Have you mastered natural gas?

In January I dedicated an entire print edition of Truck Parts & Service to natural gas. My thought at the time was that natural gas was rapidly becoming the hot topic in commercial trucking, and if fleets were serious about adding natural gas trucks to their operations, aftermarket businesses needed to know as much as possible.

Five months later natural gas continues to dominate trucking conversations, and while it’s not the only topic of conversation — admittedly I will say now I don’t think any one topic ever totally reigns supreme — it’s clear that fleets are still seriously interested in the fuel savings and benefits of natural gas trucks.

Which means, like we discussed in January, sooner or later these trucks are going to start showing up in your service bays.

If you expect to service them, you need to know exactly how they work and the safety requirements for dealing with them.

Natural gas trucks aren’t unsafe — far from it, actually — but they are different and you shouldn’t work on them until you’ve been educated on those differences.

One great resource to help learn about these vehicles is the Technician and Fleet Operations Safety Training offered by the Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (NGVi), which I was fortunate enough to attend last Tuesday in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Offered monthly at various locations throughout the country, the NGVi Technician and Fleet Operations Safety Training course is designed to teach fleet managers, service providers and dealers about natural gas itself, how it used to fuel commercial trucks and the correct procedures for safely maintaining those trucks today.

I thought it was a great course.

Led by NGVi’s Dave Crowley, the training session was designed to allow consistent discussion between the instructor and the students. Crowley did a great job at stopping for any questions, was more than willing to go into detail on his slides during the day and brought along visual aids (i.e. natural gas engine/fueling parts) to help familiarize the participants with the natural gas componentry.

I thought that really helped. Looking at coalescing filter on a PowerPoint slide is one thing, but holding it in your hand while someone describes exactly how it works is just so much more informative. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about hands-on experience that is so valuable.

The course also included a demonstration on how to properly inspect an NGV’s fuel storage system as well as how to fuel a natural gas vehicle at the fueling station on the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) campus, where the training course was held.

GTI is a non-profit research and development business that works to develop and improve products as they are readied for the marketplace. Its vast campus allowed the course participants to tour a complete natural gas fueling station, and Crowley and GTI’s Tony Lindsay took time during the tour to point out the operation, maintenance and safety features of the entire facility.

That was great, because understanding safety regulations remains the most important step in preparing your facility to service natural gas trucks.

As I said earlier, natural gas isn’t unsafe — it’s just different.

It comes as two fuels types, a chilled liquid (LNG) and highly compressed gas (CNG). Naturally it has no scent (though Mercaptan is added when it’s produced to give it one), no color, almost no weight. Its flammability point is nearly double gasoline, but most people view it as the more dangerous fuel.

Crowley’s training covered all of these properties, how to master them and be safe at the same time.

If you’re still struggling to adequately master this fuel and how you’re going to service these vehicles, I’d recommend giving this class a try. And even if you think you know it all, it couldn’t hurt to check your work.

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