Pennington Gas Service buys a diesel/electric hybrid truck 2009.06.24

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

There’s always a Pennington Gas Service truck in Morenci’s Town & Country Festival parade and there will be again this year. pennington.hybrid.jpg

But the vehicle that will be entered Saturday morning is like none other in the country.

This marks the first time that Eaton Corporation’s diesel-electric hybrid  drivetrain system has been used in a hazardous material delivery vehicle.

Signature Truck Systems of Clio, Mich., built the Freightliner Business Class M2e truck for Pennington—an effort by three Michigan companies to move toward green technology, said Pennington Gas partner Keith Pennington.

Pennington said he attends a truck trade show every couple of years to keep abreast of changes in technology, particularly those that could apply to the propane industry. The hybrid got his attention.

The 60 horsepower electric motor can power a variety of commercial truck needs while the main diesel engine is shut down. In the propane business, that means the truck can be shut off while a customer’s tank is filled. The five- to 10-minute pumping operation can be handled by the electric motor. An entire stop at a customer’s house can take up to 20 minutes—all with the diesel shut off.

“This will improve safety, air quality and noise levels while making deliveries near homes or other buildings,” Pennington said.

The electric motor also assists the diesel engine while driving down the road. Pennington anticipates a reduction of at least 30 percent in diesel burned, which will both save money for the company and reduce the amount of emissions into the air.

Pennington ordered a smaller engine than usual for the truck, expecting the electric assist to fill the gap.

The electric motor also assists in the truck’s “launch” every time it starts from a stand-still position.

The electric motor is powered by energy generated during braking action and stored in large lithium-ion batteries.

Pennington looks forward to studying the data collected on diesel used to evaluate the validity of the system for the propane industry.

“It can’t make only environmental sense,” he said, “it has to make economic sense if it’s going to gain widespread use.”

The truck has been displayed at three propane industry events and Pennington said the response is split between those who give him a slap on the back and those who say “you’re crazy.”

“We’re a company that does things to see if they’re going to work,” Pennington said. “What we intend to do this summer is put it on the road to all of our local branches.”

The company wants customers to know about the truck because awareness and interest in green technology is growing. Ten years ago only a small percentage of Pennington Gas customers would have had much interest in the hybrid truck, Pennington believes, but that’s not the case today.

“People are concerned, and rightfully so, about the imported fuel that we rely on,” he said.

He would like to see propane emphasized more as a motor fuel and to convince Eaton there’s a market for propane-fueled trucks.

For now, it’s the diesel model that’s the focus of attention. Freightliner and Eaton will both be keeping close tabs on the performance of the vehicle to help Pennington Gas determine if it’s a good fit for the industry.

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