More firms and states converting vehicles to natural gas
The shale energy revolution has led the energy industry to seek out new markets for its products, and energy companies are increasingly setting their sights on the transportation sector. Promoting natural gas as a cheaper, cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline and diesel, energy companies, public utilities and government officials are trying to boost demand for natural gas buses, taxis, shuttles, delivery trucks and heavy-duty work vehicles of all sorts, while simultaneously encouraging development of the fueling infrastructure that will be needed to keep them running.
In Fort Worth, “The T” has used buses that run on compressed natural gas since 1990. The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport board approved an incentive policy this year allowing taxicabs that run on natural gas to move to the front of the line for customers. The airport itself is almost 100% converted to natural gas for its vehicles.
Nationally, Waste Management, the nation's largest trash hauler, has committed to replacing 80 percent of its fleet with trucks powered by natural gas. A host of other companies such as AT&T and UPS are converting all or parts of their fleets to natural gas, as are transit agencies, municipalities and state governments.
At the current time, Honda has the only factory-assembled compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle available to the general public, the Civic GX. According to an article on Philly.com, the Honda Civic GX was “available previously in only a handful of states”; however, at this point in time, “the GX can now be purchased at 197 dealerships in 36 states.” Earlier this year, Chrysler's Ram Truck division began work on a CNG pickup truck. This Ram 2500 4X4 long bed heavy-duty truck has consequently become the first and only pickup in the U.S. to be built in a factory to run on CNG. Following suit, most domestic car and truck makers have also announced CNG versions of their vehicles.
One problem holding back widespread use of natural gas vehicles is the lack of fueling infrastructure. Clean Energy Fuels, a Dallas-based company, recently announced that they are constructing “America’s Natural Gas Highway,” a network of liquefied natural gas (LNG) truck fueling stations on interstate highways connecting major metropolitan areas all across America. According to their website: “The first phase includes approximately 150 LNG fueling stations with more than 70 anticipated in 33 states by the end of 2012 and the balance in 2013. Many will be co-located at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers already serving goods movement trucking.”
For individuals desiring to own CNG vehicles, the ultimate in convenience is to be able to fuel up at home. The technology exists but the equipment has been expensive; however, according to ABC News, Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s recent partnerships could produce cheaper fueling options for CNG vehicle owners, spurring the implementation of more CNG vehicles on our roadways. Chesapeake has teamed with General Electric to create “‘CNG In A Box,’ a compressed natural gas fueling system for retailers.” Plus, their recent partnership with GE and Whirlpool is set to develop a “$500 appliance that would allow consumers to refuel their natural gas-powered cars at home,” and they’ve been working to design less expensive tanks with 3M.
In addition, more states are promoting natural gas as a fuel for transportation. ABC News reports, “Nearly two dozen state governments have formed a consortium to add natural gas-powered vehicles to their fleets, an effort launched by the governors of Oklahoma and Colorado that attracted more than 100 bids from dealerships last month.”
Texas National Gas Now reports, “During the 82nd Session, the Texas Legislature passed legislation enabling the development of the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle (TCTT) (SB 20).” The Texas Clean Transportation Triangle encompasses interstate highway routes between the cities of Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, creating a triangle where natural gas fueling stations will be built. Approximately 20 percent, or $10 million annually, of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) will be allocated by the legislation “to support the conversion of heavy-duty fleet vehicles to natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and the development of new natural gas infrastructure within the Texas Triangle.” It is also projected that “80 percent of the funding will go toward heavy-duty NGV rebates, helping to offset a portion of incremental cost, and 20 percent of the funding will go toward grants for CNG/LNG refueling infrastructure grants along the TCTT.”