck hauled 45 ton loads of coal around the area.
"As far as everything we can tell it performed great," said Paul Brinkerhoff, the shop manager at Coal Service on Tuesday. "We finished the trials on Monday and it did what it was supposed to do. It had a lot of power and got about the same mileage (4.5 miles per gallon) as any of our regular diesel powered trucks do. Best of all the drivers liked it."
Those drivers, Mike Gurule and Johnny Westbrook ran the truck round the clock for the entire week. Now the company will have to look at the results and decide if the gas powered diesel engines are the way to go with their new trucks.
The system that was being used in the test truck was developed by Westport Fuel systems. Kelly Mills the area sales manager for Westport was at Coal Service in Price last week to introduce the truck to the Savage employees.
"It was in 1996 when Westport began developing this system," said Mills. "The company wanted to develop a liquefied natural gas system for heavy duty trucks that would help with emissions and fuel economy while maintaining equal horsepower and torque with a diesel type engine."
Now, according to Mills, several hundred trucks from a number of companies that haul materials and run over the road operate on the LNG system developed by Westport.
Mills also explained that the system is not entirely run by liquefied natural gas, but does use about 5 percent diesel to help the engine fire upon compression.
"The system sprays in a small amount of diesel fuel to get the cylinder to ignite," he explained. "Diesel fuel ignites at about 850 degrees. Once that ignites the rest of the injection and consequently the firing of the cylinder is by liquefied natural gas."
The reason that the natural gas can't be used entirely to fuel the engine like it can in a typical gasoline designed engine is that natural gas doesn't ignite until a temperature of 1250 degrees is achieved. The diesel injected a millisecond before acts as a primer for that firing.
One of the big advantages to using natural gas is that the emissions are so clean. This could save a great deal of money because the pollution filters on new diesel trucks today can be costly and time consuming to clean or replace.
Another big advantage, and the most obvious one, is that natural gas is much less expensive per gallon than diesel fuel. Presently the cost for diesel fuel is between $2.50 and $3 per gallon and during the summer of 2008 it over $4 per gallon. Natural gas, on the other hand, is well under a dollar per gallon at the present time.
Savage managers are excited about the possibilities.
"There are some obvious advantages to using natural gas," said Dave Sorrells the general manager of Coal Service just before the tests began last week. "The cost is of natural gas is lower than diesel fuel and it is more plentiful in the United States too. So if this is successful, it can mean importing less fuel."
Savage has turned their operation over to entirely to running Kenworth units as their new tractors and so the new gas system would work out well for them.
"We will be turning in the last of our Internationals at the end of October," said Sorrells.
Since the natural gas that the truck runs on is a liquefied fuel it would be purchased from a company called ALT that has a plant in Arizona. But there seem to be few concerns about that being quite a distance away because according to Linda Berndt the vice president of ALT who was there for the beginning of the test, her company supplies trucks around the country with the fuel no matter where they are.
"We can get the fuel here and keep Savage stocked with what they need," she said. "We have portable systems that can be placed anywhere these trucks need to operate."
The filling system is simple and both tanks on the truck fill from the left side of the vehicle so that the nozzle doesn't have to be moved around the truck nor the truck turned around for filling. Berndt said the fueling of the truck is no more complicated than it would be to fill it with diesel.
While there are many advantages to running on natural gas, the tax credit offered for buying these kinds of vehicles is no small thing either. For a tractor that basically costs $100,000 to buy new a company can get a tax credit of almost $29,000 for fueling it with natural gas because of Alternative Fuel Motor Vehicle Credits from the federal government.
Since the week long test went well, now the decision will need to be made whether to move to this model to transport coal within eastern Utah.
That decision, would appear, to be coming soon.