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New, ‘green’ truck debuted at Beaver Creek

Scott N. Miller smiller@vaildaily.com
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – From a distance, the new Peterbilt truck parked at the base of the Centennial Express gondola Friday didn’t look much different from the hundreds of long-haul rigs that rumble up and down Interstate 70 every day – except for being yellow enough for a role in the next Transformers movie. But it might be the truck of the future.

The truck – technically a “class 8 long haul tractor” – was unveiled Friday at a Colorado Motor Carriers Association conference. The truck, which runs on liquified natural gas, was touted as a more-sustainable alternative to the big rigs on the road now. The event was attended by representatives of the people who built the truck and its engine, as well as the company that intends to have liquified natural gas in enough truck stops to enable coast-to-coast travel.

According to company representative Christopher Logan, Clean Energy, a company in the portfolio of Texas industrialist T. Boone Pickens, is now working with the country’s largest operator of truck stops to have 150 liquified natural gas fueling stations open in the next five years. That, Logan said, will enable interstate trucking companies to send natural gas-fueled trucks on transcontinental runs.



And, Logan said, the companies using the new technology will spend less, a lot less, on fuel.

But those savings come at a cost. Kelly Mills, a sales manager for Westport, the company that installs the fueling systems on the trucks – converting the Cummins diesel engines to run on a mixture of 95 gas and 5 percent diesel – said the new truck costs right at $100,000 more than an equivalent diesel rig.



Rod Steely of Colorado Crude Carriers and Jerry Wodek of Wodek Systems own trucking companies on the Front Range. After the presentation, both said the added cost of the new-tech rig is simply too much to bear right now.

But, Mills said, that initial hit has a relatively quick payback.

A company that puts 100,000 miles a year on its long-haul vehicles will start saving money on fuel in two years or so, Mills said. Since long-haul trucks have a service life of 800,000 miles, give or take, that can be a significant savings for a company.



Better yet, Logan said, the fuel comes from domestic sources.

“Our slogan is that it’s cleaner, cheaper, domestic and abundant,” he said.

The fuel might be safer in case of an accident, too.

Explaining the fuel system to one on-looker, Mills said that if the system fails, it shuts down automatically. If a tank is punctured, the liquified gas will hit the ground for a matter of seconds before evaporating into the air, Mills said. That’s a big difference from a diesel spill, which can hours or days to clean up. And, unlike propane, the gas won’t float along the ground, waiting for a spark.

“The only way this will ignite is if you were to hold something like a flare in the stream,” Mills said.

While the new Peterbilt drew plenty of attention Friday, it’s going to take some time to catch up with the rest of the world.

“There are more than 12 million natural gas-fueled vehicles in the rest of the world, and less than 150,000 in the United States,” Logan said. “We have a long way to go.”


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