Despite the best efforts of T. Boone Pickens and other natural gas advocates, the trucking industry has been slow to embrace the fuel as an alternative to diesel.
But an affiliate of Chesapeake Energy Corp. may have a solution.
Peake Fuel Solutions has developed what it is calling diesel natural gas, an easy-to-install system that allows heavy-duty trucks to add less expensive natural gas to their fueling options.
The dual-fuel system allows drivers to get up to 70 percent of their fuel from natural gas instead of diesel without sacrificing performance, said Bryan Curtis, Peake's manager of technical services.
Kent Wilkinson, vice president of natural gas ventures at Chesapeake, said natural gas — either compressed or liquefied — will allow truck drivers to save 20 cents to 24 cents a mile on their fuel costs.
That is huge in an industry where officials report their profit margins are about 5 cents to 7 cents a mile.
Wilkinson said the Peake system will allow trucking companies to get the benefit of cheaper natural gas without the “range anxiety” that worries many who are contemplating the switch.
He said drivers will be able to use CNG or LNG if it is available without losing the ability to fill up with diesel.
“This allows you to begin getting that savings today,” Wilkinson said.
Peake's diesel natural gas system is customizable to meet the needs of trucking companies and truck owners interested in saving money on fuel.
Wilkinson said the system is composed of three basic parts that can be installed by two technicians in about 10 hours, but he hopes that figure will come down in time.
Peake has built a demonstration truck to showcase the options available with the company's conversion kit.
It is outfitted with displays that offer live data about how much natural gas is being used and the estimated savings.
A short trip on Interstate 44 resulted in about $5 in savings, thanks to the CNG that augmented its fuel supply.
“The savings add up real quick,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said diesel natural gas systems can be built to the owner's specifications, but the cost typically is about $30,000 or so.
Drivers can pay off the extra expense of adding natural gas to the mix in as little as nine months, depending on how many miles they drive, he said.
Wilkinson said Peake developed the system over the past couple of years after discovering there was no application for natural gas in the trucking industry.
“That's a lot of what drove the development,” he said. “We were just trying to demonstrate the possibilities.”
Peake will outfit trucks to run on diesel natural gas for corporate cousin Chesapeake Oilfield Services, Wilkinson said.
Another Peake offering, CNG in a Box, will be used in conjunction with the diesel system to ensure fuel is available for those trucks at fueling stations.
Peake developed CNG in a Box with GE. It is a “plug and play” unit meant to speed the development of natural gas fueling stations.
Wilkinson said those two offerings circumvent the “chicken or egg” questions that have slowed the spread of CNG.
“These are complete solutions,” he said.