Volvo Trucks details comprehensive Blue Power natural gas strategy


Volvo Trucks has announced its natural gas strategy for North America, which it calls Blue Power, and plans to launch its own proprietary 13-liter liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine for North America in 2014.

The new engine’s advanced high pressure diesel ignition technology will provide significant fuel efficiency gains compared with current natural gas products, said Olof Persson, president and CEO of Volvo Group.

Volvo is one of the world's leading manufacturers of trucks, buses and construction equipment, drive systems for marine and industrial applications, aerospace components and services, and one of the world's leading producers of heavy diesel engines (9-16 liter).

Combined with Volvo’s previously announced offering of compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model day cabs, the new 13-liter LNG engine will provide customers with a complete range of natural gas-powered transportation solutions, he noted.

“Despite the near-term infrastructure questions regarding widespread adoption of natural gas as a heavy duty truck fuel, it is clear this segment will grow over the next several years,” said Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales & Marketing.

“We’re already delivering factory-built CNG-powered trucks, and as the long-haul fueling infrastructure develops, the advanced technology in our new LNG engine will provide increased range and improved fuel efficiency in a seamlessly integrated Volvo powertrain.”


LNG for the long haul

Through advanced high pressure diesel ignition technology - using trace amounts of diesel to ignite the natural gas - Volvo’s LNG engine will deliver a 30 percent fuel efficiency improvement compared with spark-ignition (SI) engines, making it a viable alternative for long-haul applications, said Huibers.

The Volvo 13-liter LNG engine will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 percent compared with current diesel products.

The engine will accomplish these savings without sacrificing power, torque or fuel efficiency, all of which are critical attributes for on-highway operations, he said.

The Volvo Group was the number one supplier of 13-liter heavy duty engines to the combined U.S. and Canadian market last year, and the same vertically integrated approach that has made Volvo a global powertrain leader is being applied to the development of the new engine, Persson said.

The company’s proprietary Volvo I-Shift automated mechanical transmission also will be available for customers to specify with the 13-liter LNG engine.


CNG for closed-loop and delivery applications

North America’s abundant supply of natural gas, and the reduced emissions and minimal aftertreatment CNG engines offer, make natural gas technology an ideal solution for customers operating in localized or closed-loop applications, Huibers said.

To meet current demand, Volvo offers the CNG-powered VNM day cab equipped with a factory-installed Cummins ISL G engine.

Volvo also recently announced that it is operating natural gas-powered VNL demonstrator trucks. The larger, more robust VNL model features a 12-liter Cummins Westport ISX12 G gas engine.

Factory production of the natural gas-powered VNL day cab will begin in conjunction with commercial availability of the 12-liter gas engine early next year.

These heavy duty engines feature maintenance-free aftertreatment, requiring only a three-way catalyst to meet EPA 2010 emissions standards, said Huibers.


DME shows promise in customer tests

Volvo is also testing another fuel that can be produced from natural gas, DME (dimethylther), which has the potential to become an attractive alternative for the North American market, according to Persson.

The Volvo Group has conducted hundreds of thousands of miles of customer field testing of trucks equipped with DME, which can be produced from natural gas.

The strong results from 10 vehicles operating in a variety of applications in Europe indicate DME holds much promise as a heavy truck fuel, and could become a viable alternative in North America to CNG or LNG when it comes to performance, environmental impact, safety and distribution, he said.

DME mirrors the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel while significantly reducing GHG emissions, added Huibers. It is an “excellent” compression ignition fuel which, like diesel, requires no separate ignition mechanism.

Unlike LNG, DME does not require cryogenic temperatures. It is handled like propane, with tank pressures of 75 psi - vs. 3,000 psi for CNG, and it is non-toxic.

DME burns with a blue flame and requires no diesel particulate filter.

DME packages densely enough to allow long range transports or to allow room for vocational truck equipment on the frame.


Environmental Care

“Since we adopted Environmental Care as a core value in 1970s, Volvo has dedicated the resources necessary to lead in alternative fuel technologies,” Huibers said. “We demonstrated in 2007 our ability to run vehicles on seven different renewable fuels (biodiesel, synthetic diesel, DME, methanol/ethanol, biogas, hydrogen and biogas and biogas and biodiesel, and we continue to refine our work with a variety alternative fuels and drivelines.”

All seven renewable fuels have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from commercial vehicles.

“Our comprehensive ‘Blue Power’ strategy - including CNG, LNG, and potentially DME - means we’ll have a complete range of natural gas solutions as the infrastructure develops,” he said.

Engine technology for alternative fuels is not the problem, Persson pointed out, as that is in place. The challenge is which technology will be used, and Volvo believes this will be a regional issue, and that is why the company is developing so many different alternatives.