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What’s not to like about lower fuel costs and reduced emissions?

Making diesel and natural gas coexist could bring benefits to heavy-haul truckers

Chuck Coppa and Lyle Jensen (top) with the American Power Group's first prototype dual fuel - natural gas and diesel - conversion in a Freightliner Coronado. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

With diesel prices at all-time highs, the American Power Group Inc. is hoping its dual-fuel approach to heavy-duty trucking results in greater interest among owner-operators and small fleets.

The $25,000 retrofit substitutes one of two diesel tanks on a Class 8 tractor with natural gas and uses software to make the two fuels work together, saving money at the pump and reducing emissions.

APG sees turbocharging natural gas in a diesel engine as an alternative for owner-operators and small fleets unlikely to plunk down $250,000 for a new rig. APG (OTC PINK: APGI) has  more than 500 Environmental Protection Agency certifications through the 2017 model year to install its technology.

“Our pitch is bigger bang for your buck,” Chuck Coppa, APG president, CEO and chief financial officer, told FreightWaves. “You can spend a quarter of a million on one dedicated natural gas truck or you can convert 10 of the systems that you’ve already spent a hundred grand plus for.”

American Power Group truck is not a hybrid

APG’s patented V6000 Dual Fuel System is not a hybrid. Nor is it a glider in which older engine technology is disguised by a new truck body. It is a niche product in an industry in which zero tailpipe emissions from battery-electric trucks and true zero-emission hydrogen-powered fuel cells are sexier and attract more attention. 

The lack of electric infrastructure opens the door wider for APG.

“We think we have a 20-year run here,” said Lyle Jensen, business development adviser to APG’s board and former president and CEO. “I think diesel’s here for a hell of a lot longer than people want it to be.”

Based on the age of the converted engine, APG puts up some impressive numbers: 

  • Nitrogen oxide reduction of 30% to 50%.
  • Particulate matter reduction of 40% to 70%.
  • Carbon monoxide reduction of 80% to 99%.

Add a 25% to 30% reduction in diesel use and APG would seem to have a compelling case for fleets that cannot afford new equipment.

Algona, Iowa-based APG’s first demo truck is a 2015 Freightliner CC132 Coronado sleeper cab. A Detroit Diesel DD15 engine puts out 505 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque. 

In May, APG said that Sapphire Gas Solutions, which hauls renewable natural gas (RNG), liquified natural gas and compressed natural gas across the U.S., realized a 25% to 30% net fuel cost savings while operating in APG’s converted Coronado.

Multi-color graphics on a Freightliner Coronado equipped with dual fuel technology from the American Power Group.
Sapphire Gas Solutions tested the American Power Group’s dual fuel prototype and said it saved 25% to 30% on fuel costs. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

How the American Power Group system works

The EPA bans conversions of diesel engines for the first 24 months of life. So, APG concentrates on the used engine market. First- and second-generation owners are its target. 

APG created a digital design to safely introduce 2% to 3% natural gas into the air induction system before the turbocharger spins up — in essence turbocharging air already going to the engine. The spinning air reaches the compression chamber to create higher energy at the point of combustion. 

Dashboard display showing status of American Power Group's dual fuel system.
A dashboard monitor shows the status of American Power Group’s dual fuel system. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The selling point is that the system keeps the power of 100% diesel while using about half as much. Dedicated natural gas systems are less powerful because natural gas provides less power. One tradeoff is 10% to 20% fewer emissions.

“It’s a read-only system and it’s not invasive,” Jensen said. “We can take the tank and the system off and reflash our computer to the next certified or approved OEM engine.”

Cummins Inc., the acknowledged industry leader in natural gas engines, said it would not undertake a similar project. Coincidentally, Cummins is working with natural gas-electric powertrain developer Hyliion Holdings to certify its 12-liter natural gas engine for use in Hyliion’s Hypertruck ERX coming to market in 2023.

‘Really tough task’

“It is really, really hard to actually do a system that does both diesel and natural gas just because of the number of components that we have to have for the different fuel systems,” Puneet Jhawar, general manager of Cummins’ natural gas business, told FreightWaves. “It’s a really, really tough task.”

