S2G Bobtail: Positive Reviews With Some Challenges

Freightliner unveiled its S2G propane-fueled bobtail in 2012, making it possible for propane marketers to “run their fleet on the fuel they sell.” The bobtail filled a void that had existed since GM phased out  production of its 8.1L engine for the medium-duty truck market at the end of calendar year 2009. Drivers have been delivering fuel since 2013 in the vehicle, which features an Allison 2000 series transmission and a fueling system from CleanFUEL USA. Its 8-liter, 339-hp purpose-built engine is supplied by Powertrain Integration (Madison Heights, Mich.). The engine provides 495 ft-lb of torque at 3100 rpm. Although some challenges have been reported, reviews are mostly positive.
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Bill Cummings of Hocon Gas (Shelton, Conn.) noted his company is running two of the bobtails, one at its Guilford location and the other in Norwalk. He has heard reports that the Guilford truck “runs well and fires very well. All propane functions for delivery work well.” For the Norwalk truck, he said that the truck runs well, with no issues starting up in cold weather, and that it does not lose power when going up hills.

But he also reported some challenges. “Sometimes when the temps get around 10 degrees or lower, it starts a little rough, but once it starts it takes 30 seconds to get going.” He also feels that a lower gear for reverse would be beneficial. He added that if it was a 3400-gal. barrel with a full load, he thinks it would not make it up a driveway in reverse.

Mitch Vanover of Miles LP Gas (Owensboro, Ky.) told BPN his company is taking a wait-and-see attitude before buying an S2G because he has heard of issues traveling up a steep grade. “We’re interested, but we want to get all the bugs out. It’s quite an investment, $10,000 to $12,000 more than a regular diesel.”

Steve Largeteau of Esperance LP Gas (Esperance, N.Y.) ordered the vehicle last fall, but has not used it yet because the check engine light was on when his company first received the vehicle. As of January he had still not received the vehicle back from Freightliner.
S2G MillerSB

However, Kenton Sonnenberg, propane equipment account manager for CHS (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) operates at least two S2Gs and is hearing positive feedback about them.

“So far, I’ve heard start-up is easy and they take less warm-up time than a diesel, and not having to plug engines in is a plus,” Sonnenberg said. “In addition, they’re a quiet and smooth ride.” He is happy with fuel cost, as well. “I recently ran some numbers on the cost of fuel. Based on a terminal in Minnesota, the price of propane is about 80 cents cheaper than diesel fuel when you factor in the federal incentive. With a savings like this, it’s easier to offset a loss in miles per gallon when switching from diesel to propane-powered.”

The two CHS offices currently using the S2G also report the vehicles are easier to maintain because they don’t have to deal with the diesel exhaust fluid system. He has also been told it uses less oil, even though oil change intervals are more frequent with the propane system.

Tim Schweppe of Arrow Tank reports that after dealing with some initial issues that he says are somewhat expected with a totally new product, the S2Gs seem to be on track. “Our most recent bobtail builds are out in the field pumping gas with little or no issues,” he explained. “However, fuel pump issues continue to plague the S2G, as we’ve just received word of a third fuel pump update within the last year. This latest update is in the form of a kit requiring a new hose fitting and electrical connector inside the tank to accept the new pump. Thankfully CleanFUEL is aware of the problem and [is] addressing it.”

In terms of popularity, he stated that of the bobtails Arrow builds, the diesel-powered chassis are still the selected chassis of choice by about a 10 to 1 ratio.

“However, the S2G can be an excellent fit in areas that have logistical challenges such as diesel fuel or diesel service availability,” he noted, adding that Freightliner, Powertrain Integration, and CleanFUEL USA are addressing the issues as they arise and making improvements through updates and service bulletins.
Trucks Swenson

Milt Swenson of Westmor Industries agreed that the S2G is “getting to be pretty trouble-free now,” noting that some of the early issues included the fact that the automatic transmissions were designed for diesel units, but those have been mostly minor problems that Freightliner has fixed. He has heard from marketers that they are happy with it for the most part. “A big part of that, they’ve got the fuel right on-site, they don’t have to drive over to a gas station if they’re a propane marketer only and go get their diesel fuel. They just fill up their unit right at their own facilities.” He has heard that several new diesel engines and some new automatic transmissions will soon become available, and that should increase customer choices.

