Caterpillar Partners to Develop Natural Gas-Powered Off-Road Vehicles

Caterpillar and Westport Innovations plan to introduce off-road vehicles that operate on natural by 2017.

Caterpillar Inc. (IW 500/27) and Westport Innovations Inc. formed a partnership to develop natural gas engines for off-road vehicles, including mining trucks and locomotives, the companies said Tuesday.

Caterpillar would be the first company to provide high-pressure direct-injection, or HPDI, technology for off-highway applications, said Steve Fisher, vice president of Caterpillar's Large Power Systems division.

The companies expect commercial production to begin in about five years.

Natural gas is the primary fuel utilized in HPDI technology along with a small amount of diesel, which acts as a pilot ignition source.

Caterpillar has seen increased demand for natural gas technologies in heavy off-road equipment, Fisher said.

Low-cost natural gas could save customers "millions of dollars over the life of each engine," said Westport Innovations CEO David Demers at a taped news conference.

"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," said Demers in a prepared statement. "There is also a clear environmental incentive because of the reduced carbon emissions. Adding to the solid business case for this program is the potential to convert existing field units to natural gas -- opening up a whole new market opportunity."

Initially, Caterpillar and Westport will focus on developing engines used in mining trucks and locomotives.

Caterpillar will introduce the technology through Electro-Motive Diesel Inc., a subsidiary of Caterpillar's Progress Rail Services.

In the long term, the companies plan to develop natural gas technology for Caterpillar's off-road engines, used in various electric-power, industrial, machine, marine and petroleum applications.

Development programs will start immediately for both new and existing engines, combustion technology and fuel systems.

Caterpillar will fund the development program. When the products go to market, Westport expects to supply key components.

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