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Iveco and Scania run on CNG

2014 will be remembered as the year of natural gas fueled vehicles: less fuel consumption, lower emissions and lower tare compared to Euro 6 engines. A gamble, mainly, by Scania and Iveco. But the distribution network needs to be adapted

Massimo Lanari

In the difficult search for an alternative traction in the world of commercial vehicles - already struggling with a very strict Euro 6 legislation - 2014 will be remembered as the year of natural gas. Two manufacturers, in particular, Iveco and Scania, built a CNG versions of their heavy duty vehicles. Mercedes-Benz and Volvo Trucks have also started some experimental projects around Europe, but it was the first two that focused strongly on CNG. Let's see some of the features of their models, not forgetting one important factor: the importance of developing an adequate distribution network, without which any attempt, even the most technically successful, is doomed to failure. Let's start with Iveco. On April 30 the first five Stralis, powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which will circulate throughout Italy, left Piacenza: the vehicles were delivered to the LC3 trucking company, specializing in container transport and temperature-controlled products. Other vehicles were supplied to TNT Express Italy. To be precise we’re talking of the Stralis AT440S33T/P LNG, with a range of about 750 km. The cryogenic tank is located on the right side of the truck and has a capacity of 525 liters: inside it, the liquefied gas is stored at a temperature of -130 ° C. On the opposite side, there are four CNG (compressed natural gas) tanks, of 70 liters each. In this type of vehicles, in fact, the liquefied natural gas is stored in a cryogenic tank at a pressure of 9 bars,  to be then converted into gas again and conveyed into the engine. This transition takes place in a heat exchanger. Despite  these devices, compared to a normal diesel truck the reduction of the unladen weight is considerable, also due to the absence of post-treatment systems present on Euro 6 vehicles: a factor that contributes to a further reduction in fuel consumption. As for emissions, even the virtuous Euro 6 cannot compete with natural gas, as emissions of particulate matter are lower by 95%, NOx by 35%, and CO2 from 10% up to 100% if biogas is used. Also the noise level is reduced by about 5 dB: a feature of CNG powered vehicles especially appreciated for urban waste collection, where this kind of vehicle has already been used for several years.


From an economic point of view, at a higher initial outlay corresponds a drastic reduction of other operating expenses, mainly due to the price of natural gas, 40% lower than diesel. Overall, the reduction of operating costs is more than 10%. So far, natural gas traction has been matched to the 270, 300 and 330 hp Cursor 8 engines, in Hi-Road and Hi-Street cabin configurations, but soon also the 415 hp Cursor 9 will have its LNG version. The Fiat Powertain Industrial natural gas engines are characterized by stoichiometric combustion, i.e. with a chemically correct air-fuel ratio; 100% natural gas and Otto cycle with spark plugs igniting the air-gas mixture supplied by a rail, with two injectors per cylinder. The treatment of exhaust gases is performed by a simple passive three-way catalyst that requires no additive (urea, for example). Therefore, paradoxically, it all seems simpler than a Euro 6.


As mentioned, also Scania has invested heavily on natural gas traction. Since January, the Italian subsidiary of the American giant Havi Logistics, in Bomporto (MO), has been awarded three gas powered P340, towing refrigerated semi-trailers for McDonald's. The models in question are the 340hp 5-cylinder engine LA4X2MNA P340, with 9.3 liter displacement, multipoint fuel injection system, exhaust gas recirculation EGR and three-way catalyst system. Here, however, we’re looking at compressed gas (CNG). After 3 months on the road, Daniele Celere, transport manager of the company, spoke about the advantages of this technology: "We are absolutely delighted by the operational economy and consumption, which has allowed us to cut costs related to fuel without affecting our vehicles’ efficiency. We are also particularly proud to boast, in our fleet, the first Euro 6 CNG powered trucks in Europe. Thanks to the 'Gas Truck' project launched with Scania we now have highly innovative and technologically advanced vehicles that allow us to further reduce the environmental impact".


Of course, it is not all roses, because if these vehicles have reached remarkable performances, the same cannot be said of the distribution network, at least in Italy, despite us having some of the most important manufacturers of CNG systems in world, as Landirenzo and BRC. In the United States, Obama is focusing so much on natural gas that the mining industry has started to pull it out using a questionable practice, from an environmental point of view, the crushing of rocks containing natural gas, also known as fracking. In Europe, most of the natural gas arrives by ship from the Middle East. To encourage this type of alternative form of traction, the EU has launched the Blue Corridors project, which includes the creation of four  high-density traffic “routes” where 14 LNG stations will be assembled by 2017. In this context, the first Italian liquefied natural gas (LNG) station has been opened in Piacenza, in cooperation with Eni. This is not an isolated initiative: the LNG service station in Piacenza is the first of a series of stations that Eni will build over the next four years along the main national traffic routes.

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