Benefits of alternative fuels and fuel-flexibility

A pair of cupped hands holds a mound of soil, out of which grows a small plant. An outline of a light bulb is drawn around the plant.

Internal combustion engines using traditional and alternative fuels are an integral part of life in all parts of the world. They are almost universally used in motor vehicles of all kinds, in power generation, and more. Traditionally, internal combustion engines run on liquid fuels. These fuels are distilled from petroleum. Think gasoline, diesel, kerosene or heavy fuel oil. 

What are alternative fuels?

Liquid fossil fuels are convenient and affordable, but they are not the only fuels that engines can burn. In fact, alternative fuels have been available for as long as internal combustion engines have existed. For example, vehicles running on a fuel known as wood gas were widely used during World War II. This allowed to save fuel needed for the war effort. Wood gas was generated by the incomplete combustion of wood chips. The process would take place in a sort of large kettle. The kettle could be placed on a trailer behind a vehicle, and from there piped to the vehicle’s engine. 

Today, few vehicles run on wood gas, but many other alternative fuels are available, and several more are being developed. Some, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid petroleum gas (LPG—a mix of propane and butane), are derived from fossil fuels. Others, such as renewable diesel, biodiesel, ethanol and biogas are obtained from energy crops or from organic waste. You can check out what are the low carbon fuels to learn more.  

Advances in chemical engineering and other disciplines have also made it possible to synthesize methane, hydrogen, diesel and more from non-fossil feedstock such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water using renewable electricity. These synthetic fuels are sometimes known as e-fuels. You can check out what are power-to-x and e-fuels to learn more.

Renewable diesel can be used as drop-in replacements. For most engines, no modification is required. Biodiesels must be blended with fossil diesel to be used in standard compression ignition (CI) engines. Ethanol—basically, alcohol—can also be used in traditional SI (spark ignition) vehicles when it is blended with gasoline. Ethanol blending is extremely common. More than 98% of all gasoline sold in the United States contain a significant proportion of ethanol. 

For example, The Cummins Inc. Ethos spark ignited engine can run E85 (85% ethanol) without any modification. Meanwhile, engines capable of running flex fuel can use a blend of gasoline and ethanol from 51% to 83% (E85). Vehicles with this capability, known as fuel-flex vehicles, are not rare—according to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are more than 21 million fuel-flex vehicles driving on US roads. 

What is fuel flexibility?

Fuel flexibility is also an option for equipment owners who wish to use CNG or LPG as an alternative to gasoline. Either can be achieved with the addition of a separate fuel system and the addition of a new set of fuel injectors in the engine. Owners of dual-fuel vehicles can thus run on CNG, and, if no CNG fueling station is nearby when the gaseous fuel runs out, continue driving on gasoline. 

Alternative fuels are not just for road vehicles. Agricultural machinery, mining equipment, ships, locomotives, and other vehicles can all potentially benefit from using alternative fuels. Alternative fuels are also an option for stationary internal combustion engines. Stationary engines are commonly used in industrial applications such as oil and gas extraction or power generation. Power plant owners can more easily meet their operational and financial objectives when they have the option to use either traditional diesel, biodiesel or natural gas in their power plant. Power plants based on reciprocating engine power generators, for example, can start their engines on natural gas. Once the engines are running, they can be switched to biodiesel, allowing net CO2-free operation.

Businesses operating fleets of vehicles are constantly making tradeoffs between multiple objectives such as reducing capital costs, reducing maintenance costs, reducing fuel costs, and reducing emissions, while taking into consideration range and refueling constraints, among others. Adopting the use of an alternative fuel can help further one or more of those objectives. 

Environmental benefits of alternative fuels

Using an alternative fuel can be a good way to reduce carbon emissions. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere that was previously stored underground. 

Biofuels, in contrast, release the carbon which was taken from the atmosphere by the crops that they are made from. This is why biofuels are thought of as net-CO2 free fuels. Similarly, renewable natural gas fuel produced from landfill, or sewer gas can be considered as a fuel with negative carbon intensity.

