When Moss, maintenance manager for the major construction firm of Fred Weber, Inc., first tried out a fuel-saving device on one of the company’s diesel engines, something clicked right away.
Those first test results, conducted on an engine loading limestone at a mine, showed a fuel savings of 33 per cent, Moss said. What’s more, when his mechanics dismantled the engine – which had run for some 7,000 hours – they found that, as another side benefit, the “internal parts looked like they were brand new,” Moss said.
Call that “click” number two. Saving fuel while extending the life of the engine? Moss couldn’t help but think, “Why not?”
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out – 7,000 hours of run time, saving three gallons per hour,” recalls Moss. “That’s 21,000 gallons of fuel – and that’s just on one engine.”
The Fred Weber company is a major highway contractor and aggregate producer in the greater St. Louis area. But the company also runs 11 mines and quarries where the fuel-saving device, called the Combustion Catalyst System, might be used with the prospect of noticeable benefits.
There are about 300 large diesels of 340-plus horsepower running generators, loaders and dredgers at those mines and quarries, consuming large amounts of fuel. Moss tested the catalyst device on a few other engines, again with promising results, then installed some more. So…why stop there? Why not outfit all 300?
Why not, indeed? That’s why, right now, Moss is on his way to doing just that, by installing 50 more catalyst systems this year. And he plans to double that number next year.
But there’s an irony behind this picture. Originally, the catalyst system wasn’t even designed to save fuel or help engines run clean. It was created to cut particulate emissions from diesel engines used by contractors in the West – mainly California – where tight pollution controls have them scrambling for ways to retrofit older, non-compliant diesel-powered vehicles, according to Troy Bohlke, a founder of Arizona-based Emissions Technology, which manufactures the catalyst system.
The catalyst system is packaged in a device about the size of a large cereal box, which is installed near the turbocharger of a diesel engine. The technology works by injecting a platinum-based catalyst into the combustion chamber, making combustion both cleaner and more efficient. Essentially, it takes the concept of the exhaust-fitted catalytic converter, and installs it at the front end.
While developing the system prototype, engineers discovered by accident that significant fuel savings were occurring, says Bohlke, Vice-President of Marketing and Industrial Relations for the firm, headquartered in Phoenix.
“Our mechanics and engineers are curious by nature,” he said. “They knew that if smoke isn’t coming out the tailpipe, it had to be going somewhere. So they started running tests. It turned out more fuel was being converted into energy up front, and the engines were working more efficiently.
“The truth is, we were rather shocked,” Bohkle recalls. “We expected a little savings in fuel, but nothing of the magnitude that our engineers were finding.”
But it just so happens that the goal of reducing pollution also fits nicely with the Weber Company’s philosophy, says Moss. He’s still testing the pollution-reduction capability of the system, but his initial tests showed a reduction in particulates of 50 per cent, Moss said.
“One of the biggest returns we’ve seen is the reduction in emissions,” said Moss. “We’re always trying to come up with ways to reduce the emissions of our equipment and use less fossil fuel. Number one, this system saves energy; number two, it cleans the air.”
Among its conservation efforts, Fred Weber, Inc. runs a landfill in Maryland Heights that accepts yard waste. Besides producing compost, the landfill also generates natural gases like methane used to heat several greenhouses, an asphalt plant burner, a concrete plant boiler, and a local high school.
The seed for the idea to try out the catalyst system came to Moss through Fred Alvis, owner of Mobile Equipment Sales and Service, Inc., which distributes the catalyst system in the St. Louis area. Alvis’ firm provides an automatic lubrication method for Weber’s heavy equipment, but Alvis says he is also interested in maintaining clean air and felt there was excellent potential for the Weber company to accomplish two positive things at once.
“You could call it a pioneering effort on their part,” Alvis adds. “Not many heavy contractors are heading this way yet. But it’s a great opportunity for a large company like Fred Weber to reduce their emissions and save money on their fuel bill at the same time.”
Alvis says he did a cost-savings analysis for a wheel-loader diesel engine similar to the one that Moss originally tested. He said fueling such an engine under normal conditions would cost $84,672 per year, but that installing the catalyst system would save $12,708 over that period.
Moss characterized those results as reflecting the “minimum” scale of fuel savings he expects to see. And for an engine of that type, Moss believes the usable life can be extended by about 5,000 hours – roughly two years.
Says Bohlke of Emissions Technology: “Companies feel it costs too much to ‘go green,’ so they steer away from it. But it doesn’t really cost so much because money’s being saved in fuel and equipment replacement.
“Fred Weber, Inc. has an impeccable reputation that has stood for many decades,” Bohlke adds. “For us to be embraced by a company of that stature is very encouraging.”
And even though California-style pollution enforcement hasn’t reached the Midwest yet, forward-looking companies will be ready, if and when it does, he continues.
“They truly are pioneering and leading by example in the Midwest,” Bohlke said.