California ports buy 400 Sterling natural gas-fueled tractors

By The end of 2008, Sterling Truck Corporation will have completed a 400-tractor order for the southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It is particularly noteworthy that these tractors will be powered by engines fueled with liquefied natural gas (LNG).

This is just the start of what Sterling officials hope will be a long-term opportunity. “We see a great emerging market for our natural gas fueled tractors and trucks,” said Rich Shearing, Sterling's manager of product strategy. “This vehicle cuts greenhouse gas emissions and reduces US dependence on imported oil.”

Shearing discussed the port contract during an August 5 press event in Napa, California. The natural gas truck order was prompted by California's Clean Trucks Program, which is focused on removing older, polluting container drayage trucks from the state's ports.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will ban drayage trucks with pre-1989 engines by October of this year. By 2012, the port ban will be expanded to cover drayage trucks that don't meet 2007 emission requirements. The object is to reduce truck-related pollution at the ports by 80%. Other California ports are studying the program.

An estimated 16,000 tractors fall under the program. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will provide drayage truck owners with financial assistance in the form of a grant or lease to acquire the new trucks. Funding will come from the ports and the federal government and will be generated, in part, by a container fee of $35 per twenty-ft-equivalent-unit.

Looking beyond drayage operations, Sterling Trucks officials believe there is considerable market potential for natural gas powered heavy-duty trucks. Shearing said Sterling expects the natural gas trucks to be popular with distribution, regional, and leasing fleets, as well utilities and municipal fleets.

“We're offering these fleets a factory-installed natural gas fuel system, and it comes with a factory warranty,” he said. “We're using proven technology that provides low emissions and diesel-comparable performance. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, natural gas costs less than diesel and the United States has an abundance of it.”

Sterling Trucks uses its Set-Back 113 model for the natural gas vehicle. The truck comes with the Cummins Westport ISL G power plant, an 8.9-liter stoichiometric cooled-exhaust gas recirculation engine.

Available in ratings up to 320 horsepower, the ISL G already meets Environmental Protection Agency 2010 standards with 85% lower NOx emissions than the C Gas Plus engine and features the highest power-to-weight ratio in class with an optimized turbocharger. The ISL G also has a maintenance-free exhaust system with a three-way catalyst.

“Natural gas technology has come a long way,” Shearing said. “Buses have been using it for years, but these next-generation NG power trains have more power because less air is needed for combustion. Additionally, the technology simply burns cleaner.”

As configured for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the ISL G engine used in the Sterling Set-Back 113 is rated for 80,000 pounds gross combination weight (GCW) at road speeds under 55 miles per hour, Shearing said. GCW drops to 65,000 pounds at higher speeds and locations other than the two ports.

The operating range for a Sterling Set-Back 113 with a single LNG fuel tank is approximately 275 miles. The engine can run on either LNG or compressed natural gas.

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