How to modify your facility for natural gas service
Because of the different physical properties of natural gas, you cannot service a natural gas engine in the same facility as a diesel engine without implementing safety upgrades. While these upgrades can be costly up front — ranging from $40,000 to $70,000 — they can quickly provide payback once you start servicing natural gas trucks.
The first step is investigating your current setup and deciding what is your best course of action, says Rick Mendoza, facility design manager at Clean Energy.
“The structure and characteristics of every service facility are different. Each one needs to be modified in a different way,” he says. “What we do [at Clean Energy] is bring our knowledge of natural gas to a [service provider], then we assess their facilities and let them know what it is going to take” for them to service natural gas trucks.
There are four ways a service provider can modify its business to provide natural gas service, says Nadine Haupt, director – alternative fuels at Navistar: Retrofit an existing location, add a secluded natural gas workspace to an existing diesel facility, build a separate facility at a current location or start a natural gas capable service facility at a new location.
Retrofitting an existing location is the most affordable and common approach, but the principles remain the same no matter which option you choose.
The first step is to contact your local government to see if there are any safety regulations for how your building should be modified, says Sarah Carlson, truck customer service manager at GE Capital Fleet Services. Most of these regulations will come from your local fire marshal.
There are currently no official national regulations or guidelines on how to update your facility to maintain natural gas trucks, Carlson says. Some parts of North America — Southern California, for example — have more experience and thus stronger guidelines for dealing with natural gas truck repair, but ultimately every facility modified or built for natural gas will do so under different regulations, Mendoza says.
Douglas Horne, president of the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation, says his group, and organizations like Clean Energy, the Natural Gas Vehicle Institute and Natural Gas Vehicles for America, are working to change that.
“We want to provide some basic guidelines for everyone, and I think people want that,” he says. “Things like, ‘This is how you need to work with your people to provide a safe facility.’ It’s just part of being a more mature industry.”
Once you’ve uncovered your local governmental requirements, it is time to look into retrofitting your location.