So some more "how's business in the heartland" observations. I needed some new tires for my trailer and ended up at a truck towing/repair shop in southern, IL last week. Had a lengthy talk with two individuals, one (Randy) who was the owner of this shop and two others. The other was a stock broker turned truck driver for whom I have no name. Randy's observations (with a grain of salt, since it was 10pm and he struck me as someone who likes a good story…)1) Truckers are keeping their trucks longer. He attributed this to distrust in the new diesels which are designed to meet new emissions requirements. The new designs have proven difficult to maintain and expensive. He is doing a booming business repairing the old ones and "deleting" the emissions from the new ones (think back to the introduction of the catalytic converters). Those who want their new engines "improved" have to sign a waiver that the vehicle will be used for racing…. I suspect it maybe because the truckers can't get financing..

2) Randy's towing business is booming to the extent that he is turning away "road side service" contracts that would cut into his margins. This of course drives some of his repair business. The booming towing business would seem to indicate that the operators are delaying preventive maintenance until the trucks break as well.

3) The stock broker/trucker moved from Wall Street to the freeway in 2002-2003 to get away from the stress of dealing with clients. He is an owner operator under contract with one of the large brokers. He lives in Florida and is home about 1 week a month, though he mentioned taking loads to specific locations to visit his friends. Plenty of work, plenty of money to be made.

4) Also spoke to a tow truck operator who says the new Ford diesel pickups are dying like flies on the freeway. This is a new engine specifically designed by Ford to meet the new emissions standards and it is not doing well. Ford has done very well in the heavy duty pickup market in recent years (F350/450/550) and if their new engine does not hold up, it will affect their standing.

5) My observations about truck vs car traffic are holding up. Long distance traffic (inter city) is predominantly commercial/truck traffic. The hotels that are busy seem to be catering to the contractor/temporary worker market. The big trucks are definitely driving slower than the have in the past. I think I've only been passed twice in the last 2 days by a semi.

Jim Lackey writes: 

The important thing for Nat Gas as a fuel to work is stable nat gas prices. Fleet managers cant have the Nat gas go from 4-16$ back to 4$. All the new supplies LNG to CNG and the new transportation ships and lines are all nice. There is a need for just in time supply. Storage is a problem.

Yes! Nat gas works great as a fuel for cars and trucks. The problem is going from the pipe in the ground and compressing and filtering the gas at home or at the fuel stations. I looked into it for hobby use and it's a no go for me in the garage, so far. The fuel tanks to run a gasoline and nat gas system take up too much room unless you have a big SUV/ truck. If you're solo Nat gas it's then a round trip 300 mile only vehicle.

Westport technologies WPRT and FSYS Fuel system solutions are my idea for investments if this tech ever took off. It didn't. UPS and other fleets use WPRT at 10k a click for LA garbage trucks and 50k for long haulers. The costs would pay off if you had a route like UPS USPS and wanted to invest in the fueling station and systems to run all your tools..forklifts, trucks to tractors.

I am unsure on the delivery costs for LNG to CNG via trucks like they deliver fuels today. It only made sense to me to use the normal Nat gas lines, but then it needs to be compressed and water free. I don't want a CNG tank at my house. Perhaps when all my kids are driving and I own a fleet, Ill buy a Nat Gas compressor and build a shed refuel station. I do not want to burn down the house.

The Germans and Detroit Diesel spent a fortune in the emission tech. Mercedes and BMW use it in their small diesel car engines. Here is the gist.

Cummins, Detriot Diesel and all the engine makers had to deal with how to comply with the new rules set in 2007. Most bought new trucks right before the financial crises..so it was a double hit to production. In New Ford F series trucks the new engine is a 2009 design.. Cummins (for light trucks) is 2007, so lets say they have many of the bugs in the electronics, fuel and mainly the exhaust systems worked out.

The auto makers spent a fortune on Hybrid tech.. That is the gate way to fuel cells.. the cars are powered by electric.. The truck makers spent a fortune on clean Diesel tech. It's a hard lobby job to get all to say let's go nat gas.. even if it makes perfect sense..therefore don't look to free markets for solutions even if nat gas trades at a huge discount per BTU..

On Ford F-250-350 breakdowns…

The old school Ford 7.3 Powerstroke was the engine that went a a half a million miles. The new school Electronic fuel injection 7.3 to the mid 90's was even better with electronics and intercooled turbos.Ford made an awful 6.0 diesel in the 2000's that few liked. The 6.4 was the new engine for the 2008 rule change.. apparently it wasn't a good engine either.

The new Ford 6.7 'scorpion"is a killer engine. However all diesel truck engines suffer from soot clogging up the DPF.. This is how and why new trucks break down.. If you notice a new truck there isn't black smoke out of the exhaust.. here is how that task is accomplished.

"DPF Filters require more maintenance than catalytic converters. Ash, a waste product of burning away the soot during regeneration, builds up on the surface of the filter and will eventually clog the pores. This increases the pressure drop over the filter, which when it reaches 8 pounds per square inch (55 kPa) or higher it will cause a significant increase in NOx emissions and fuel consumption. Regular filter maintenance is a necessity."

and check out how this works.Regeneration is the process of removing the accumulated soot from the filter. This is done either passively (from the engine's exhaust heat in normal operation or by adding a catalyst to the filter) or actively introducing very high heat into the exhaust system. On-board active filter management can use a variety of strategies:

1. Engine management to increase exhaust temperature through late fuel injection or injection during the exhaust stroke
2. Use of a fuel borne catalyst to reduce soot burn-out temperature
3. A fuel burner after the turbo to increase the exhaust temperature
4. A catalytic oxidizer to increase the exhaust temperature, with after injection (HC-Doser)
5. Resistive heating coils to increase the exhaust temperature
6. Microwave energy to increase the particulate temperature

All on-board active systems use extra fuel, whether through burning to heat the DPF, or providing extra power to the DPF's electrical system, although the use of a fuel borne catalyst reduces the energy required very significantly. Typically a computer monitors one or more sensors that measure back pressure and/or temperature, and based on pre-programmed set points the computer makes decisions on when to activate the regeneration cycle. The additional fuel can be supplied by a metering pump. Running the cycle too often while keeping the back pressure in the exhaust system low will result in high fuel consumption. Not running the regeneration cycle soon enough increases the risk of engine damage and/or uncontrolled regeneration (thermal runaway) and possible DPF failure.

Diesel particulate matter burns when temperatures above 600 degrees Celsius are attained. This temperature can be reduced to somewhere in the range of 350 to 450 degrees Celsius by use of a fuel borne catalyst. The actual temperature of soot burn-out will depend on the chemistry employed. The start of combustion causes a further increase in temperature. In some cases, in the absence of a fuel borne catalyst, the combustion of the particulate matter can raise temperatures above the structural integrity threshold of the filter material, which can cause catastrophic failure of the substrate. Various strategies have been developed to limit this possibility. Note that unlike a spark-ignited engine, which typically has less than 0.5% oxygen in the exhaust gas stream before the emission control device(s), diesel engines have a very high ratio of oxygen available. While the amount of available oxygen makes fast regeneration of a filter possible, it also contributes to runaway regeneration problems.The new big truck buying push….

As of December 2008 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) established the 2008 California Statewide Truck and Bus Rule which—with variance according to vehicle type, size and usage—require that in-use diesel engines (in California) be retrofitted, repowered or replaced in order to remove at least 85% of particulate matter (PM) emitted from diesel engines. Retrofitting the engines with CARB verified diesel particulate filters are one way to fulfill this requirement.[1] In 2009 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided funding to assist owners in offsetting the cost of diesel retrofits for their vehicles.[2]


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