Equipment Spotlight

Alternative Energy Refuse Trucks
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Propelled by new emissions regulations and higher prices for diesel fuel, customers of refuse collection trucks are flocking to vehicles equipped with engines that burn alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas (CNG).

At Heil Environmental in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chris Dutton, marketing communications manager, said environmental regulation is the primary factor pushing the market. Specifically, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has emission standards for nitrogen oxides and particulate matter coming into play in 2010. “Municipalities in particular are looking for alternatives to diesel fuel,” Dutton said. “CNG is one of those alternatives.”

Another important factor is the availability of government financial assistance to purchasers. Municipalities working with non-profits are able to apply for funds covering up to 25 percent of the cost of the CNG chassis. “That’s what seems to be driving CNG at the moment,” Dutton said.

The manufacturer’s interest in CNG ramped up in 2009. “When we saw fuel prices spike last year, CNG became a very cost-effective alternative for our customers,” Dutton said. Some had already moved to CNG, and were reaping significant monetary benefits as a result. “We’re also seeing the efficiency gains when it comes to the amount of soot released and the noise pollution.”

Heil Environmental

Heil does not manufacture truck chassis for its CNG vehicles. Instead, they purchase them from Peterbilt, Mack or other makers. The company does, however, install complete CNG packages on chassis. “Previously people had to work with chassis manufacturers and ship the chassis off to a fabricator for a tank,” Dutton said. “It would come to Heil and then often have to go back to the fabricator and possibly back to us before going to the customer.”

Now, as vehicles move down the production line, customers can elect for either CNG or conventional diesel-fuel chassis. The installation is completed without the vehicle having to leave Heil’s plant. “This makes it easier and more efficient,” Dutton said. “The other ways involved a lot of delay and expense.”

While many of Heil’s chassis are suitable for CNG, Dutton said their most popular product for customers interested in CNG-fueled vehicles is the Rapid Rail. This model features an eight foot reach, fast cycle times, continuous packing and is popular with many users looking for a faster, more efficient vehicle they can run with one operator, Dutton said. CNG customers like the Rapid Rail particularly because the tank conveniently mounts on the roof.

Mack Trucks, Inc.

In the future, Dutton expects a growing trend toward CNG-fueled refuse collection vehicles. That doesn’t mean that CNG is the last word in alternative fuels, however. “You almost have to wonder if an entirely new technology might step in,” Dutton said.

“CNG is a nice stable option that comes largely from North America,” he noted. “It’s not just the air quality benefit, but also some really holistic community interest and benefits that can be gained. We don’t think it’s going away. We’re not sure we can say it’s going to be dominant any time soon. But it’s certainly an interesting fuel to look at.”

At McNeilus in Dodge Center, Wisconsin, Jeffry Swertfeger, director of marketing and communications, said the company’s emphasis of late has been to offer factory installation of required items such as CNG tanks on its vehicles. “One of the things McNeilus has worked hard on this last year is putting all the resources in-house so when the CNG chassis arrives from Peterbilt or Kenworth or whoever, we don’t have to ship that truck out. We can install the tank here.” The tank switch reduces the time and expense that customers must put up with in order to get refuse vehicles that can burn CNG. McNeilus also has a CNG fueling station at its plant.

McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing

CNG-fueled vehicles represent one of the elements of McNeilus’ engine initiative involving alternative fuels. The company expects CNG to continue its popularity, due in part to forecasts for higher diesel fuel prices at some point. “CNG is going to be around for a long time,” Swertfeger said. “CNG is also a stepping off point for some of the other technology that’s around the corner, such as fuel cells using hydrogen power.”

CNG-fueled refuse collection vehicles offer some special benefits, such as operating without the familiar clattering sounds of heavy-duty diesel engines. “CNG trucks run dramatically quieter than a diesel powered unit,” Swertfeger noted. “So there’s the noise pollution aspect. That has encouraged many municipalities and refuse collection services to implement the quiet-running vehicles.”

McNeilus has sold CNG vehicles to the city of Long Beach, California, as well as to refuse collection companies including Allied Waste, Republic and Waste Management. To help customers evaluate the financial impact of switching to the technology, they have a CNG calculator on the company’s website. “We allow customers to go out there and put in their own numbers to see what they can save by migrating to a CNG vehicle,” he said. “With all the government grants and fuel savings, it becomes pretty clear. In those states where there are government grants, and more are added all the time, it becomes pretty beneficial.”


Amrep, Inc. Heil Environmental Mack Trucks, Inc. McNeilus Refuse Trucks