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Dual fuel future - Combatting fuel costs


Following the introduction of the carbon tax, diesel fuel has slowly risen in price.

This has pushed up the operating costs of many mine sites and hit the transport and logistics sector particularly hard.

Added to this is the diesel fuel tax rebate scheme still potentially on the table, this cost could increase even more.

And with freight costs in Australia already one of the highest for all of Asia, this will impact the bottom line.

But what alternative is there?

Well, it is now possible to use gas-powered trucks for longer and heavier transport applications. Swedish haulage firm Götene Kyltransport, a transport company, has been testing the new Volvo Trucks model that runs on liquefied methane gas and diesel. 

"Our experiences from running on methane-diesel are excellent. This is definitely a solution for the future. If the price of gas is right, I expect that up to 80 per cent of our truck fleet will consist of Volvo's methane-diesel trucks within the next five years," Ulf Johansson, president of
Götene Kyltransport, explained.

In August, Volvo Trucks began the series production of its methane-diesel trucks. As the name suggests, the Volvo FM MethaneDiesel is dual powered, using both methane gas and diesel. Although the model is new, the technology has already undergone exhaustive testing and evaluation. 

The vehicle tested hauls a 20 metre long trailer that can carry three tonnes more than a regular trailer. 

Just like driving a regular diesel-powered truck
The Volvo FM MethaneDiesel has a 13-litre engine producing 460 horsepower and 2300 Newton metres of torque. 

Its fuel consists of up to 75 per cent liquefied methane gas and the rest diesel, but the proportion may vary depending on how the vehicle is used.

"It's just like driving a regular diesel-powered truck. Of course there's a difference when the time comes for refuelling, but you soon get the hang of it," Ulf Olsson, one of the drivers testing the methane-diesel truck, said

Compared with conventional gas-powered engines where the fuel is ignited by spark plugs, the methane-diesel alternative offers 30 to 40 per cent higher efficiency, which means that fuel consumption is cut by up to 25 per cent.

"The optimal solution is to run on biogas. That cuts carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70 per cent compared with a conventional diesel engine.

However, this means that access to biogas must increase," Mats Franzén, manager engine strategy and planning at Volvo Trucks, said.

While there are no major differences in the truck compared to a conventional diesel engine, its gas injectors are fitted on a plate between the inlet duct and the engine block. 

There is also a thermos-like fuel tank that keeps the gas liquefied at a temperature of -140 degrees.

It is built with a special catalytic converter that was developed specifically for methane gas-powered engines. 

However, the basic engine itself is a diesel unit and operating reliability is the same with gas power as it is for diesel. 

Recent research supports the future of methane-diesel technology in vehicles with independent researchers behind methane as the fuel of the future for heavy commercial transport operations. 

"My research indicates that methane gas for next-generation heavy commercial operations offers considerable environmental savings in the form of lower carbon dioxide emissions, and it also allows us to utilise our natural resources in a better way," Maria Grahn, a fuel researcher at the Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, stated.

One factor that is crucial in the development of methane-diesel trucks is the upcoming boom predicted in Australia's LNG sector. 

The LNG sector, particularly in Queensland, is set to skyrocket, with BIS Shrapnel senior manager for infrastructure, Adrian Hart, telling Ferret this growth will actually "be a threat to strong growth in other states, particularly Western Australia".

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