ORRVILLE, Ohio — Running trucks on alternative fuel and compressed natural gas is nothing new, but the infrastructure to make it practical and affordable is finally coming of age.
At an alternative fuels event held Oct. 6 in Orrville, Smith Dairy fleet manager Chuck Diehl stole the show by proposing that half of the company’s new truck funds for 2012 go toward alternative fuel vehicles, and that the company pursue the city’s first compressed natural gas refilling station to serve its own fleet, with the potential for public use at a later date.
There are more than 400 vehicles in the Smith Dairy fleet, which transport all major dairy products. If Diehl’s goal becomes a reality, then 8-10 percent of their fleet will run on alternative fuels.
“We’re suddenly asking ourselves what’s holding us back,” he said. “It’s going to sell itself.”
Diehl’s announcement came after a daylong discussion from area and statewide leaders on alternative fuels, many who talked about the opportunities of compressed natural gas to operate midsize to large-scale fleet trucks.
One of the first leaders in alternative fuels was Dominion East Ohio, which began operating dual fuels in the early 1980s. Today, the energy company is heavily vested in natural gas vehicles, and gasoline vehicles converted to run on natural gas.
Mike Giaco, fleet manager for Dominion, said some of their vehicles run better on natural gas than on regular gasoline, in their opinion. His advice to other companies wanting to convert vehicles to CNG is to use a qualified technician. That assures it’s done right for the vehicle, and the safely of everyone involved.
Orrville Fire Chief Bob Ballentine said his department trains for all kinds of fires it might encounter. He said he attended the session to further his education on alternative fuels, but didn’t see anything to be concerned about.
“From my aspect as a fire chief it’s been a very safe venture so far for us,” he said.
And it’s a venture that’s getting a lot of attention, from everyday motorists, to fleet managers.
Diehl said a 10 cent increase in diesel fuel prices means a cost of $70,000 annually to the company.
Bob Thompson, sales and marketing manager in Town and Country Co-Op’s energy division, said the company runs a fleet of 30-plus tractor-trailers and heavy duty straight trucks. The vehicles currently run on soy biodiesel.
“We firmly believe in the benefits of that product both to the engine as well as the environment, as well as to our local farm economy.”
But Thompson said the company is looking seriously at fuels like CNG, and waiting for the right time and the right amount of interest.
Like the farmers they serve, Thompson said his company is dedicated to environmental stewardship, and better ways of producing and transporting the goods they’re known for.
“The bulk of our customers rely on the land for their livelihood as well as keeping the economy going,” he said. “Everyone wants clean air and healthy food and we’re very much believers in that and active participants in that.”
Diehl’s proposal will be made to the Smith Dairy board of directors and owners. But he said there’s a lot of opportunity for his company and his city if it goes through. In addition to producing CNG, they’d also be producing and supporting local jobs, he said.
“The cream on top of this is, these are some ‘Ohio’ jobs,” he said.
CNG currently is being produced by Quasar Energy Group, which has several anaerobic waste-to-energy projects in Ohio, including one in Wooster, Ohio, on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Only a handful of CNG filling stations are in operation in Ohio. Multiple projects are underway or in the planning stages.
“There’s not a lot of public infrastructure out there now, but there is a ton of it on its way in the very nearterm,” said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio.
A driving force to bringing a CNG station to a city is interest, officials said. There needs to be enough customers interested to create a high volume of demand.
And it takes investment capital, roughly $500,000 to $1 million for a station to be profitable, they estimated.
Demonstration vehicles were provided by Quasar Energy Group, Young Truck Sales, City of Cleveland Heights, Roush, Allison Transmission, Navistar, Dominion, and Zoresco.