November 6, 2020. This November Western Milling, a grain and feed manufacturer in Tulare County, California will begin operating its first compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station. Planning for this station began in February 2019, and only 21 months later it is fueling CNG trucks driving along California’s 99 in the heart of the Central Valley. The station is owned and operated by a Western Milling subsidiary called Kruse Western Renewable Fuels. It is unique in the region as the first example of a food processor opening a natural gas station since Harris Ranch opened one in 1999.
Like that successful project which opened the Central Valley to goods movement fueled by natural gas, Kruse Western Renewable Fuels hopes to serve not just Western Milling’s own growing fleet of 32 CNG trucks, but hundreds more in the coming years along this crucial goods movement corridor. Each year over $7 billion in agricultural products are produced and shipped from Tulare County, making Tulare one of the largest agriculture counties in America.
From the boardroom vote that approved construction to first fueling, the new station was built and commissioned in only four months. This came after Kevin Kruse, CEO and President of Western Milling, approved the ambitious new plan in February 2019 and directed Rene Urquia, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, to spear-head the project. At ACT Expo in May 2019 the Western Milling team began their search for project partners. They analyzed their existing diesel operations to determine what fueling station specifications would be needed. Kevin said, “At Western Milling we understand how critical natural gas conversion is to clean up our air. We partner with our local dairies and built the infrastructure needed for local fleets to convert to natural gas. Our team is talented, diverse, and always eager to accept any challenge they face.” With help from several outside partners including Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA), the Western Milling team chose a design including 3 ANG dispensers, a large and inviting canopy visible from the highway, and approximately 20 trucks fueling equivalent of CNG storage. The station was specifically designed to provide drivers a diesel-like fueling experience of 12-minutes or less.
Western Milling already has CNG trucks on the road and plans to have a CNG truck fleet of over 40 trucks by mid-2021, which will equal 75% of the total fleet. The conversion of the fleet has been a gradual process. The first five units were a mix of new and used CNG trucks and proved both the business case as well as the ability of the technology to meet their work requirements. When asked about Western Millings turning point to deploy natural gas, Rene Urquia stated, “The new Cummins ISX12N engine was a deciding factor for converting our fleet to CNG. We were impressed by its performance claims and have found it meets our requirements in real world operations. Our team was cautious and initially skeptical, but the technology has proven to be successful.”