Schweppe did address issues such as “a learning curve for drivers and fleet managers in terms of driving behavior and finding the resources available to address concerns.” He mentioned a Midwest fleet manager who told him that a “two-footed driver” — driving with one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake — will trigger more fault codes during the day due to driving habits and tight engine control module monitoring parameters. A common situation for the two-footers is having the throttle and service brake active simultaneously — which results in a fault code. He noted that letting the vehicle roll backward while in a forward gear is another habit, whereas when going outside the program parameters will cause the engine to stall. Knowing the cause and making drivers aware of their habits is reducing the number of faults and keeping everyone happy, Schweppe explained.

He added that resources for the fleet manager such as Powertrain Integration’s Web-based service and support  is “essential and extremely helpful. Problems can be avoided by knowing the basic preventive maintenance schedules. Change your plugs at 30,000 miles and don’t wait, otherwise you will soon find the motor down on power and running extremely rough. New plugs equals happy bobtail and happy driver.” 

“The Freightliner S2G continues to improve and gain sales in the marketplace,” said Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), adding that marketers who purchased it have stated a willingness to buy more. He has heard positive feedback from S2G user AmeriGas (Valley Forge, Pa.), and he added that Eastern Propane (Rochester, N.H.) has been a supporter of the vehicle from the beginning and has bought multiple S2Gs.

“I think Freightliner has gained maturity on how to position the propane product,” Perkins noted. “The dealers understand it a little better. So we expect better things out of Freightliner in 2016 as well.”    —Daryl Lubinsky

Green Alternative Systems (GAS) Announces Newly Expanded Facilities To Increase Propane Fleet Conversion Capacity

Elkhart, IN, (Feb. 05, 2016) — Green Alternative Systems (GAS), provider for propane fleet conversions and compressed natural gas conversion in the United States, announced that due to the popularity of fleet conversion to propane autogas in both 2014 and 2015, GAS will be making considerable investments in areas that increase their propane autogas fleet conversion capacity. Green Alternative Systems currently operates a dozen facilities in the United States and stated that its newest service center is on track to open in Chicago in 2016.
green alternative systems logo

Green Alternative Systems converts thousands of vehicles each year to propane autogas, reducing costs for fleet managers as well as damage to the environment with cleaner-burning, American propane. A nation-wide network of service facilities ensures that fleet managers have ready access to the services needed when their vehicles are on the road.

As gas prices continue to fall, fleet managers still look to alternative fuel conversions (especially schools and city governments). Communities concerned about the environment are pushing their local fleets to adapt to clean, alternative propane autogas and the number of annual conversions has been record setting for each of the last five years.

An increase in capacity for fleet propane conversion is positive news for large fleet managers in the market for a conversion and also indicates a positive trajectory for the propane autogas industry. Higher capacity allows Green Alternative Systems to process more vehicles at once, drastically reducing the amount of time fleet vehicles are off the road. The Chicago service center will compliment the existing Elkhart, Ind., facility and bring more conversion and maintenance bays to the Midwest region.

Green Alternative Systems is a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier and one of the fleet propane conversion companies that successfully completed the Altoona Federal Bus Testing Program.

(SOURCE: PR.com)

Hopatcong Gas Service Merges With Combined Energy Services

Family-owned Hopatcong Gas Company, established in 1994 by Bill Sutphen as part of the family hardware store business, has merged with tri-state propane and fuel oil supplier, Combined Energy Services (CES), according to a Jan. 31, 2016 report in The New Jersey Herald.
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The Herald’s report said owner Bill Sutphen and his family opted to sell to a regional company, rather than a national one, because they thought it would be best for Hopatcong customers.