For businesses who wish to reduce their carbon footprint, alternative fuels present a variety of options. Switching to CNG or LPG can result in significant CO2 reductions, despite their fossil nature. Using a fuel with a greater ethanol or biodiesel content can also be effective. For businesses seeking further reductions in CO2 emissions, full conversions to biodiesel, hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), ethanol, renewable natural gas, or even hydrogen, or an e-fuel may also be an option. 

Besides CO2, internal combustion engines emit other gases in their exhaust. Most businesses should be concerned by the non-carbon emissions of their vehicle fleets. Clean-burning alternative fuels can help in that regard. In some cases, for example, converting a diesel truck to run on CNG can be more cost effective in the long run than investing in diesel exhaust emissions control equipment. 

In certain industries, additionally, non-carbon emissions pose a specific set of problems. These problems can lead to transformative solutions designed around an alternative fuel. Mines, for example, require a powerful ventilation system in order to maintain a safe and breathable environment. With heavy machinery operating underground, this is no easy task. Operating that ventilation system can be very costly and consume a lot of energy. These considerations have led several mining companies to explore options to fuel this machinery with hydrogen. Using hydrogen as a fuel would result in no emissions at all, and thus far smaller ventilation needs.

Economical benefits of alternative fuels

Traditional fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel are generally convenient and affordable, but there are situations where alternative fuels are cheaper. Natural gas, specifically, has been consistently cheaper than gasoline and diesel when measured on a gasoline gallon equivalent basis. Operators of city buses, dumpster trucks and other commercial vehicles have saved millions of dollars by converting their fleets to run on CNG. 

Biogas can be used to generate electricity and heat for the water treatment process

In addition to being low, the price of natural gas is also stable over time. Natural gas prices tend to avoid the cyclical price fluctuations that petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline experience. As a result, owners of compressed natural gas vehicles enjoy operating costs that are both lower and more predictable.

Maintenance and other advantages of alternative fuels

Alternative fuels present a variety of other advantages. Here are some additional benefits:

  • Shelf life: Unlike gasoline and diesel, natural gas and propane have an unlimited shelf life, as do hydrogen and ammonia-based e-fuels. This is also true of several newer biodiesel and synthetic diesel formulations, which can last up to 10 years. 
  • Environmental compatibility: Biodiesel and renewable diesel are also biodegradable, non-toxic and produce less fumes. Likewise, LPG and natural gas are not likely to result in any soil or water contamination if spilled, since they would simply vaporize.
  • Reduced maintenance needs: Natural gas and propane tend to burn cleaner than liquid fuels. A lesser amount of soot thus makes its way into the engine’s oil. Some operators take advantage of this by extending oil change intervals. When a large fleet of vehicles are involved, this can easily result in a savings of tens of thousands of dollars or more.
  • Performance: Biodiesel and ethanol blends also have higher cetane and octane ratings than unblended diesel or gasoline, providing improved performance and acceleration. This is one of the reasons why; in the United States, NASCAR advertises its use of a blend of ethanol and gasoline containing 15% of ethanol—significantly more than the average fuel available at the pump.

Alternative fuels are far more common than many people realize. Several types of alternative fuels with a proven track record are available and, when deployed judiciously, can help businesses meet their environmental and cost reduction objectives.

Benefits of alternative fuels specific to your business

Your business has distinct characteristics and needs. As a result, you might find some of these alternative fuels more valuable than others. There are also other factors such as fuel availability, use case, and local regulations that you need to consider. 

These additional factors often are more localized. You can benefit from working with a partner knowledgeable in these local aspects and understand your business more intimately. We recommend you reach out to a local partner to find the best fit solution for your business and needs

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Aytek Yuksel

Aytek Yuksel is the Content Marketing Leader for Cummins Inc., with a focus on Power Systems markets. Aytek joined the Company in 2008. Since then, he has worked in several marketing roles and now brings you the learnings from our key markets ranging from industrial to residential markets. Aytek lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two kids.

