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Compressed natural gas: Promising power

After a three-month trial with a handful of McNeilus Next Generation Initiatives mixer trucks, our cover story subject decided 2012 would be a turning point in fleet and fuel specifications: diesel out, natural gas in. A leader in greater Chicago and northern Indiana  ready mixed, Ozinga Brothers Inc. is now a leading catalyst for the industry's adoption of compressed nat­ural (CNG) vehicle power (pages 22-25 ).

With 30 units delivered to date, Ozinga Bros. is the largest user of McNeilus Ngen mixers. It is taking a trail that public transportation agencies and waste haulers blazed. Following bus and refuse trucks, mixers are the next class of heavy-duty vehicles where operators are set to capitalize on the benefits of CNG power: Fuel savings starting at $1.50/g allon of equivalent diesel fuel; elimination of exhaust treatment components in EPA 2010-compliant engines; an operating mode decibel reduction of 80 to 90 percent against diesel vehicles; and, labor savings linked to off-hour refueling from yard-based compressor, charging and companion fueling infrastructure.

Ready mixed producers share with bus and refuse operators three key attributesthat make CNG fuel a viable diesel alternative, according to McNeilus Director of Marketing Matt Walter. Each vehicle type has space to accommodate bulky tanks without taking  payload or passenger space, predictable fuel usage, and a circular route tendency, where drivers start and stop at the same point daily.

Natural gas availability, price stability and widespread distribution-coupled with the affordability of scaled charging/refueling infrastructure at terminals and fleet yards-has seen CNG or liquefied natural gas power become the fuel source for 20 percent of the U.S. transit bus fleet. In 2011, 40 percent of refuse trucks were delivered with CNG power. Many ready mixed plants have diesel-fu­eling infrastructure that can be changed to CNG, with compressors sized toes­ tablished fuel consumption levels.

McNeilus rolled out Ngen demonstration vehicles in 2009. "During the marketdownturn, we have refined the design and now have a unit  we feel is ready for prime time,"  says Walter. "The Ngen series changes our role as a mixer body builder, no longer simply mounting drums and installing hydraulics. We are now engineering and installing fuel tanks and fuel management systems, along with the drums and hydraulics."

Ngen is among a growing selection of natural gas-powered trucks from OEMs and specialty manufacturers, with vehicle performance and reliability on par or exceed­ing diesel-powered counterparts, according to the Clean Vehicle Education Foun­ dation's Stephe Yborra, director of Market Analysis, Education & Communications.

In a compelling 2012 ConcreteWorks Conference presentation, "CNG Trucks ... Don't Look Now, They're Here: The Compelling Case For Natural Gas Vehicles in Pub­lic and Private Fleets,"  he pointed to trends since 2006: a 10-12 percent annual growth rate of CNG powered vehicles, fuel demand climbing from 200 million gasoline gallon equivalents to 350 million in 2011.

The prioritizing of domestic energy security and independence favors contin­ued migration to CNG from conventional automotive fuels. The Clean Vehicle Ed­ucation Foundation reports that 98 percent of U.S. natural gas consumption is sourced in North America; 88 percent from domestic deposits. The favorable fuel cost differential between natural gas and petroleum is expected to widen with economic recovery, the foundation notes, since the fundamentals of oil supply­ demand have not changed.

CNG power exhibits potential to positively impact concrete operations, customer service and profits, joining a league of historic and current innovations ranging from pumping equipment to GPS-enabled vehicle tracking, and synthetic fiber re­inforcement to third generation superplasticizers. Those familiar with Ozinga Bros. should not be surprised at its leadership in the next big thing in ready mixed.