“When you supply people for decades, they’re more than just customers — they’re friends and family,” the newspaper quoted Sherri Sutphen Norlander, a Hopatcong manager, as saying. "We've known Combined Energy Services, their people and the Taylors for a long time and knew they would take care of our customers properly, instead of treating them like a number, like corporations do."

Family-owned and operated since 1968, Combined Energy Services is one of the largest propane gas and fuel oil suppliers in the Tri-State area.

"Hopatcong Gas is a perfect fit with CES as we're gaining new customers all over North New Jersey every day," CES manager Mike Taylor said. "Customers of Hopatcong Gas shouldn't see much difference going forward, just great service from another family-owned company that cares for their customers, along with expanded capabilities."


(SOURCE: NJBIZ, The New Jersey Herald)

DHL Expands with New Service Center in Memphis

(January 18, 2016) DHL, one of the world’s leading international express services provider, announced that it moved into a new service center in Memphis that will serve the tri-state area of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The $2.5 million investment was driven by the company’s current and forecasted shipment growth from local businesses trading internationally as well as e-commerce shipping. The new service center features a large customer counter, expanded parking lot, and several dozen pick-up and delivery vehicles fueled by clean, safe and economical propane autogas.
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DHL moved from an 11,000-square foot facility to the new 30,000-square foot facility, which can process more than 2,500 shipments per hour. It is located adjacent to the Memphis International Airport, and operates as the local center for pick-up, delivery and sorting operations of international shipments. Located at 3560 Air Center Cove in Memphis, the facility will provide enhanced services to customers since it’s situated closer to the airport and can take advantage of process efficiencies from a larger building footprint.

“Memphis is a top metro area for exports, and as a leading international shipping provider, we are keeping pace with the tremendous growth from the area’s global businesses,” said John Fox, DHL Area General Manager, Southeast U.S. “This new facility will not only support customer shipment growth, but will also allow for earlier delivery times and later drop-off times for international importers and exporters.”

The state-of-the-art facility will handle a variety of shipments, including international small parcels as well as palletized and container freight.

Propane Export Facility Near Prince Rupert, British Columbia Announced

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Jan. 20, 2016) - AltaGas Ltd. announced yesterday that a sublease and related agreements have been signed with Ridley Terminals Inc. ("Ridley Terminals") to develop, build, own and operate the proposed Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal, to be located on Ridley Island near Prince Rupert, British Columbia on a portion of lands leased by Ridley Terminals from the Prince Rupert Port Authority. The agreements are an important first step for beginning the regulatory and engagement phases of the project.

The proposed Facility will be designed to ship up to 1.2 million tonnes of propane per year and will be constructed by AltaGas. It will be built on a brownfield site with a history of industrial development, connections to existing rail lines and an existing world class marine jetty with deep water access to the Pacific Ocean. Propane from British Columbia and Alberta natural gas producers will be transported to the Facility using the existing CN rail network.
Ridley Island 2

"We are very excited about the opportunities presented by the Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal," said David Cornhill, Chairman and CEO of AltaGas. "We anticipate this Facility will be the first to export propane from British Columbia's west coast, opening up new international markets for natural gas producers in Western Canada. We look forward to working closely with First Nations, governments, the community and other stakeholders to bring this project into operation."

"Ridley Terminals is encouraged by this concrete step to diversify products shipped from our facilities while sustaining and creating new jobs in the community," said David Kirsop, Chief Operating Officer and President of Ridley Terminals.

"This project aligns with the type of growth and diversification envisioned in the Port's development plan, with the potential to advance Prince Rupert's support of Canadian export industries through our trade gateway," said Don Krusel, President and CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert.

Preliminary engineering has been completed and the front end engineering and design study has begun. The process of engaging and consulting with First Nations, communities, government, and environmental and regulatory authorities is underway. AltaGas is working towards reaching a final investment decision in 2016. Commercial operation to commence propane exports is targeted for 2018, subject to First Nations consultations and necessary approvals. The Facility is estimated to cost between $400 - $500 million.

AltaGas owns or has an interest in six large natural gas processing facilities in British Columbia and Alberta that produce propane, and operates a similar propane export facility in Ferndale, Washington.