How do drivers experience natural gas engines ?

person driving semi

Natural gas is a great alternative fuel for clean vehicles. Its benefits are often advertised from the perspective of commercial fleet owners who enjoy significant cost savings, or from a broader environmental perspective. But what about driver’s perspectives? Read along to learn about the benefits of operating natural gas engines for drivers.

Natural gas engines run a cleaner and quieter operation

When we talk about clean vehicles we usually think of vehicles with low emissions. Natural gas vehicles certainly reduce your fleet’s emissions. They produce far less NOx and particulate matter than diesel vehicles. Modern natural gas vehicles emissions are 90% cleaner than current EPA standards.

Natural gas vehicles are also cleaner in the sense that they’re never going to cause a mess when fuel leaks or spills. Natural gas is lighter than air, so any amount of fuel leaking from onboard tanks or stationary storage vessels will quickly dissipate. This means that drivers and mechanics will never spill natural gas on themselves. They never go home smelling like diesel fuel. It also means that, for example in the event of an accident, there is no risk of pooling in or around the vehicles, thus significantly improving driver safety.

Perhaps the biggest quality of life improvement for drivers granted by natural gas engines is that they run considerably quieter than gasoline and diesel equivalents. Whilst idling, a natural gas engine can be ten decibels quieter than diesel and as quiet as a car on the go. For most drivers, working with a quieter and smoother engine is a lot less tiring.

Performance and productivity of natural gas engines

Natural gas vehicles can feel and perform similarly to diesel vehicles. Diesel has been the fuel of choice for heavy-duty vehicles since it provides the torque needed to pull heavy loads. Natural gas engines can be capable of pulling heavy loads, including on steep inclines. Natural gas drivers report not having to drop gears any more than they would if they were driving diesel vehicles.

Natural gas also provides significant benefits to drivers who work in cold weather conditions. Though natural gas vehicles are not immune to winter trouble, they don’t see the same issues that can ruin a truck driver’s day all over the Northern hemisphere. Diesel turns into a gelatin-like substance when temperatures drop below 17.5°F. Natural gas, in contrast, has a boiling point of -258°F so this will never be a concern even in the coldest winter conditions.

Natural gas vehicles also avoid problems related to the storage and handling of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). DEF mostly consists of water. So, when it gets cold, DEF can freeze, causing problems. Drivers who fill their DEF tank to capacity, for example, can find themselves with a cracked tank when the DEF freezes and expands beyond the capacity of the tank—the same thing that happens when a can of soda is left in the freezer for too long. Natural gas vehicles don’t use DEF, so DEF problems don’t occur.

Drivers also like saving time when they use time-fill refueling stations. Fleet drivers operating diesel vehicles typically end their shift waiting for their turn at the fuel pump, and then wait some more while their tank fills before finally parking their vehicle for the night. With time-fill stations, natural gas drivers are able to refuel by simply pulling into a dedicated bay, connecting the hose and clocking off for the day—their vehicle’s natural gas cylinder then fills unattended. There is no need to wait around, making this an easy and quick process for the driver. There are additional details on how natural gas engines stack up against diesel.

Reliability of natural gas engines

Natural gas engines and liquid fuel engines use the same type of components and have the same architecture. In terms of reliability, natural gas engines are as good as any modern diesel engines.

So, are natural gas vehicles as reliable as diesel vehicles? Modern diesel vehicles need sophisticated aftertreatment system to comply with emissions regulations. Unfortunately, these systems need a lot of maintenance, and they don’t always perform as expected. Cold weather DEF problems are one example. Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) are another common source of trouble for diesel vehicles. DPFs filter out particulate matter but will, if not adequately cleaned or replaced, clog. Natural gas engines, in comparison, have very little NOx and soot in their exhaust and thus require no such aftertreatment systems. At most, a simple three-way catalyst may be used. Natural gas vehicles have less that can go wrong and less for the driver to worry about. When properly maintained, natural gas engines drive a million miles and keep going. Maintenance is one of the main considerations for fleet managers to keep in mind when transitioning to natural gas engines.

