Newfound energy: Switching vehicles to natural gas would save money, cut pollution

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

If compressed natural gas, or CNG, catches on as the next fuel source for America’s vehicles, it would have enormous ramifications for Ohio, which is sitting atop trillions of cubic feet of natural-gas deposits in the Utica shale.

The promise is great: a local energy source that is abundant, cheaper for consumers and cleaner-burning than gasoline without degrading vehicle performance. Meanwhile, the U.S. could ease its dependence on foreign oil, which enriches and empowers some of the most evil regimes in the world.

The problem is making the conversion. But as Gov. John Kasich said the other day, Ohio businesses might help with that issue.

A major reason demand is low for natural-gas vehicles is that refueling stations are few and far between. But no one builds stations because the demand for them doesn’t yet exist. Vast stretches of Ohio don’t have refueling stations, and the Columbus metro area has only a few. And only one automaker so far, Honda, manufactures a CNG vehicle for the public. General Motors took orders in the spring for pickup trucks that will run on both gasoline and CNG.

To break this chicken-and-egg cycle, someone has to get out front, and Kasich has called on the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business to help promote natural gas as a vehicle fuel.

While the average price of gasoline in Columbus was $3.72 per gallon on Wednesday, the price of an equivalent unit of energy from CNG is about $2.

Anticipating savings, the Central Ohio Transit Authority will begin switching to CNG-powered buses in the spring. Likewise, companies with large fleets might look into buying CNG vehicles and their own compression pumps, or converting the vehicles they own. It could pay off.

As Dan T. Moore, owner of a Cleveland company that converts vehicles to take both CNG and gasoline, told The Plain Dealer in March, “A guy that drives a cab 300,000 miles — that’s the lifespan of a lot of these cabs — he ends up saving (more than) $50,000 in gasoline. That’s more than enough to buy two more cars.”

Companies with large fleets can make that initial investment more easily than individuals can. If the private sector makes the switch and also builds the infrastructure, the public will be more amenable to the technology.

One day, CNG vehicle owners might have an option other than refueling stations: Compressors can be installed in people’s homes and attached to their existing natural-gas lines, which can fill up a CNG vehicle over a matter of hours.