The rise of alternative fuels, like compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), in the waste and recycling industry is showing no sign of slowing down. The recent extension of federal tax credits for initiatives including alternative fuels may be the reason as major solid waste companies continue to add to their fleets and build alternative fueling stations across the country.
The technology surrounding alternative fuels keeps improving as well. Since the inception of alternative fueling, solid waste fleet managers have been using time-fill systems to refuel when vehicles are unmanned. But that made it difficult to accurately account for how much fuel is being used.
Clean Energy Fuels, based in Newport Beach, Calif., engineers have developed a number of options for fleet managers to track the amount of fuel dispensed to each vehicle. Waste360 recently sat down with Christopher Logan, director of national accounts in solid waste for Clean Energy, to see how this technology has evolved.
Waste360: Explain what time-fill is and how it has aided the waste industry.
Christopher Logan: Time-fill is a system designed for specific fleets and fueling needs. In the transportation industry, and especially in refuse fleets, it allows for unmanned fueling to occur during the trucks down times, typically overnight. These systems are scalable, and Clean Energy has installed time-fill stations for more than 200-truck fleets. Time-fueling essentially eliminates the need for in-route fueling, on-site traditional island fueling, or wet-hosing, and has been a huge cost reduction for the fleets that utilize such a system.
One real world example is that one of our customers had a 60-truck station and was experiencing average fueling times, including cueing (waiting for the pump to be available) of 23 minutes per truck. By moving to time-fill, this fleet was able to recognize a savings of around 100 hours per truck at this site (23 minutes over 5.5 days, partial Saturday operation, 52 weeks per year). The total time it takes to hook up and unhook a time-fill nozzle from the truck is approximately 10 seconds, so, conservatively speaking, this fleet was able to save 22 minutes per day per truck.
Waste360: How long has this system been available?
Christopher Logan: Clean Energy contracted and began building our first time-fill stations in the late 1990s. Those sites, in Southern California, are still operational today, showing how proper maintenance can allow for a time-fill station to outlast typical useful life of most collection trucks. We have developed a modified time-fill solution for many other return-to-base modeled fleets. Including parcel delivery and other dray type fleets.
Waste360: How has this technology evolved over the years?
Christopher Logan: Clean Energy has recently developed a “scalable” building modification program as well, that allows fleets scale their maintenance facility, not having to convert the entire project in the first year. It’s another example of how we help fleets use capital spending when needed that allows CNG to continue to be the lowest cost and cleanest fuel for solid waste fleets.
Waste360: What makes this system unique?
Christopher Logan: Time-fill units generally are expandable when needed. Meaning you don’t have to build a station for 100 trucks if you’re only starting with 10, and have plans to grow at a 10 percent rate. You can expand as your demand increases. This is how most of our customers do it, which is of great value as it allows them to allocate their capital spend in the appropriate years.
Waste360: It seems like a popular technology that has withstood the test of time?
Christopher Logan: All of the major refuse fleets use time-fill. Between the top two waste companies alone, there are more than 120 time-fill facilities throughout North America (mostly in the U.S.). Canada is quickly catching on. When you layer in the regional fleets, or smaller fleets that use it, time-fill has become the “go-to” approach for virtually all solid waste fleets of any size that are moving to CNG.
Cost savings is the biggest benefit of time-fill fueling. The number of hours fleets have to pay drivers to fuel is drastically reduced, as well as elimination of all equipment/maintenance of wet-hosing needs.
Generally the biggest challenge is ensuring there is significant and an appropriate amount of natural gas available nearby. Some sites sit a long way from gas, so the cost to bring it to the site can be cost-prohibitive. But with the availability of CNG, the low-cost, and the environmental benefits, we are seeing those cases less and less.