APG acknowledges its development work is harder due to the growing complexity of truck engines governed by multicontroller area network message-based protocols designed to allow electronic control units to reliably communicate with each other based on priority.

“There are tens of thousands of signals that we have to monitor to be sure that we’re compliant,” Jensen said.

The V6000 avoids creating problems for the diesel engine. In fact, APG trains and certifies diesel technicians at larger customers to install the system.

“There’s been virtually no maintenance to this thing because it’s basically regulators and an ECM [engine control module],” Jensen said. “Post-installation service is practically nothing. You’re still spending most of your [technician’s] time maintaining a diesel engine.”

In terms of warranty, the diesel engine maker is responsible for its product. The company doing the conversion is on the hook for any damage to the diesel engine because of dual fuel technology, APG writes all its contracts that way. Warranties are for one year with an optional second year.

Something to prove

Jensen led APG for eight sometimes difficult years. He handed off the CEO title to Coppa in 2017. As CFO, Coppa signed the Securities and Exchange Commission Form 15 delisting APG in September 2018. Today, the company trades as a penny stock. Its most recent price was 2.75 cents a share.

Matthew Van Steenwyk, chairman since 2021, has invested more than $5 million in the company since 2019, with $3 million of that in the last 18-24 months. Van Steenwyk controls several entities that collectively own 58% of the company. He led a private placement of 96.4 million shares with existing shareholders in April that raised $2.46 million.

“We think we have to earn the right to be considered as an alternative fuel for the existing diesel fleets,” Jensen said. “We quickly learned that we were not going to be an OEM new truck manufacturer. But we felt we had a huge opportunity to take existing diesel engines and come up with an alternative fuel solution.”

Perpetual market

Laboratory and road testing is complete on APG’s next-generation V6000 system.

“The technology’s been running for 10-plus years, so it’s not a science experiment,” Coppa said. “The streets are littered with people who tried to do this and failed horrifically. We’ve spent a great deal of time on the stationary side of the business, and that’s really been our bread and butter over the last 12 years, in the oil and gas arena predominantly.”

Power stations and other installations are one thing. But an addressable market of 2 million engines with selective catalyst reduction (SCR) makes a tempting business case. 

“We’ve got 2 million SCR engines running around out there that are 2012 and newer,” Jensen said. “Every single year another 200,000 SCR diesel trucks go to the market. All I have to do is go out and get those engine models tested and certified. And I have a perpetual source of raw engines.”

Showing off the dual fuel goods

A 2014 Freightliner CA125 Cascadia daycab powered by a Cummins ISX 15-liter 450-horsepower diesel engine is APG’s second demonstration unit. It could find its way to the Permian Basin, where loads of sand, fracking fluid and water await.

“Heavy haul is the primary path: the oil tanker oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and Texas,” Jensen said. “That’s the next place we’re going because of hauling the sand, the oil, the gas.”

Another appealing market is the dairy industry both for the tanker and feed industries and because dairy animal waste is a main source of RNG.

“Because of dairy RNG, we’ve got the second-cleanest decarbonation fuel of anybody,” he said.

APG will make its pitch — sans trucks — to the National Star Route Mail Contractors Association’s 2022 National Convention from Aug. 7-10 in Sacramento, California. The association is composed of some 1,700 companies, which contract with the U.S. Postal Service for long-haul mail transportation. 

Blue Freightliner Coronado with graphic wrap detailing American Power Group's dual fuel technology.
Making diesel and natural gas coexist is the secret to the America Power Group’s dual fuel technology. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Bottom line: Is there room for APG among solutions to save fuel and reduce emissions? Other technologies like NOx-reducing cylinder deactivation and two-stroke engines with opposed pistons are dots on the technology map.

“Many solutions are emerging that will challenge our industry’s ability to design, test and implement proven and cost-effective solutions, whether in production or retrofitted,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. “We call the next decade a real ‘messy middle’ with great opportunities, but challenges.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.