Are your drivers still not quite ready to give natural gas a shot? Let them hear testimonials from our customers’ drivers and that should clear out any doubt.

If natural gas engines are relevant to your needs, don’t forget to also check our answers to frequently asked questions about natural gas engines. These answers cover topics such as cost, practicality, and feasibility of integrating natural gas into commercial fleets.

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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

A-Z fuel types in your decarbonization journey

green water drop

You may have been reading about alternative fuels on this blog—or elsewhere. We know it can be confusing. So here is a handy glossary to help you remember the difference between diesel, renewable diesel, biodiesel, and other fuels. 

Ammonia in your decarbonization journey

Ammonia is a chemical used industrially on a large scale as a precursor to a variety of nitrogen-containing substances, such as fertilizers and explosives. It also has many other applications, ranging from being used as a glass cleaner, to a reagent used in flue gas scrubbing systems, to being used as a rocket fuel (the X-15, an experimental rocket-power aircraft, which still holds the speed record for a manned aircraft, ran on ammonia).

Ammonia has also seen some historical use as a motor fuel. During World War II, for example, the Belgian regional bus company converted some of its buses to run on ammonia due to the shortage of diesel fuel.

Green ammonia in your decarbonization journey

Almost all ammonia being manufactured today is obtained via a chemical reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen. Since most hydrogen used for this purpose is made from natural gas using a process that releases significant amounts of CO2, manufacturing of ammonia is CO2-intensive. If green hydrogen is used, however, ammonia can be made with no or minimal CO2 emissions. In other words, green ammonia can be made.

This is of interest for industries that are heavy users of ammonia. Fertilizer companies such as Spain’s Fertiberia, for example, are actively pursuing this strategy.

In the transportation sector, green ammonia is seen as an energy carrier that is easier to handle and store than green hydrogen. The shipping industry, in particular, has shown substantial interest in powering large ship engines with ammonia. A recent survey by Lloyd’s register indicates industry participants expect ammonia use in the shipping industry will significantly increase in the next 10 years.

In Japan, where utilities are looking for ways to keep their coal-power plants open, green ammonia is used as a partial substitute for coal in pilot projects. In the long term, supporters see green ammonia as a way to turn existing power plants into zero-emissions facilities by 2050.

Biodiesel in your decarbonization journey

Biodiesel is a renewable low-carbon intensity or carbon-neutral fuel made from fats such as vegetable oil, animal fats or used cooking oil through a chemical process known as transesterification. The oils can also be blended with diesel to reduce well-to-wheels CO2 and other polluting emissions. Blends with varying proportions of biodiesel are available. B20, containing 20% biodiesel, is a common blend which advantageously balances cost and emissions. It can be used in most engines with no modifications. Many Cummins Inc. diesel engines can run on B20, and the company plans to make its new engines compatible with an increasing range of biodiesel blends. Besides motor vehicles, biodiesels are used across a range of industries, from data centers to ships. 

Diesel in your decarbonization journey

Diesel is a fossil fuel obtained from oil. It is relatively cheap, widely available and performs well. Diesel engines are durable, reliable, and can provide all the torque needed for heavy-duty applications. The infrastructure needed to produce, transport and distribute diesel is universally available. Diesel, however, is not without drawbacks. Besides causing greenhouse gas emissions, diesel vehicles release nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, soot, and other pollutants. All of these cause air pollution and can be harmful to human health. Regulations on the use of diesel are therefore tightening in countries around the world. Diesel may lose some ground to alternative fuels, but it is not about to go away. Diesel engines have come a long way towards cleaning up their emissions. And while no aftertreatment system can truly scrub CO2 emissions from diesel engines, there are applications where it will make more sense to offset CO2 emissions somewhere else than to seek to directly decarbonize the application. The emission reductions capability of alternative fuels should be evaluated when making a selection.

Renewable diesel in your decarbonization journey

Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) or renewable diesel is made from vegetable fats and oils. It can be used in most diesel engines without modification, across all Cummins standby generator sets and many Cummins engines used for on-highway applications. Used as a drop-in replacement for diesel, it performs equally well. After factoring in the emissions associated with the processing, transportation and distribution, HVO well-to-wheels emissions are about 70% lower than those of diesel. 

