Instruction from the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium is helping a major food retailer become a leader in energy efficient transportation.

From Jan. 11-13, representatives from Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle participated in the NAFTC’s Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles course, which trained several of the company’s technicians to service and maintain compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.

18aGiant Eagle automotive technicians

Giant Eagle automotive technicians, from left, Kevin Opat, James Lapinski and Michael Schoenfeld (Baum Blvd Automotive) identify parts of the CNG fueling system on a Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV). Credit: NAFTC

Mike Lickert, corporate fleet manager for Giant Eagle’s distribution unit Talon Logistics, Inc., explained that several years ago, he developed an interest in incorporating alternative fuel vehicles into the company’s fleet. Thus, he attended the NAFTC’s Overview of Biodiesel course in 2006. Following the biodiesel course, Lickert led an effort to implement various blends of biodiesel into the Giant Eagle fleet.

“The NAFTC course was a stepping stone to our usage of biodiesel,” Lickert noted.

Broc Johnson, transportation supervisor at Talon Logistics, said the company currently has a terminal in Harmony, Pa. that supplies only B20, a blend of 80 percent diesel and 20 percent biodiesel.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Johnson commented, referring to the Harmony terminal. “All of our facilities run on some blend of biodiesel, whether it’s B20, B5 or B3. In addition, one of our yard trucks at the Pittsburgh terminal runs on recycled cooking oil from one of our stores. We see this as an opportunity to close the waste loop.”

After several years of prominently using biodiesel, Giant Eagle received in 2010 an Alternative Fuel Incentive Grant from former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell. Combined with a $2 million investment from Giant Eagle, the $900,000 grant will allow for the purchase of 10 compressed natural gas-powered vehicles and the installation of a public CNG refueling station as well as a private one.

Johnson said Giant Eagle’s Talon Logistics will receive their first 10 natural gas-powered, heavy-duty trucks this spring. Therefore, Johnson and Lickert took a proactive approach and had five of their technicians trained on CNG fueling systems and vehicles during the NAFTC’s course, which was taught by NAFTC National Instructor Mark Schmidt.

Giant Eagle automotive technicians study NGV system features during the NAFTC's Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles course.

Giant Eagle automotive technicians, from left, Jim Wilson, Larry Tibbens and Jim Chatary study NGV system features during the NAFTC’s Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles course. Credit: NAFTC

“We saw this training at the NAFTC as a stepping stone,” Johnson added. “It was a crucial learning point in the application of natural gas as an alternative fuel, and it was great getting to work with the technology up close. The course gave our team members a solid base layer of knowledge on the subject.  They saw natural gas vehicles first hand and the outcome was increased confidence accompanied with a positive attitude.”

NAFTC National Instructor Mark Schmidt

NAFTC National Instructor Mark Schmidt, right, demonstrates how to create CNG fuel lines to Giant Eagle Transportation Supervisor Broc Johnson, left, and Corporate Fleet Manager Mike Lickert, middle. Credit: NAFTC

Schmidt said he enjoyed teaching the Giant Eagle employees and looks forward to the company’s CNG expansion.

“I worked with them on cylinder inspection, ignition systems and fuel lines,” Schmidt noted. “As their CNG fleet expands, they’ll be sending other technicians here for training.”

Lickert added, “Our company tries to be a good corporate citizen. Switching to natural gas will boost our environmental stewardship. In the grand scheme of things, we want to be 100 percent natural gas at this facility.”

“I am proud to be a part of the Giant Eagle team,” Johnson continued. “We are using multiple forms of alternative energy in order to reduce our carbon footprint. There is definitely piece of mind knowing that your company is focused on being socially responsible.”

Giant Eagle technicians practice servicing a Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle

Giant Eagle technicians, from left, James Lapinski, Michael Schoenfeld (Baum Blvd Automotive) and Kevin Opat practice servicing a Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) during the NAFTC Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles course. Credit: NAFTC

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