Nicholls’ ten Iveco Stralis tractors, with 12.9-litre Cursor 13 NP 460 hp engines, powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) have worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic transporting everything from paper and timber to food, bulk recycling and building supplies across the UK.
Darren Sherlock, finance director of Nicholls Transport, thinks gas trucks are ideal to deliver goods into large urban areas and operate on longer trunking routes.
“As more low emission zones are launched in our cities, so gas will become key for operators to carry out work for their customers,” he said.
“Our trucks are also quieter than diesels, which means we can make deliveries without compromising local noise levels.
“Half of our Stralis NPs work predominantly on trunking routes and they are performing very well. The level of driver comfort is good and complemented by the lower in-cab noise levels. The gas power is very efficient when working for long periods at motorway speeds.”
These trucks are away from base all week, with the drivers quickly adjusting to the national LNG refuelling network and planning their routes accordingly.
Mr Sherlock is keen to see the number of depots offering gas continue to grow to further improve the operating efficiencies of running an LNG fleet.
“The network needs to keep improving; we do occasionally run slightly off-piste in some areas of the country to ensure we can refuel. My drivers can cover a 300-mile round trip from our Sittingbourne base without having to fill up, but we do encourage drivers not to risk running out of gas,” he said.
Nicholls is yet to get an early indication of Stralis NP running costs compared with its 110-strong diesel Iveco fleet due to operating cycles being disrupted by Covid-19 and December factory shutdowns.
“It’s been frustrating that our operating cycles have been disrupted for three out of the six months with the trucks, so we are still yet to accurately compare operating costs with our diesel trucks, although early signs are promising,” he said.
Nicholls’ on-site refuelling station, set up in partnership with Gasrec, has been busy fuelling its own fleet as well as receiving regular visits from other UK and European hauliers to fill up with gas as they travel through Kent. Although it has been shut to external operators during the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicholls’ long-term aspiration is to scale up its refuelling forecourt to increase its capacity as more fleets switch to gas.
Mr Sherlock added: “We maintain our view that gas is the only alternative fuel to diesel suitable for operation at 44 tonnes, and with more operating restrictions being introduced for diesel trucks then gas will be the fuel of choice for many more operators during the coming years.”