The use of HVO is limited by the amount that can be made using existing production plants—about 550 million gallons per year in the United States. Multiple new plants are under construction, which should significantly expand the amount of HVO available and may lead to an increase in adoption. 
There are a range of examples of companies that are successfully using alternative fuels. Companies such as Microsoft, for example, have switched to HVO fuel for their Cummins-supplied generators that provide backup power to its data centers in Des Moines, Iowa (U.S.) and Phoenix, Arizona (U.S.).

Green hydrogen in your decarbonization journey

Green hydrogen, or hydrogen made using renewable energy, may very well be the green energy carrier of the future. Green hydrogen can fuel both fuel cell electric vehicles and vehicles equipped with an internal combustion engine specially modified for hydrogen. Hydrogen will make a lot of sense for heavy-duty commercial applications, which is why Cummins is currently developing a 15-liter and a 6.7-liter hydrogen engine. Cummins’ hydrogen fuel cells are already powering vehicles around the world—from buses and trucks to trains. Besides being manufactured using renewable energy, part of hydrogen’s appeal is that the main waste product of hydrogen combustion or fuel-cells is water, and although hydrogen fueled internal combustion engines will have NOx emissions, they can be reduced to very low levels.

Natural gas in your decarbonization journey

Natural gas has been used as a fuel in vehicles for decades and is the most widely used alternative fuel. It performs as well as diesel in vehicles, and in some cases lowers emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as NOx and particulate matter. Natural gas is therefore a popular choice for heavy vehicles that operate in urban environments, such as garbage trucks, buses and delivery trucks. 

Natural gas is also widely used in stationary applications. Natural gas, for example, can be used in highly efficient cogeneration systems providing electricity, heat, and, in some cases, cooling. Cummins has supplied equipment for numerous cogeneration systems, such as the system at Clark University, in Massachusetts (U.S.), where Cummins supplied a 2 MW QSV91G gas generator

Renewable natural gas in your decarbonization journey

Renewable natural gas is obtained from biogas, a methane-rich gas resulting from the fermentation of organic waste such as cow manure, sewage sludge or landfill organics. Adequately processed, renewable natural gas is nearly indistinguishable from natural gas. It can be used in any natural gas engine and in many industrial applications, such as power generation, giving up to a 97% reduction in CO₂, compared with diesel. Renewable natural gas is already emerging as a fuel for prime power generation in niche applications near to sources of renewable natural gas. Cummins carried out one such project in Delaware (U.S.) where landfill gas is used to power a combined heat and power (CHP) system to provide industrial customers with clean energy. 

Natural gas and hydrogen blends in your decarbonization journey

Green hydrogen can be blended with natural gas and injected into existing natural gas distribution systems. This automatically reduces the carbon intensity of all natural gas uses served by the pipeline. Using pipeline systems to distribute fuel blends that include hydrogen is not new and, for example, has been practiced for years on the island of Oahu in Hawaii (U.S.). Various pilot schemes plan to replace up to 20% of natural gas by volume content in distribution systems and blending will be widespread in Europe over the next 10 years, with the U.S. not far behind. 

Methanol in your decarbonization journey

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a promising energy carrier derived from hydrogen or from biomass. Unlike hydrogen, methanol is a liquid at ambient temperature, making it easier to store and handle. It can be readily synthetized from hydrogen using well-known industrial processes. Methanol is a versatile fuel that is being used in a variety of applications today including Indy cars and monster trucks. 

Several pilot projects designed to produce methanol from captured CO₂ and green hydrogen are up and running with more to come on-line in the next five years. The development of the process will be linked to the expansion of green hydrogen and CO₂ capture technologies.

When choosing an alternative fuel, it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative fuel and its state of adoption.

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

How renewable natural gas decarbonizes natural gas engines

trucks in a field

What is renewable natural gas?

