Portland, OR-based NW Natural has expanded a free loaned truck program for fleet operators to try out a new natural gas vehicle (NGV) hybrid electric technology that can work for long and heavy load-hauling.

The utility will cover both the leasing and fuel cost for the truck, which fleets can keep up to three weeks at a time to fully test the truck’s use in their duty cycles. The new technology applies compressed natural gas (CNG) and hybrid electric to provide an added 120 horsepower (hp) compared to the utility’s other model of loaner.

Last fall, NW Natural offered its first Class 8, 400 hp 12-liter NGV truck. The new hybrid electric truck includes a system from Austin, TX-based Hyliion Inc., a specialist in the electrification solutions sector and a member of the NGV national trade group, Washington, DC-based NGVAmerica.

Hyliion officials contend their system bolsters the advantages of fueling heavy duty vehicles with natural gas, adding power to maneuver steep grades with heavy loads, improving fuel economy, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero through the use of renewable natural gas (RNG) as the compressed fuel.

Noting that combining electric and RNG technologies has cost savings and sustainability advantages, NW Natural’s Chris Kroeker, NGV product manager, said this new truck “really combines the best of both worlds and is a unique solution for long-haul fleets.”

NGVAmerica President Daniel Gage, who has followed both the utility’s and Hyliion’s work, reiterated that the future of on-road NGVs is “likely focused on increased use of RNG as a transportation fuel. [NW Natural’s] vehicle is a 12-liter NGV truck that has a regenerative electric drive axle to give it increased torque and performance when needed.”

Gage added that NGVAmerica member Hyllion earlier worked with American Natural Gas (ANG) in a demonstration test in upstate New York, involving one of ANG’s grocery supply clients. Earlier this month NGVAmerica released a report concluding that RNG provided 39% of the fuel burned in NGVs in 2019.

Kroeker indicated NW Natural intends to offer its loaned NGV truck program for another year or more, but it won’t say how much it intends to spend on the program that includes a contract with Hyliion.

“We’re hoping to validate the hybrid CNG technology for use with heavy loads [100,000 pounds or more] that customers routinely have in our region,” said Kroeker, noting he also wants customers to consider decarbonizing their fleets and cutting their operating costs.

So far, however, Kroeker said none of the fleets trying the loaned vehicles has decided to buy one or more of them, but he is expecting that to happen later in the year.

Elsewhere, California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. recently launched an online “cost calculator” determining the savings from switching a single vehicle or a whole fleet from diesel to natural gas, including the added emissions reduction.

The new tool “demonstrates the economic value of running a fleet on natural gas, and we believe users want to learn how sustainable and cost-effective it can be to run a clean fleet,” said Clean Energy’s Vice President Chad Lindholm, adding that there are many “false assumptions” about NGV technology costing more because it meets the highest environmental standards.

The cost online tool is one of three that Clean Energy offers to fleet operators considering a move to NGVs. The other two are an emissions calculator and a grant search tool for identifying potential supplemental funding for clean vehicles.