Environment and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Alternative fuels gaining popularity

March 3, 2012

While some trucking firms are busily updating old trucks, others are delving into alternative fuels, which will help lower emissions.

Stoops Freightliner, for one, is converting trucks to run on compressed natural gas.

“I don’t begrudge what they’re doing because they are improving emissions,” said Kellie Walsh, of Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition, the federally funded coalition that helps pay for fleet conversions to cleaner fuels.

Truck fleets operated by Indiana companies such as Vincennes-based Bestway Express are adding CNG injection, starting with 16 of its 300 diesel trucks. The dual-fuel trucks should displace 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year, which costs nearly twice as much as CNG.

“If you can do half your fuel cost, you’re doing pretty well,” said Will McCormick, director of maintenance. The firm received $344,000 in grants through the Indiana Office of Energy Development to make the conversions.

In fact, such alternative fuels might well have cost advantages over some of the newer technologies to reduce diesel emissions. One reason costs for newer trucks have risen is that devices to further reduce emissions can be rather involved.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which dispenses federal grants for emissions reduction/fuel economy improvement under its Diesel Wise program, said it has had some interest from the commercial sector in diesel oxidation catalysts. They work essentially as catalytic converters in automobiles, with a porous ceramic device that causes a chemical reaction to break down pollutants. Such catalysts cost about $1,500.

As time has passed, it’s become harder to find vehicles that don’t already have some sort of catalytic device or filter, said Shawn Seals, senior environmental manager at IDEM.

Much of the interest in such devices has come from school districts. Many cash-strapped districts are keeping older buses in service longer.•

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