Cover Story
One company rolled the dice on LNG and reaped the reward

By Clarissa Kell-Holland
staff writer


Victor LaRosa, the president and co-founder of Total Transportation Services Inc., in Rancho Dominguez, CA, said his company purchased eight LNG-powered Kenworth T800 trucks as an “experiment” to see how they stacked up against the other 103 trucks they purchased that are powered by clean diesel.

 “In mid-2008, we made a commitment that we were going to 100 percent clean, and we have converted 100 percent of our fleet to either clean diesel or clean LNG,” LaRosa told Land Line Magazine.

Now, with six months under its belt using both LNG and clean diesel, LaRosa’s company has ordered 22 more LNG-powered trucks. The LNG trucks are equipped with 15-liter Cummins ISX engines, which use 5 percent diesel to “ignite the gas.”

 “We believe we are going to get much greater use out of the LNG engines than we are out of these 2007 engines because of the heat these engines generate,” LaRosa said. “The oil is cleaner; the engines are cleaner. We think we are going to get more longevity out of the LNG trucks.”

TTSI was the first full-time drayage operation to run alternative fuel-powered trucks into the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. La Rosa said the LNG trucks are averaging around 5.62 miles per gallon.

A Sterling truck with an 8.9-liter Cummins ISL engine is also available, which runs solely on LNG.

Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist for OOIDA, said there may be a cost advantage for some members who have short-haul applications because the California Air Resources Board and the EPA idling regulations don’t apply to trucks with engines powered solely on LNG.

 “The EPA and CARB idling regulations apply to diesel-fueled commercial motor vehicles only, so truckers wouldn’t have to purchase an APU and could idle their trucks,” Rajkovacz said.

LaRosa said one of the biggest problems with the clean diesel engines has to do with the regeneration problems they are having because the engines don’t get hot enough on their short hauls to burn off the diesel particulate.

 “We are finding ourselves regenerating almost every other day,” he said. “We just don’t heat the engines up hot enough to get the diesel particulate to burn off, and our filters are getting clogged very quickly.”

Both LaRosa and Rajkovacz said an 11-liter or a 12-liter engine would be the “perfect engine” or the “sweet spot” for the trucking industry. However, the demand isn’t quite there yet.

LaRosa admits LNG-powered trucks are a little “pricey” over diesel-powered trucks initially, but there are incentives out there for investing in trucks running on alternative fuel sources.

Clean Energy helped TTSI secure funding for its eight trucks, and the company was able to get a $32,000 federal tax credit because LNG meets both EPA and CARB emissions standards. On top of that, states such as California and Texas also offer a 10-cent-per-gallon tax credit for using LNG. In mid-January, when diesel was selling for nearly $2.30 per gallon, LNG was selling for $1.89, with the 10-cent credit.

LaRosa said the company was also supposed to receive a $20,000 incentive through the Clean Trucks Program with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for purchasing clean diesel trucks. As of press time, they were still waiting to collect their money for upgrading their fleet to meet 2007 emissions standards.

LaRosa said his company is committed to doing its part and reducing its emissions as much as they can.

 “After our six-month experiment we conclusively concurred that LNG was the better way to go for us in our application. That’s why we’ve decided that everything we do in fleet expansion in 2009 will be LNG,” LaRosa said. LL