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Is a CNG Fleet in Your Future?

Chevrolet Silverado bi-fueled natural gas pickupChevrolet Silverado bi-fueled natural gas pickup

Commentary by Bob Strickland, Manager of Natural Gas Transportation, Alagasco

With the advent of hybrid cars, more and more people are rethinking American energy dependence and choosing alternative energy. While we still have a long way to go toward true energy independence, most of our gasoline and diesel vehicles could be replaced by vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG).

We need to find ways to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use our own natural resources in order to ensure energy security for our country. The use of CNG in natural gas vehicles (NGVs) can play an important role in addressing these challenges.

Corporate America continues to look for ways to balance the social, economic and environmental needs of all stakeholders by rethinking the use of alternative energy in its fleets such as taxis, buses, and delivery vehicles.

Economic Benefits to NGV Fleets

Any business with a fleet of vehicles is a good candidate for natural gas vehicles – transit, garbage, laundry supply, and food and beverage trucks are common users of natural gas.

While there are upfront costs to buying or converting to a natural gas fleet, the fuel costs are considerably lower making them much more affordable over the long run. In the U.S., we are paying more than $3.60 per gallon for gasoline. The price of natural gas ranges from just over $1.00 to around $2.00 per equivalent gallon.

That’s why ATT, UPS, Verizon, Waste Management and others are switching to natural gas; they can save millions on fuel costs.

Reduced Maintenance Costs Emissions

Gasoline and diesel engine lives are shortened because of the build-up of carbon. Natural gas engines, on the other hand, have virtually no carbon build-up, so ring wear is reduced and engine life is extended.

Tune-ups and oil changes for natural gas vehicles aren’t needed as frequently because compressed natural gas burns so much cleaner than gasoline or diesel. Some fleet owners report service lives two to three years longer than gasoline or diesel vehicles.

According to Mitchell Pratt, chief operating officer, Clean Energy, their CNG-powered taxis measure near zero emissions at the tailpipe and will reduce greenhouse gases by almost 30 percent when compared to petroleum powered vehicles.

CNG Availability Regionally

At the end of 2010, there were nearly 1,000 natural gas stations in the U.S., and there are efforts underway to build more. There are five regional corridors where public and private entities are working hard to get stations built near intersections of major interstates and highways:

1) Texas Triangle – Dallas to San Antonio to Houston

2) Colorado Rockies Corridor – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah

3) Southeastern Corridor – Georgia, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia

4) Eastern Corridor – Runs north of Virginia into the New England States

5) I-75 Corridor – Runs along I-75 from the northeastern U.S. down toward the southeastern states

In Alabama, the goal is to have as many as 12 public stations by the end of 2012. We’re building natural gas stations primarily for Alagasco’s fleet for now, but will be opening stations to the public as well. This means that if all the planned public stations are open for business, you could drive across Alabama from the Tennessee line all the way to the Florida coast in a natural gas vehicle.

Recently, California’s first CNG-powered Ford Transit Connect taxis have gone into service in the greater Los Angeles area and, since 2001, the number of CNG filling stations in Orange County has tripled to about 30.

CNG Natural Gas Vehicles Good for Economy

Americans spend about $1 billion each day on foreign oil. While there are numerous benefits to running your fleet on natural gas, we think keeping your dollars in the U.S. is first among them.

Certainly as we produce more NGVs and stations, this will lead to job creation, but consider this: the U.S. spent $30 billion on imported oil in one month alone. If we were not burdened by our dependence on foreign oil, think about what we could have done with that money. We could have hired over 443,000 new teachers. We could have funded highway repairs for more than eight years. We could have built 39,500 new elementary schools.

Since the beginning of this the current economic recession, American citizens and corporations alike are seeking a more balanced and sustainable co-existence. We think natural gas will play a large role in our overall economic recovery and financial independence.

About the Author: Bob Strickland is an expert on natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and Manager of Natural Gas Transportation at Alagasco, Alabama’s largest distributor of natural gas. He’s a board member of NGVAmerica and the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and chairs the Southeastern States NGV Corridor Committee.

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