Maintenance

Technician Training Solutions for Alternative-Fuel Vehicles

March 2014, Government Fleet - Feature

by Barbara Bonansinga

NGVi’s Heavy-Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics training class is a three-day intensive course for experienced diesel technicians who will be diagnosing and maintaining heavy-duty natural gas vehicles. Photo courtesy of NGVi.
NGVi’s Heavy-Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics training class is a three-day intensive course for experienced diesel technicians who will be diagnosing and maintaining heavy-duty natural gas vehicles. Photo courtesy of NGVi.
At a Glance

Providers that supply alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicle training include:

  • The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), which is fuel-neutral
  • The Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), which focuses on hybrids and electric vehicles
  • The Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (NGVi), which focuses on compressed and liquefied natural gas.

The Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 or “EPAct” amended the National Energy Conservation Act and established several energy management goals for the nation. Government fleets have been impacted by the act and subsequent regulations and policies on the federal, state, and local levels that set requirements for the acquisition of alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs). While the regulations and criteria driving AFVs into government fleets evolve, fleets must adapt to a multitude of new vehicle technologies.

In addition to driver training, fleets must also train technicians to repair and maintain these vehicles, and training varies based on vehicle types.

A Fuel-Neutral Training Consortium

Ensuring technicians can understand and work with these new technologies is the job of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), where the mission is clean air and energy independence.

 NAFTC was founded about 22 years ago at West Virginia University (WVU), around the time EPAct was enacted, with an emphasis on gaseous fuels technician training and helping conversion companies build clean AFVs.

Acting Director Bill Davis considers NAFTC to be essentially a training partner of the Department of Energy (DOE) Clean Cities Program, which supports public and private partnerships that deploy alternative-­fuel vehicles. As a result, more than 30,000 technicians representing 1,000 organizations have been trained through NAFTC. NAFTC trains educators, technicians, vehicle operators, and most recently first responders on all aspects of how to use, maintain, and utilize a variety of AFVs. The organization has adopted a train-the-trainer approach, developing training materials, curricula, and even diagnostic tools for their programs. “The prerequisite for AFV training is a firm grasp of electronics and computer diagnostics,” Davis said. Not simple stuff, considering electronics is a branch of physics.

Davis said the NAFTC is fuel-neutral and has developed and taught classes about:

  • Fuel economy and idle reduction
  • Biofuels such as E-85 and biodiesel
  • Natural gas and propane autogas
  • Hydrogen and fuel cells
  • Electric-drive vehicles, including battery electric and hybrid electric.

According to Davis, the need for training on electric drive and hybrid vehicles was apparent early on based on misinformation presented in national news stories. For example, he pointed to news reports that said if an electric vehicle lost control and went into a body of water, first responders could be electrocuted by entering the water for rescue operations. “Not true,” he said. “We identified a demand for AFV training for first responders based on just that kind of misinformation.” NAFTC also designs and builds tools for training and diagnosis such as the first cutaway Toyota Prius built for hands-on training at its WVU headquarters and a first responder app tool it designed for Android phones and iPhones.

“Technician training will always be a work in progress; there will continue to be major changes in battery technology,” Davis said.

He added that today’s grade school students may hold the key to future scientific developments. “Surprisingly, one of the biggest advances in the biofuels movement recently came when a 17-year-old high school student from Colorado Springs, Colo., won the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious high school science competition, for her experiments with algae as a biofuel. To conduct the research, the student figured out how to grow algae in a box under her bed,” Davis said. “Developments like that could change battery technology, capacitors, and the fundamentals of how electricity is stored.”

NGVi Provides ‘Laser Focus’ for Natural Gas Training

The Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (NGVi) is a technical training provider focused on both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles. Established in 1989, NGVi is the only Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) CASE (Continuing Automotive Service Education) accredited training provider for CNG and LNG vehicles.

Paul Pate, training manager for NGVi, said the company’s vehicle training mission is to “provide accurate and relevant technical training to prepare technicians to safely and competently inspect, diagnose, and repair natural gas vehicles.”

Pate appreciates what he calls NGVi’s “laser focus on natural gas” as a means to be able to go deeper into the subject matter. Technicians are trained to work on LNG or CNG vehicles produced by original equipment manufacturers or converted by upfitters and/or qualified vehicle modifiers that meet federal standards.

NGVi offers three levels of training for CNG and/or LNG technicians. Level 1 training, “Technician and Fleet Operations Safety Training,” helps technicians and fleet operations personnel who will be working in or around natural gas vehicles understand the differences between natural gas and traditional liquid fuels, the safety procedures that need to be implemented, and the basic fuel system’s operation. Additionally, this course provides an overview of the natural gas infrastructure, fueling stations and their operation, and special facility requirements for repair of these vehicles for both CNG and LNG. This training is available in both instructor-led and online course format.

Next is “CNG Fuel System Inspector Training,” a two-day course designed for technicians tasked with carrying out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requirement to inspect every CNG fuel system every 3 years/36,000 miles (whichever comes first), as well as after any fire or accident exceeding 5 mph. This training teaches technicians to perform a complete fuel system inspection and prepares them to successfully pass the CSA Group CNG Fuel System Inspector Certification exam, which can be an important layer of risk management protection for fleets by helping ensure that their technicians not only took training but have also demonstrated their knowledge and skills based upon established third-party international standards.

“NGV Heavy-Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics Training,” is a three-day intensive course for experienced diesel technicians who will be diagnosing and maintaining heavy-duty NGVs. “What sets this training apart is that it trains technicians on the entire natural gas system, beginning with the high-pressure fuel system, then through the unique components in the engine’s fuel and ignition system, and finishing with the emissions system,” Pate noted. The focus of this class is in the special maintenance requirements and diagnostics of the major fuel system components. An overview of LNG and dual-fuel systems is also included.

NGVi also offers an “NGV Light-­Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics Training” course that follows the same outline as the heavy-duty training but focuses on light-­duty natural gas vehicles. 

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