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September 19, 2014 11:40 AM, EDT

Espar Launches Fuel-Cell CNG Heaters

Espar Products Inc.

Systems that maintain sleeper cabs’ temperatures and “hotel loads” through use of fuel-cell technology and compressed natural gas are among new products being launched by Espar Products Inc.

Fleet interest in systems that can maintain those temperatures while minimizing fuel usage and emissions is increasing, company executives said during a visit with editors and reporters at Transport Topics’ headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, on Sept. 17.

“There are plenty of technologies available that can bring fuel savings to the trucking industry,” said Volker Hohensee, president of Espar’s North American vehicle heaters and climate systems division.

Hohensee met with TT days ahead of the planned public launch of Espar’s new diesel fuel-cell auxiliary power unit, which is slated to be unveiled at the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hanover, Germany, on Sept 24.

The system converts diesel fuel first into hydrogen, which then is converted to electricity. The diesel fuel is pulled from the trucks’ onboard tanks, but the system otherwise functions separately from the truck’s engine, thus removing drain from the vehicle’s electrical system, the company said. Espar said the system also offers a 90% reduction in particulate emission versus a diesel-powered auxiliary power unit. Hohensee said the system emits water and “a little bit” of carbon dioxide.

The company will first target original-equipment manufacturers with the technology, but Hohensee believes there may also be an opportunity for the technology in the off-highway market. He also acknowledged that OEMs “might be difficult to convince.”

Espar’s vice president of OEM sales, Edward Hart, said that some manufacturers lack the engineering capacity to integrate the system with their vehicles right now.

“The OEMs have seen it, and they are all interested,” he said. “The dollars just are not there right now.”

Espar has a strong foothold with OEMs with its fuel-operated cab heaters, with supply agreements in place for Freightliner, International, Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks, and also with Thermo King. To this mix it is adding a new line of heaters powered by natural gas, a move that Hohensee said responds to the fuel’s growing popularity.

“The [natural-gas] trucks are increasing in numbers due to the [low] fuel cost and also the environmental impact,” he said. “Large fleets are going in this direction.”

The company’s Airtronic NG Commercial is designed for commercial vehicles that run on compressed and liquefied natural gas. Like the fuel cell, this system also draws from the truck’s onboard fuel supply.

Espar is also launching an idle-management system that monitors vehicle operations and makes adjustments based on conditions. The GRIP (Governor to Reduce Idle and Pollution) system relies on battery power to maintain engine and cab temperatures, and will switch to engine power only to replenish the battery, Hohensee said.

“It checks engine temperature, battery voltage and cab temperature, and will start the engine only when necessary,” he said.

The company is also rolling out a new series of mobile refrigerated containers. The Mobile Flex Cool lineup is available in a variety of configurations with sizes up to 242 gallons, and can maintain cargo temperatures as low as 14 degrees below zero, Hohensee said. The product is tailored to customers that “do not need a fully insulated van,” he said.