Natural gas making its strongest-ever case for long haul

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Updated Jun 14, 2024

Recent legislation at the state and federal levels mandating zero tailpipe emissions has put electric drive trains – and that includes hydrogen – into the spotlight, but natural gas isn't willing to cede its place at the table just yet. 

Cummins' recent introduction of a 15-liter natural gas engine is making a case for long-haul applications that the near-zero emission fuel has never really had before. Shawn Whitacre, Chevron Lubricants Senior Staff Engineer, joins the 10-44 this week, and he says it's not only the availability of big bore power that is helping raise the profile of natural gas; it's also that, from a maintenance perspective, integrating it as a fuel alternative is a lot easier than it used to be. 


Jason Cannon (00:00):

This week's 10-44 is brought to you by Chevron Delo 600 ADF Ultra Low Ash Diesel Engine Oil. It's time to kick some ash.


As the trucking industry waits to go all-electric, natural gas seems to be making its strongest-ever case for long haul.


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Hey, everybody. Welcome back. I'm Jason Cannon. My co-host on the other side is Matt Cole. Recent legislation at the state and federal levels mandating zero tailpipe emissions has put electric drive trains and that includes hydrogen into the spotlight. But trucking has long been down this path of reduced carbonization.

Matt Cole (00:46):

The Diesel Technology Forum estimates that well over half the trucks on the road today are of the newest generation, 2011 and newer, and only about 20% of all trucks on the road today were built before 2007 and not equipped with a PM filter

Jason Cannon (01:00):

Before battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell became the trendy zero-emission play that it is right now, natural gas was the reduced emissions alternative. Now I've been in this industry a little over a decade. I've seen natural gas get a big head of steam a couple of times, but it never really seems to take root outside of a couple of niche applications like transit bus and refuse.


CNG and LNG have faced a lot of the same infrastructure and onboard storage challenges and a lot of the fears of the unknown that electric and hydrogen are facing right now. But there was also this glaring lack of power, which Cummins is on the brink of solving with a 15-liter engine that's just getting into the hands of fleet partners.


Shawn Whitacre, who is Chevron Lubricant's senior staff engineer... He joins the 10-44 this week. He says that large bore engine could be just the thing that transportation needed to get on board with natural gas.

Shawn Whitacre (01:49):

You mentioned that you've seen this come and go over the past 10 years when you've been involved in this space. I've seen the same thing, really, over the last 30. I think natural gas engines have been in the gut of transportation market since the early '90s, but generally for fairly niche applications, things that were centrally fueled, and for lower horsepower applications, things like waste haulers, city buses, school buses, and really just for customer bases that either needed to turn to it for regulatory purposes or sometimes out of convenience because there was ready access to the fuel.


The introduction of this 15-liter platform that has been announced for 2024, I think, really signals to the industry that we have reached a tipping point and that it really is going to start to make sense for the long-haul fleet. That's probably for a variety of reasons.


What I've seen over the years, and you probably have, too, is technology and infrastructure really always are playing this chicken and egg game because there tends not to be an infrastructure if there's not an anticipated demand. I think with the introduction of this product and the obvious interest from big fleets... We just recently entered into a partnership where we're supplying natural gas. Cummins is supplying engines to Walmart. They're really looking at it as a sustainable solution that they can use for long-haul trucking. I think many other fleets are doing the same. I think with that infrastructure, build-outs will come along.


Newer natural gas truck platforms are starting to integrate much larger tanks that are enabling time between refueling upwards of 1200 miles or so. Then, that's another thing that's really lending itself to longer haul applications and even anxiety about whether you're going to be able to find fuel that you've got a fairly long range enabling that high uptime and ability to find fuel where you need it.

Matt Cole (04:01):

Natural gas isn't a drop in reduced emission solution like renewable diesel might be, for example. But Shawn said integrating natural gas into a fleet and sinking its maintenance needs with those of a predominantly diesel fleet is a lot easier than it used to be. Shawn tells us how, after a word from 10-44 sponsor Chevron Lubricants.

Jason Cannon (04:21):

Protecting your diesel engine and its after-treatment system has traditionally been a double-edged sword. The same engine oil that is so essential to protecting your engine's internal parts is also responsible for 90% of the ash that is clogging up your DPF and upping your fuel and maintenance costs.


Outdated industry thinking still sees a trade-off between engine and emission system protection. Chevron was tired of it, so they spent a decade of R&D developing a no-compromise formulation.


Chevron Lubricants developed a new ultra-low ash diesel engine oil that is specifically designed to combat DPF ash clogging. Delo 600 ADF with OMNIMAX technology cuts sulfate ash by a whopping 60%, which reduces the rate of DPF clogging and extends DPF service life by two and a half times. Just think what you can do with all the MPGs you're going to add from cutting your number of regions.


But Delo 600 ADF isn't just about after-treatment. It provides complete protection, extending drain intervals by preventing oil breakdown. Before you had to choose between protecting your engine or your after-treatment system, and now you don't. 600 ADF from Delo with OMNIMAX technology. It's time to kick some ash.

Shawn Whitacre (05:28):

25 or 30 years ago, when, again, the natural gas technology was in its relative infancy, there was a fairly large disparity in terms of the ease of maintenance associated with them compared to the more traditional diesel platforms. But with a number of advancements, both in terms of hardware improvements, fluid quality, other things, there's actually been a much more significant effort to bring maintenance practices that are, in some cases, even better than traditional diesel engines.


