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AN EXPERIENCE BEHIND THE CNG WHEEL


BY GARY BABBITT Guest Writer


I am a 44 year professional driver for


what I feel is the most impactful industry in our states and this country’s rich history. During this time, I’ve seen so many chang- es as it continues to evolve and be resilient with whatever times comes its way. I have logged more than five million miles to date with some 4.8 million miles here in the state of Texas and even seeing this state’s vast natural resources first hand, I’ve taken so many for granted. I never gave much thought to the importance that one in par- ticular could have on an industry such as ours until my company gave me the keys to my first CNG experience. The thought of taking a driver out of


his comfort zone with diesel, to say the least, raised many questions for me. Hopefully the questions I have had regarding natural gas vehicles are some of the same ones that many of you may have. Over the last year, I’ve logged over 120,000 miles in one of these trucks and each one of my questions has been answered in a positive way. The first question any driver has with


anything new to them is “is it safe?” The answer to this is a resounding yes! I have read numerous articles regarding CNG and have learned that natural gas dissipates rap- idly when released because it is lighter than air, where diesel or gasoline puddles so therefore the danger of fire would be greater closer to the ground. Natural gas vehicles are designed and built safe in normal opera- tion and in accidents. The tanks are much thicker and stronger than gasoline tanks. Cylinders must even withstand a bonfire test and penetration of a 30 caliber bullet without rupture! The cylinders are designed for a specific lifetime from 15 up to 25 years


and are required to be inspected every three years or 36,000 miles. Natural gas vehicles have been used in the U.S. since the early 1970s with over 120,000 in use today. Data collected on 8,331 natural gas


utility, school, municipal and business fleets that traveled 178.3 million miles, the natural gas vehicle injury rate was 37 percent lower than gasoline and the collision rate was 31 percent lower than gasoline fleet vehicles. There were only seven fires and only one attributable to the fuel system. There has been only one fatality in the U.S. involving a natural gas vehicle in all of that time and it was attributed to human error. As a driver, when you get facts and data like these, your confidence in getting behind the wheel and completing a safe trip is higher than ever before. The second question that comes to a


drivers mind is how much difference is there in performance? The Cummins ISXG12L that I currently drive has truly been tested since being issued to me. It is capable of 400 hp and 1450 ft lbs of torque. I currently go to Houston and back pulling doubles on the way back to Dallas. Many times the combination weight on the two trailers will exceed 38,000 pounds against a strong head wind. If I may use the term “set it and forget it,” north of Conroe I usu- ally set my cruise control at 65 mph and it very rarely drops below 63 mph. It pulls and performs with any diesel I’ve ever driv- en. I’ve driven these trucks during the last ice storm and our spring storms. What has surprised me was that they handle better on ice than any truck that I’ve ever driven. When many trucks were not able to move I was able to move along. Through the spring storms and high winds they handled remarkably well. I truly believe that this can be attributed to the weight of the tanks


and the position of them. The third question that a driver usu-


ally wants to know is the difference in the truck itself? To be quite frank there isn’t much because 80 percent of what you see under the hood and drive train is virtually the same. One fires different than the other and that’s about it. The block and most of the external components are alike. There are two major differences however:


• The CNG is nine db quieter than its diesel counterpart and that is huge when you are in the cab on a 10-hour trip. When you get through with your trip you are not nearly as fatigued.


• It is clean to fuel. We currently have a fueling station at our Central Freight terminal that is open to the public and we fuel our tractors there. The concrete still looks like new because there is virtually no spillage. From the time I pull in and connect to the hose until full is approximately eight minutes. My gloves that I fuel with stay like new and I have no odor on my clothes or boots the way you do with diesel.


The fourth question I had was how


will this truck and CNG affect my compa- ny, this industry and this country? • I truly believe CNG will enhance highway safety and industry safety


• It will reduce our dependence on foreign oil


• It is plentiful and creates jobs • It burns clean and needs no costly additives to burn


• It is low in cost and reduces our carbon footprint on the environment


In conclusion, I believe as this indus-


try continues to “Move America Forward,” in the future much of it will be and can be moved with safe, clean and plentiful Compressed Natural Gas. R


Summer 2015 43


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