Kane is Able joins movement to use cheaper, cleaner fuel

Kane is Able, one of the region's largest trucking companies, has joined a movement to use natural gas instead of diesel fuel.

At a news conference Monday morning, company officials announced the addition of seven new Volvo tractor-trailers fueled with compressed natural gas or CNG.

Cheaper fuel that offers essentially as much pulling power as diesel is the incentive.

Also Kane's customers, more and more are demanding their haulers switch to natural gas as it burns cleaner with negligible emissions, Mike Albert, senior vice president of operations, said.

It was about two years ago Kane considered natural gas trucks instead of diesel, but technology has inhibited trucks from navigating the mountainous terrain typical to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

"We held off because Cummins, the engine manufacturer, they didn't have an engine large enough," Albert said. "The technology is here."

It was about a year ago the engine maker produced a large enough engine to compete with diesel, Volvo Trucks sales development director Frank A. Bio said.

"The thing that had driven natural gas was typically the refuse industry because the trucks were home each night, they don't require as much horsepower," Bio said. "What happened last year in August was the release of the Cummins 12-liter engine which gives you enough horsepower and torque to operate more like a regional truck."

400 miles a tank

The trucks are equipped with tanks that hold gas equivalent to about 90 gallons of diesel -- enough fuel to carry a truck fully laden about 400 miles. That means, a driver could just about make it to Pittsburgh on a single tank of gas.

Kane's region includes destinations southward in Virginia and westward in Pittsburgh. Refueling stations open to the public are popping up across the state, with at least two underway for the Wyoming Valley region.

"Refueling is another part of this that has taken off in the last couple of years," Bio said. "The cost for natural gas for traveling the same distance is only 60 percent that of diesel, so they can cut their fuel cost by about half."

The company also is expanding coast-to-coast service, with runs going to California and Michigan. Officials said Monday that, over the next several months, they will add 100 new trailers.

The fast-developing technology has caught on quick, and truck manufacturers are producing about 4,000 CNG-powered tractor trailers each year. Volvo makes up about 15 percent of that market, Bio said.

Revenue from the Act 13 impact fee all drillers pay for each well they drill made way for Kane to receive a $250,000 grant.

A total of $7.7 million was awarded in March to 25 companies and organizations across the Pennsylvania that are looking to upgrade their fleets with CNG vehicles.

Per the grant specifics, the state supplied up to 50 percent of the vehicles' cost.

Chris Kane, a company vice president, did not divulge just how much the trucks cost. He laughed and said they cost much more than in 1969 when he tagged along with the company's founder, his grandfather Edward Kane, to purchase a new truck.

Back then, it cost about $20,000 to buy a brand new tractor, Kane said, chuckling.

Albert said it will take three years to pay off Kane's own investment in the trucks.

Safety factor

Unlike propane, another alternative fuel used to power large vehicles, the explosive gas methane is lighter than air and rises.

The trucks come equipped with indicator lights connected to methane detectors that run independently of the rest of the rigs. There are detectors in the engine compartment and in the cab.

The dual tanks on either side of the truck are drop tested full from 30 feet to ensure durability, and they are equipped to safely release pressure in case of a fire.

CNG trucks are considerably better for the environment, too, and the days of black exhaust plumes belching from tractor rigs are waning, Albert said.

Natural gas vehicles are much quieter than their diesel counterparts, and greenhouse gas emissions are about 20 percent less than diesel trucks. There is negligible particulate pollution to create smog.

As fossil fuels go, natural gas burns much cleaner than oil, gasoline or diesel, but many argue it's the extraction process that is most harmful to the environment.

Methane that escapes into the air accidentally through leaky pipelines or while it is being harvested is significantly more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Kane legacy

Kane recalled that his grandfather modified a box truck to pull a trailer, a big move at the time, but necessary to stay abreast of the fast-moving industry standards, Kane said. Bringing on these new trucks will continue that legacy of keeping ahead of the times.

The seven trucks are part of a trial run, but Kane has high hopes, he said.

"We believe in the CNG," Kane said. "It's locally produced, it's environmentally friendly, and we see a lot of benefits for our fleet. We'll test these, and if they work as we hope they will, we'll convert as much of the fleet as possible."

The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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