Renewable natural gas, or RNG, is sometimes known as biomethane or upgraded biogas. Anaerobic digestion, a process in which bacteria break down organic matter, produces biogas. Biogas can generate heat and electricity with only a minor clean up. Additional refining removes contaminants such as CO2 and nitrogen. At that point, biogas becomes renewable natural gas—nearly pure methane. For many applications, RNG is functionally identical from standard natural gas. Most natural gas distribution networks allow for blending of renewable biogas, and natural gas engines use it.

Here are some of the main sources of organic matter used to feed biogas-producing bacteria:
Organic matter dumped at landfills tends to ferment spontaneously. The resulting biogas emissions account for nearly a fifth of the human-caused methane emissions in the United States according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane actually produces 25 times more greenhouse gas emissions compared to CO2. Not only is it a great source of fuel, but landfill methane capture also prevents the emissions of powerful greenhouse gases.

Cattle farms and chicken farms tend to produce large amounts a manure—a great snack for the bacteria responsible for anaerobic digestion. Industrial biogas production comes from manure using, for example, large airtight fermentation tanks known as digesters.

Wastewater treatment plants produce a lot of sludge. It’s basically what remains from wastewater after most of the clean water has been removed. Sewage sludge is normally trucked to a landfill, or sometimes used as fertilizer; but, due to its high content in organic matter, it can also serve as a feedstock to produce biogas. Lots of wastewater plants do this and use the biogas themselves, for example to heat fermentation ponds.

What are the benefits of renewable natural gas on natural gas engines?

When used in an engine, natural gas has similar performance characteristics compared to diesel, but is quieter and much cleaner. Its simplified aftertreatment systems result in near zero NOx levels. Natural gas, however, remains a fossil fuel and its use always results in CO2 emissions. This is where the additional benefits of RNG shine through.

The carbon content of RNG, in contrast, is non-fossil. Burning RNG is thus carbon-neutral since it doesn’t add carbon to the atmosphere. When accounting for the total well to wheels carbon emissions, the use of RNG remains extremely low-carbon. In some cases, such as the use of landfill gas, it may even be carbon-negative, as previously mentioned.

Whether used to produce heat and electricity or to power your fleet, RNG helps reduce net carbon emissions. RNG is classified as an Advanced Biofuel under the renewable fuel standard in the United States, contributing to the role natural gas engines play in our renewable future.

There are also other benefits to the production of biogas. After the bacteria are done and the water is removed, the solids left in digesters can be used as fertilizer, mulch, or animal bedding. Researchers are even assessing the use of these solids to produce ethanol—a way to squeeze even more energy out of the original feedstock.

Rural areas can now diversify their economies beyond agriculture alone by producing biogas and digestate. Many farmers have invested in digesters and are thus able to produce and sell biogas and renewable natural gas. In rural areas not reached by natural gas distribution networks, this can make RNG available for transportation and other purposes. At Fair Oaks Farm, a large-scale dairy operation in Indiana, RNG is produced on-site. The RNG is then used to fuel the trucks used by the farm to deliver the milk it produces to its customers. The milk trucks feature Cummins’ 9-liter ISL G natural gas engines. RNG is also used in other applications such as vocational trucks, transit and school buses, and medium-duty trucks.

How does RNG compare to other fuels?

Natural gas vehicles are cleaner, quieter and require less maintenance than diesel vehicles among other benefits. RNG vehicles are low-carbon and even sometimes carbon-negative. In commercial applications, RNG may be the most widely used alternative fuel. NGVAmerica, a trade association promoting the use of natural gas in vehicles, reports that RNG accounted to 64% of on-highway natural gas use in 2021. It’s safe, effective and relatively affordable, but fleet managers who want to switch to natural gas engines need to make additional considerations.
One consideration with RNG is whether we have enough RNG to fulfill the needs of commercial mobility. While RNG can’t fulfil all the energy needs of humankind, it has the capacity to play a play a role in decarbonizing select commercial mobility applications. The last few years have seen growth in RNG production, a trend expected to continue at one of the quickest rates of fuel growth in the segment. According to the International Energy Agency, RNG made up 1% of biofuel production in 2020 and is expected to increase to 20% by 2050.

