By Brian Dunn

If you are active in the transportation sector, Gaz Métro wants your business, or at least part of it through its Gaz Métro Transport Solutions (GMTS) subsidiary. That’s the message Sophie Brochu, President and CEO of Gaz Métro, was putting across at a St. Lawrence Economic Development Council (SODES) lunch in Montreal on June 12.

She said a major challenge for businesses is to grow without increasing their environmental footprint. She noted that 60 per cent of Green Mountain Power’s output is derived from renewable energy. The Vermont-based company is a Gaz Métro subsidiary.

Contrary to popular belief, natural gas and hydroelectricity complement each other in Quebec with Hydro-Québec targeting electric cars and mass transit while GMTS is going after the heavy transport sector. “Each type of energy has its place,” said Ms. Brochu.

According to GMTS, the transportation industry represents the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in Quebec, accounting for more than 40 per cent of total emissions. Heavy duty trucks, universally equipped with diesel engines, account for thirty per cent of that figure, while representing only two per cent of all vehicles. In comparison, natural gas produces 25 per cent fewer GHG emissions than diesel, and can cost up to 40 per cent less. Given that proven technologies are available to convert heavy duty diesel engines for operation on natural gas, the environmental and economic advantages of using natural gas are persuasive, said Ms. Brochu. Moreover, natural gas reserves in North America have skyrocketed in recent years, from seven years worth of reserves in 2008 to over a hundred years today, she added.

GMTS has been working with a number of partners and transportation companies since 2010 and Ms. Brochu cited some initiatives her company is involved in. One is supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to trucking company Transport Robert which plans to have 130 LNG-powered trucks out of 180 on the road this summer. Close to 100 are already in operation. A series of public fuelling stations are being established along Highways 20 in Quebec and 401 in Ontario to strengthen and complement the existing private network. The public network may also eventually link up with the North American network, allowing carriers to provide continent-wide coverage using natural gas–fuelled vehicles. The first public stations will be located in Rivière-du-Loup, Lévis, Cornwall and Toronto, and are expected to be operational in 2014. During the second phase, two additional public stations will be added, one east of Toronto and the other south of Montreal.

Other trucking companies are getting in on the act. Transport YN-Gonthier introduced its first two LNG trucks last October, while Camions Excellence Peterbilt has an LNG truck available for short-haul rentals. GMTS is in talks with several other carriers interested in ordering LNG trucks in the coming months.

GMTS is also assessing the possibility of hauling LNG by truck to service more remote areas from its natural gas pipeline network. In addition, Gaz Métro has been collaborating with CN which has successfully tested a locomotive using LNG on a test bed and is following through with feasibility studies to evaluate other technologies using natural gas. In early June, CN ordered four tenders from Vancouver-based Westport Innovations. The first tender to supply fuel to an adjacent natural-gas powered locomotive will be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2013. Ms. Brochu quoted investor Warren Buffett who said “the future of locomotives is in LNG.” (Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the second largest freight railway in the U.S.)

Finally, Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) has announced the purchase of three LNG-powered ferries which will procure natural gas through GMTS. One will operate on the Matane-Baie Comeau-Godbout service, while the other two will service the Tadoussac-Baie Sainte Catherine crossing, commencing in 2015.

Gaz Métro is also eying the bunkering business for opportunities, but nothing concrete is happening there for the moment, said Ms. Brochu. “We’re also looking to work with mining companies north of Chibougamau to produce electricity, because it costs too much to install hydro lines. So it is possible to reduce our environmental footprint and make money at the same time.”