Caterpillar, Westport to Develop Natural-Gas Technology

Low prices are driving industrial, manufacturing demand for alternatives to diesel and petroleum engines

Caterpillar Inc. and Westport Innovations Inc. have formed a joint venture to develop a natural-gas fuel system for off-road vehicles, including mining trucks and locomotives. Financial terms were not announced, though Caterpillar will fund the project.

The research targets will be new and existing Cat engines for mining trucks and locomotives, though Caterpillar's other off-road vehicle engines also will be developed. Combustion technologies and fuel systems will be developed, too.

Development programs will start immediately, according to a release, and commercial production would start in about five years.

Vancouver-based Westport develops engine technologies for compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen, and renewable natural gas (RNG) fuels (e.g., landfill gas), including a direct injection LNG fuel system (called high-pressure direct injection, or HPDI) for highway trucks, mining vehicles, and rail. It also develops sparked ignition systems via a joint venture with Cummins Inc., and NG and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fuel engines for cars, light trucks and smaller industrial equipment.

Westport’s HPDI technology is expected to feature in the Caterpillar development.

"This is a significant opportunity that has the potential to transform important segments of the global off-road equipment industries," stated Westport CEO David Demers, CEO. "The substantial price difference between natural gas and diesel fuel is resulting in a strong financial incentive to enable off-road applications to take advantage of low natural gas energy costs without sacrificing operational performance.

Demers also anticipated environmental advantages for Caterpillar and its customers, noting the potential for converting existing Cat vehicles to natural gas power.

"Many of our customers are asking for natural-gas powered equipment in order to reap the financial and environmental benefits,” according to Caterpillar Large Power Systems division v.p. Steve Fisher.

“The program positions Caterpillar to become the first manufacturer to bring Westport HPDI technology to the high-horsepower off-road market, offer the broadest product line of natural gas-fueled machines and equipment, and capitalize on the attractiveness of natural gas as an alternate mobile fuel - all within the shortest time frame for our customers," Fisher continued.

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