Natural gas as vehicle fuel around the corner

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 8:32 am

Compressed natural gas (CNG) as vehicle fuel may be just around the corner for the Coffee County area, according to county Industrial Board director Ted Hackney, and officials at the Elk River Public Utility District (ERPUD) could not be more excited.

With gas prices predicted to go up by 40 percent in the near future, this should be good news for consumers, too.

According to ERPUD marketing manager Don Keele, developing a national infrastructure for CNG vehicles continues to be a challenge, but “fast-fill” stations are increasingly popping up all over the country and he hopes Coffee County will get one soon.

“The website CNGnow.com shows a national map of all the existing and new stations as they come online,” Keele said, “and vehicle manufacturers are starting to offer CNG versions of their existing models as well as bi-fuel versions which use either gasoline or CNG.”

ERPUD has been doing its part for several years to promote natural gas for vehicles with its brightly painted CNG Honda Civic and Ford F-150 pickup truck, both of which run on natural gas provided by a single pump in back of its office.

“Our pump is the type that refills the vehicle slowly overnight,” Keele said, “whereas the retailers are installing the more highly compressed ‘fast-fill’ type pumps at freeway exits for drivers who need to get in and out as fast as they would with regular gas or diesel.”

Hackney announced in Wednesday’s Industrial Board meeting that a representative of Cynergy Fuels of Albertsville, Ala., is actively investigating the Coffee County area as a possible site for a future pump.

“In anticipation of Great Lakes Cheese and other industries coming into our industrial parks near exit 117 off Interstate 24,” Hackney said, “this company (Cynergy) is investigating several of the Manchester and Tullahoma exits as possible sites for installing a CNG pump.”

He added that many large companies across the nation are increasingly converting their fleet vehicles to natural gas for economic reasons, since it tends to be cheaper and more stable, price-wise, than gasoline or diesel.

The process could begin locally by the installation of one pump at the site of an existing or new fuel station.

ERPUD officials explained that they are not partnering with any company for retail business, but if a retailer like Cynergy located here, they would become a commercial customer like any other large company or factory, subject to the same rules and regulations for providing natural gas.

“We would provide wholesale gas to the retailer, who would then service and maintain the fast-fill version for the consumer,” Keele said.

Many sources add that CNG is not only cheaper, but also “greener” than gasoline.

According to the Cynergy website at www.cynergyfuels.com, which boasts the slogan, “fueling American independence from foreign oil,” CNG can reduce fuel costs up to 40 percent over diesel while burning cleaner and reducing carbon emissions.

Another slogan on the website reads, “The U.S. has more natural gas reserves than Saudi Arabia has oil.”

Cynergy CEO Dan Johnson said he is committed to developing the market for CNG along in the southeast area.

“The process would take time, but the Manchester/ Tullahoma/Coffee County area is a great midpoint between Chattanooga and Nashville,” Johnson said, “so we’re definitely interested in investigating what possible fleets and future traffic are in the area that might make it worthwhile.

“Worldwide, there are close to 15 million natural gas vehicles in use, but only about 125,000 of those are in the United States, so we are very far behind.

“We can provide guaranteed pricing for 1, 3, or five years at a time because natural gas is so abundant here in the U.S.”

Johnson added that while natural gas prices tend to be higher in winter, current pricing is roughly two-thirds the price of gasoline and is predicted to go down in the near future with supply and demand.

ERPUD general manager Mike Guntersen said he has met with Johnson and is delighted that companies like Cynergy are taking an interest in the Coffee County area.

“We are absolutely supportive of any company that wishes to install CNG pumps in this area and we’re very interested in growing this market,” Guntersen said.

“We would love to see gas stations with all three prices on the marquis, because you’d probably see diesel at $3.75 a gallon, regular gas around $3, and CNG would be between $1.50 and $2 per gallon.”

In addition to purchasing a CNG vehicle directly from the manufacturer, such as Chevrolet or Honda, Keele and Gundersen said existing vehicles can currently be converted for natural gas use for roughly $9-$10,000, and for heavy users of fuel, the high savings and short payback period can make it worthwhile.

“If anyone is interested in possibly purchasing a natural gas vehicle, we encourage you to sign up at our website,” Keele said, “not as a commitment or anything, but just so we can keep track of how many people are interested.”

For more information on ERPUD’s promotions of natural gas vehicles visit www.erpud.com.

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