You've got oil drain intervals that are now approaching 60,000 miles or in hours, a thousand-hour space. Spark plug change intervals have gotten significantly longer than some of those earlier platforms. Some of the things that dogged the platforms in the early days have seen significant improvement and are starting to make it look a lot more attractive to more traditional fleets.

Jason Cannon (06:29):

One of the things that's helped simplify maintenance is that Delo 600 ADF was just recently certified by Cummins for its natural gas engines. A few years ago, fleets had to buy two different engine oils across their diesel and natural gas trucks or use the same oil but give up some benefits from one engine to the next. That's no longer the case.

Shawn Whitacre (06:48):

Historically, there have been distinct engine oil appetites between natural gas engines and diesel platforms. Natural gas engines tend to yield a little bit [inaudible 00:07:01] combustion. The fluids do get exposed to a much more elevated temperature.


We've seen this more recently with diesels, but it's always been important for natural gas engines to be very robust to things like oxidation and nitration. They haven't tended to be as affected by soot loading because of the different combustion phenomena. They've also tended towards having lower ash levels. It's not really because of DPFs, of course, but because of things like spark plug fouling and valve fouling and torching that has driven us there. That's been one of the reasons why fleets have been reluctant because they can't practically carry multiple products to service a mixed fleet of natural gas and diesel engines because they've had very distinct appetites and needed to carry these different products.


With our recent introduction of Delo 600 ADF, it's an ultra low-ash technology to begin with. We did that for very specific reasons for diesel engine platforms to prolong DPF maintenance intervals and provide other ancillary advantages. What we quickly learned is a lot of those performance attributes that we built into that fluid lended itself very well to natural gas applications. We started putting our product to the test, and these Cummins applications, pursuant to an approval against the 20092 standard and are one of the few products now in the market that offer that ability to meet the API CK-4, the whole host of diesel OEM specs, as well as this mobile natural gas engines specification.


It's really one product without compromise that fleets can turn to put into those mixed fleets and get all the advantages on their diesel engines, but then be able to put it into the natural gas engines also. It's been a real game-changer in that regard.


I think there have been products introduced in the past that offer that solution. But really, it's not with the same advantages offered to the diesel engine. That's really what we're seeing with our product. You can really get those robust maintenance-related benefits on the diesel side and then no compromise to the natural gas engine and really provide that robust oxidation performance deposit control, everything that's demanded of natural gas products these days.

Matt Cole (09:32):

How is natural gas a cleaner diesel alternative? Shawn goes through the science for us.

Shawn Whitacre (09:37):

When you compare a natural gas engine and fuel to diesel engine and fuel, there's pretty significant differences. Even just if you look at the chemistry of the fuels themselves, natural gas essentially is methane. It's a carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogens. It's got a very different hydrogen-to-carbon ratio than diesel fuel, which is a much longer chain link. Maybe it comes along with some other impurities.


The way that natural gas is utilized on a heavy-duty engine is actually much more similar to the way a gasoline engine operates. In this case, many of them today operate stoichiometrically and then with spark emissions instead of the compression that you get on a diesel engine. That combination yields a couple of different things. You have much less of the carbonaceous particulate matter that is traditionally emitted from a diesel engine. You have much less of that in the tailpipe of a natural gas engine and much less of it that ends up in the crankcase. Because the natural gas engine operates stoichiometrically, you can run it with more traditional after-treatment systems. These stoichiometric natural gas sparking ignited engines are running with three-way catalysts like your gasoline passenger car. These are passive systems. They're flow-through; don't require things like diesel exhaust fluid, DPF maintenance. All of that, that's associated with modern diesel, is really not in the picture for natural gas.

Jason Cannon (11:15):

Reduced emissions is a step in the right direction for air quality, but recent regulations don't give fleet operators a lot of flexibility. These are zero emission regulations, not almost zero. But Shawn says regulations aren't the only reason that fleets are embracing natural gas, and complying with mandates isn't the only benefit.

Shawn Whitacre (11:32):

There are a number of end users and fleets that are really looking holistically at sustainability as a measure across their fleet and their business and operation. Natural gas-powered vehicles provide some advantages in many of those regards. We talked earlier about the ability for them to get to very low tailpipe out emissions, so the ultra-low knock standards are achievable because you got those very efficient, robust three-way catalysts that are drastically producing the nitrogen oxide emissions. You have little to no particulate matter emissions. Then, when you start to think about things like carbon dioxide really and looking at the carbon intensity of the application, you can derive significant advantages when you couple the engine with a renewable natural gas. That's something that Chevron has gotten more serious about in commercial realm these days, offering what we call renewable natural gas that's integrated into the pipelines that allow a much more significantly lower carbon intensity 'cause we're deriving the natural gas from renewable sources as opposed to petroleum.

Jason Cannon (12:50):

That's it for this week's 10-44. You can read more on While you're there, sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on the latest in trucking industry news and trends. If you have any questions or feedback, please let us know in the comments below. Don't forget to subscribe and hit the bell for notifications so you can catch us again next week.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell & BEV Survey
The following survey was sent as a link in an email cover message in February 2023 to the newsletter lists for Overdrive and CCJ. After approximately two weeks, a total of 176 owner-operators under their own authority, 113 owner-operators leased or assigned to a carrier and 82 fleet executives and 36 fleet employees from fleets with 10 or more power units had completed and submitted the questionnaire for a total of 407 qualified responses. Cross-tabulations based on respondent type are provided for each question when applicable.
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