Read more about how RNG compares other alternative fuels.

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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

How to transition your fleet to natural gas engines

semi trucks on highway bridge

There are many considerations for fleet managers who want to switch to natural gas engines. Some of the key factors include driver education, maintenance, and having a refueling strategy in place. With an effective transition plan, the benefits of natural gas don’t take long to materialize for customers, drivers, maintenance technicians, fleet managers and business owners.

Driver education on natural gas engines

When it comes to operating the vehicle, drivers will find natural gas engines perform and behave very similarly to the diesel vehicles they have been used to. There are, however, some differences. For example, fuel is not measured in gallons but in pressure in the tank as it is a gas. When the weather is colder, the pressure reading on the fuel will be lower. However, this does not mean that there is less fuel. So, there is a certain level of driver instruction and experience required to interpret these levels. Additional training on safety topics, such as detecting gas leaks and safe refueling practices, is also required. Learn more about how drivers experience natural gas engines.

Maintenance principles of natural gas engines

Natural gas engines can provide a number of economic benefits over diesel engines, such as not needing to add diesel exhaust fluid or complete regens. This is in large part because natural gas engines do not require a complicated exhaust treatment system. The clean combustion profile of natural gas means that such systems are not required. Maintenance is thus simpler and less expensive. 

Maintenance crews also tend to have a more pleasant experience working on natural gas engines compared to diesel engines. There is no diesel to spill on their clothes, and the engine is not covered in soot, reducing the need for detergents and additives in the oil. 

When you switch to natural gas engines, special care must be taken to properly maintain a natural gas vehicle as there are some differences to diesel engines. Most natural gas engines, for example, are spark-ignited and thus feature spark plugs. It is very important to replace the spark plugs according to the recommended service schedule. During installation, care should be taken to maintain the cleanliness of the spark plugs and to install them using the correct torque. Only manufacturer-approved spark plugs should be used as they are extensively tested and certified for each engine. 

Because natural gas engines operate at higher temperatures than diesel engines, it is important to use the appropriate engine oil. For that reason, Valvoline’s Premium Blue One Solution Gen 2 is an exclusively Cummins-approved oil for both natural gas and diesel engines. Higher temperatures lead to higher requirements in the oil for resisting oxidation and nitration. Using purposely formulated natural gas engine oil can increase the recommended service interval by up to 50%. Fuel filters should be drained daily and replaced every 1000 engine hours. Valves should be adjusted according to the maintenance schedule. 

Refueling plan for natural gas engines

Locally managed refueling stations should also be kept in good operating condition to maintain the cleanliness of the fuel supply going into the engine. This will reduce the maintenance needs of the engine and extend the effective vehicle life. 

Native natural gas is an abundant and cost-effective fuel source for a modern fleet, available in gaseous form (CNG) or liquified form (LNG). Natural gas refueling infrastructure is not as common as other fuels such as diesel. A plan should be put in place for the refueling of vehicles to ensure a successful transition of natural gas in our renewable future

Natural gas fleets are particularly attractive to businesses that are structured around a central depot where their vehicles can return each night. Infrastructure can be built to refuel the fleet in a cost-effective and efficient way through slow fuel fill stations. Slow fuel fill stations provide advantages in that, at the end of the day, the driver can connect the supply to the vehicle and not have to worry about it anymore. Several dedicated refueling lines can be provisioned for each vehicle, meaning drivers will not have to wait in line to refuel. Fast fill solutions also exist, where natural gas is compressed on site and stored in tanks so that it is available to quickly fill the next vehicle to arrive. 

If natural gas engines are relevant to your needs, don’t forget to also check our answers to frequently asked questions about natural gas engines. These answers cover topics such as cost, practicality, and feasibility of integrating natural gas into commercial fleets.

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Stay ahead with the latest in new technologies, products, industry trends and news.

Send me the latest news in (check all that apply):
Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

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