Fuel cost efficiency and environmental responsibility are the catalysts behind Vedder Transportation Group’s decision to invest $12 million in 50 new vehicles.
The first five Peterbilt 386 liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks are scheduled to arrive on June 1, with the remaining order coming in throughout the year.
“From a fuel management perspective, we have to continue to find ways to be cost-competitive,” explained Fred Zweep, president of Vedder.
He said the average per-litre cost of diesel fuel is between $1.13 to $1.15, as compared to LNG which sells for between 72 and 76 cents. And natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel.
“We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” said Zweep.
He said LNG burns between 27 and 32 per cent cleaner than diesel, and there are more benefits. The new trucks are replacement vehicles, meaning not only are cleaner rigs on the road, but 50 old diesel trucks are being removed from the company’s fleet of 425.
It’s going to have an immediate impact on the Fraser Valley, as all of the LNG trucks will be “return to base” vehicles, with each truck used only for local transportation, returning to the Vedder site on Riverside Road each day.
But a lot of work remains to be completed in order to prepare for the June 1 launch.
“We are working with Fortis (formerly Terasen) to create a dispensing station here in Abbotsford,” said Zweep.
The LNG facility is a two-part project. A temporary site will be created in order to be ready by the June 1 deadline, while a larger, permanent station is being designed and should be complete by the end of the year. Both will be located on the Vedder property.
Zweep said he’d like to see an “LNG highway” created across the country, or at least between B.C. and Alberta. At present, the infrastructure is not in place.
“But it’s not too far off,” said Zweep.
The lack of LNG stations is one of the main reasons the new Vedder vehicles will remain in the Valley, close to a fuel supply.
The 50 trucks are being provided by the Vancouver-based company Westport Innovations Inc. Formed in 1994, Westport has incorporated the ideas of UBC professor Phillip Hill, who started working on natural gas combustion engines in the 1980s. His research is the genesis for the current LNG engine design.
A small amount of diesel fuel is still needed in order for ignition to take place, but Zweep said the trucks use about three to five per cent diesel and 95 to 97 per cent LNG. There are two fuel tanks – 120 gallons for LNG and 50 gallons for diesel.
“You need to fill the diesel tank about once a month.”
Westport has continued to grow on an international level. Since the Vedder purchase, some major U.S. companies, including United Parcel Service (UPS) have placed orders for the new technology. Expectations are high that the popularity of LNG will continue to grow.
“We certainly feel like we are pioneers,” said Zweep, adding all that was needed was for a firm with credibility, like Vedder, to take a “leap of faith”.
Before deciding on the trucks, extensive research was done to ensure the right decision was made. That included trips to California to see other LNG vehicles in use.
“The technology is new to us in Canada, but not new to the rest of the world.”
Zweep wanted to talk to drivers and get their opinions on how the trucks operated.
“Trucking is really a traditional industry … introducing new technology can be difficult.”
But feedback was positive. The two most frequent comments were how quiet the engines were, compared to regular diesel and how good the drivers felt about themselves, knowing they were reducing their carbon footprint.
Vedder, currently has 465 drivers and is Western Canada’s leading bulk food grade transporter.