To convert or not to convert? That is a question on many carriers’ minds as the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) continues to grow in the transportation industry. For those that have converted, the benefits are clear. CNG provides an inexpensive alternative to diesel fuel, reduces emissions and is a domestic product, thus creating price stability.
Still, some are hesitant to convert to CNG not knowing the process involved. The reality is, it’s an easy process and can provide significant competitive advantages. Here’s how it works:
A good first step is to visit an online CNG calculator to determine if CNG is a good option for your company. Simply plug in some basic information about your fleet, including how many vehicles you operate, the number of miles driven and the miles per gallon, and the search will provide a cost savings estimate. Some even provide an estimate on your return on investment.
Of course, that’s only an estimate, as your initial investment will vary depending upon your leasing vehicles—if you’re converting your current fleet or buying new CNG vehicles.
It’s also important to consider the type of CNG unit with respect to your differential in load/weight. Some CNG units mount below the cab, while others mount behind. Both will add weight to your vehicle, and depending on where the CNG units are located, some will reduce load capacity. Knowing how each vehicle choice influences your capacity capabilities will help in the decision-making process.
You will also need to identify what options are available to fuel your vehicles. Will you have a CNG station on site or is there a station nearby? Plus, if you operate refrigerated trucks, the refrigeration units run on either diesel fuel or propane, so you’ll need access to either at your CNG filling sites. Equally important, are there CNG filling stations on your routes? If the answer is yes, make certain these locations have wide enough lanes to accommodate the vehicles and offer fast fuel capabilities (fueling a CNG tank can be time consuming). If there aren’t any CNG fueling stations nearby, what partnership options are available to build a location convenient for your business needs? Some CNG providers will build a location or multiple locations for a customer, handle the operations and maintenance of the station and share in incremental gallons, all at a negotiated per gallon price.
Partnering offers another great advantage, as CNG stations can range anywhere from $1.5-2 million each to construct, making it cost prohibitive for many carriers to build themselves. Partners can help work through the details when building new sites. This can include identifying land strategically located to meet your fleet’s needs, coordinating the purchase and working to comply with various city ordinances.
Another advantage is the partner will work to identify and secure grant opportunities associated with operating a clean fleet. There are often grant opportunities at both the state and federal levels, and understanding what they are and how to apply for them can be cumbersome unless you’re familiar with the process. These grants can provide significant savings when converting a fleet.
Vehicle maintenance is another area that needs to be considered. Work with someone or have someone on staff who is trained in maintaining CNG vehicles. Currently, this is a specialized field that does tend to increase costs when compared with diesel fuel vehicle maintenance. However, as more and more fleets make the conversion, this will likely even out in the future. Plus, if you have your own maintenance team, you can train team members on the new fuel system.
Finally, don’t forget about your drivers. Have them test drive a CNG vehicle and let them experience fueling one. In most cases, the drivers tend to prefer CNG vehicles, as they are quieter than their diesel fuel counterparts.
Whether your company converts or not, the process itself is easier than you think and can provide a host of significant competitive advantages.