New CNG station gives another option to rising gasoline pricesBy TIFFANY AUMANN Advocate Reporter
NEWARK -- In the world of alternative fuel vehicles, those that use compressed natural gas often are muscled out of a conversation dominated by gasoline-electric hybrids, biodiesel and hydrogen fuel cells.
Advocates, however, say compressed natural gas can play a big part in reducing dependence on foreign oil.
At less than $2 for the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, CNG is appealing to drivers pained by escalating gasoline prices. In addition, CNG is one of the cleanest-burning fuels -- with near-zero emissions -- and it is in plentiful supply domestically. More than 80 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States comes from North America. Last week, Royalty Enterprises CNG Auto Station opened at 600 W. Church St., offering sales, service and refueling for vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. Owner Clayton King said he thinks it is the only station in Ohio to combine all these services in one location.
It also is one of only four public natural gas fueling stations in Ohio, said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit organization. A member of Clean Fuels Ohio, King also owns the other three public fueling stations -- in Columbus and Coshocton.
"I believe (Newark) will be a much bigger market (than Coshocton)," King said. "It's centrally located."
The grand opening of CNG station Thursday included a seminar highlighting the benefits of natural gas vehicles. Among attendees were industry representatives, farmers, businessmen and county officials.
'YOU HAVE TO THINK AHEAD'
Sheriff Randy Thorp and two men from his office were present to accept the loan of a CNG cruiser. While there, they also found a used cargo van that could work for the county SWAT team, the sheriff said.
"We're interested in this type of fuel, if for no other reason than the fuel savings," Thorp said. "It's something we're excited about, but it's in its infancy right now."
The sheriff's office racked up more than one million road miles in 2007, and for 2008, the office has budgeted almost $300,000 for gasoline. The sheriff said he was eager to analyze the performance and fuel efficiency of the CNG cruiser, but he had some reservations about using such a vehicle for officers who spend long hours on the road and need to refuel more frequently.
King said CNG vehicles are best suited for commuters, fleets and business owners, such as contractors who drive some distance but come back at night.
"You have to think ahead," King said. "You don't run on the bottom eighth (of the gas gauge) as some people do."
On Thursday, a natural-gas-powered Honda Civic GX sat outside the CNG station for attendees to inspect. A dedicated CNG vehicle, which runs strictly on compressed natural gas, the Civic GX had an 8-gallon tank capable of fueling a 200- to 250-mile trip.
Andrew Chiarelli, alternative fuel vehicle manager for Motorcars Honda, drove the Civic down from his Cleveland dealership, where he said he has sold 30 CNG vehicles in the past nine years. The suggested price of the Civic GX is about $25,000, although it qualifies for a $4,000 tax credit.
'I'M HERE FOR THE ECONOMICS'
According to the Natural Gas Vehicles for America advocacy group, more than 150,000 natural gas vehicles are on the road in the United States and more than 1,500 fueling stations are available, about half of which are open to the public.
John Hinderer Honda in Heath, an authorized dealer of the Civic GX, recently sold its first model to a Wisconsin buyer, sales consultant Alan Feasel said. CNG cars are especially popular in the West, he said, because compressed natural gas prices there are less than 70 cents for a gallon equivalent.
Now that Newark has a fueling station, he expects local Civic GX sales to increase.
Chiarelli said, "If I had a fill station like down here, I bet you I'd sell 5 to 10 a month."
In northeast Ohio, Chiarelli's customers have their own sources of CNG. Products are available, such as the Phill, which can be installed in a garage, tap a gas line and fill a CNG car's tank overnight.
Several farmers attended the CNG station opening with the hope of using natural gas on their properties to run automobiles and farm equipment. Natural gas must be dried and compressed before being used as fuel.
"I'm here for the economics," said Tori Todd, who owns a farm south of Granville and is considering converting to CNG. "I think, long-term, my break-even isn't that far down the line."
As more people discover the benefits of natural gas, demand likely will push up costs. Historically, however, the prices have been less volatile than gasoline, King said.
"When petroleum goes up, (natural gas) goes with it, but not as bad," said King, who buys his natural gas from the Energy Cooperative.
Honda is the only manufacturer selling new light-duty CNG cars in America. Shortly after the Bush administration announced funding incentives for hydrogen fuel cells, Ford, Chevy and Dodge dropped their CNG models, King said. Therefore, he is buying used, factory-built models to sell at his station and also is doing conversions.
Large trucks and vans are the best candidates for conversion, he said, because the return on investment is quicker. The cost of converting a vehicle to CNG can cost about $8,000.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimated in 2000 that Ohio had 1.179 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves with an additional 1.1 tcf discovered recently under Lake Erie. Ohio is the 17th largest producer of natural gas in the country.
In addition, CNG can be obtained from renewable sources. For example, in Grove City the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio has broken ground on a green energy center that will capture methane, the main component of natural gas, from landfills.
Not only is natural gas safer for the environment than gasoline, it could be safer for passengers, said Bill McGlinchey, a Lancaster-based consultant.
"Safety always comes up -- 'Isn't that like carrying a bomb in your trunk?,'" he said. "(Natural gas) is the safest transportation fuel we've got. It's only because we've grown up with gasoline that we're still using it today."
Natural gas leaks will dissipate, rather than pool like gasoline, therefore reducing a fire hazard.
Spofforth said it is difficult to make direct comparisons between CNG cars and other Earth-friendly options. Overall, people should keep in mind how they use their vehicle.
"There really is no magic bullet," Spofforth said. "We really need to look at a variety of solutions."