But Eaton didn't have just the products certified; it also had to receive certification on properly building the assembly. “We can't just sell bulk product to any of our distributors and have them build an assembly, like they do in hydraulic hose,” he said.
The assembly needs certification, he added, to ensure that an engineered system is built. “You don't want the assembler to grab a certified hose but then use another manufacturer's fitting. They weren't designed to work together,” Schwab said.
Eaton is in the process of building a certified network of assembly locations within its distributor base, with about eight distributors working on certification, with others considering it. In the meantime, the first certified assembly location is at an Eaton plant in Van Wert, Ohio.
“We service large OEMs direct,” he said. “Many of our existing customers have platforms that run on CNG, but we haven't been able to service them in the past. Van Wert is a large hose assembly plant for us, and we created a CNG hose assembly within that plant to service those customers.”
In addition, any Eaton distributor can order a certified assembly from Eaton for sale to its end user customers. Even with this arrangement, Schwab said there are benefits for distributors to obtain the certification.
“We can't provide the same level of service as our distributor partner can,” he said. “They have customers locally that can walk in with broken CNG hose and get it made. They also can service smaller accounts that Eaton can't do as well.”
Each of the assemblies must past tests on pressure and electrical resistance. “High pressure gas goes through the lines. The last thing you want is to have a static buildup and to have a static spark inside the line,” Schwab said.
He acknowledged that economic benefits previously envisioned have gone away in today's market. The current price of diesel fuel actually is less than a diesel gallon equivalent of CNG. But the Eaton executive said the company still is seeing growth, with fleets and municipalities converting existing trucks to run on natural gas or purchase new trucks that run on the fuel.
One reason for that is natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than diesel fuel, he said. NG trucks also don't have to have selective catalytic reduction equipment that standard trucks may need to meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
There also are federal, state and local government incentives available for running alternative fuel. For example, Congress recently passed an alternative fuel excise tax credit for using CNG as a transportation fuel.
“The other reason is it's a domestic fuel,” Schwab said. “No longer is the U.S. looking to have to buy fuel from the Middle East. The last report was that discovery of fuel in North America was 150 years' worth based on current consumption of fuel and transportation.”
Despite the growth, there are limitations on use of CNG, including such factors as dispensing systems and lack of infrastructure.
The two types of dispensing systems are fast fill, where a truck can be filled in about the same time as filling with diesel, and time-fill stations, where re-fuel-ing is done over an eight to 10 hour period but allows for longer usage.
“Where CNG really makes sense is on vocational and delivery-type vehicles that go out on a specified route every day and come back to a home base,” Schwab said.
It doesn't currently make sense, he said, for long haul trucks because the infrastructure isn't in place. There are about 1,500 to 1,600 CNG stations in the U.S., and the amount of space and size of tanks needed is larger than for traditional fuel stations.