Many Choosing Natural Gas as Their Alternative Fuel

Compressed Natural Gas, an alternative fuelAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles produce 23 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their diesel counterparts, and natural gas costs about one-third less than conventional gasoline.

The reduction in fuel costs and desire to be more environmentally friendly has prompted many to make the conversion to natural gas. Several cities and companies with fleets have already switched or are beginning to make conversions, such as Los Angeles, Austin, Palm Desert, Knoxville, UPS, FedEx, AT&T, Verizon, Golden Eagle Distributors and many more.

In February, a Warren, Ohio paper reported that as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was touring a water tank facility he mentioned that “the president has directed the federal (vehicle) fleet to start to convert to natural gas.” The Kent company makes water tanks for the shale drilling sites that are extracting natural gas.

The combination of a mild winter and an abundance of natural gas drilling going on around the country has provided the U.S. with a surplus, which has dramatically lowered the cost. As with any fuel, prices are based on supply and demand, which always fluctuate. However, drilling projections in the shale regions have shown that we can expect an abundance of this alternative fuel in the decades to come.

For those wanting to convert to natural gas, the Department of Energy advises vehicle owners and fleet managers to work with the manufacturer or an authorized representative. “The actual conversion work must be performed by a licensed technician associated with the manufacturer that holds the relevant emissions-related certifications and tampering exemptions.”

For those of you ready to buy new vehicles, there are several on the market. Elgin’s Pelican, Eagle, Broom Bear, and Crosswind all come in alternative fuel version. TYMCO makes their Model 600 in either CNG or LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). Crane Carrier makes a CNG chassis that has been successfully combined with a Schwarze sweeper. Check with your favorite manufacturer for other options.

Chrysler Group just announced plans to produce at least 2,000 heavy-duty Ram bi-fuel trucks that run on a combination of CNG and gasoline. The Ram 2500 will be sold to fleet operators and other commercial customers. It is the first factory-built pickup powered by natural gas. “CNG demonstrates a reduction of 70 to 90 percent of smog-producing pollutants and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” says Robert E. (Bob) Lee, Vice President and Head of Engine and Electrified Propulsion Engineering, Chrysler Group LLC. Chrysler is currently taking orders and expects to start delivery in July.

The Department of Energy’s site has a Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data Center that has an abundance of information, including a cost calculator that will allow you to compare up to eight vehicles. You will want to use the “Create Custom Vehicle” option to compare your existing trucks to one with alternative fuel.

But before you pay to convert your truck or invest in buying a new alternative fuel truck, one of the most important questions you need to ask is whether there are sufficient fueling stations in your area. The Department of Energy offers an alternative fuel station locator on their site. You simply plug in your zip code to find the stations nearest you.

You will also want to look at your cost versus savings. The cost of an alternative fuel sweeper as well as the conversion of an existing truck can be pricey. So, before you do, look for incentives. The Department of Energy also has a map to show you what incentives your state offers. Just click on your state to see if there are incentives to help reduce your cost. For example, Texas has the Clean Fleet Grant to take diesel engines off the road and replace them with an alternative fuel vehicle as well as heavy-duty natural gas vehicle grants. The Arkansas Energy Office launched a Compressed Natural Gas Conversion Rebate Program, which provides incentives for fleets and individuals to purchase and/or convert their Arkansas-licensed vehicle to CNG.

There are several customers that have been happy with CNG, but there are a few that have not. Knowing all of the pros and cons before buying or converting will save you in the long-run.

Additional Resources:

Still wondering about alternative fuels? We ran an article last year in May explaining the differences and all of those acronyms.http://www.nasweeper.com/2011/05/green-certified/fleet-ngvs/

You may also want to read, “Business Case for Compressed Natural Gas in Municipal Fleets” at http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/pdfs/47919.pdf.

U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Station Locator at http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/

U.S. Department of Energy’s incentives and regulations by state map at http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/natural_gas_laws.html

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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