Central Ohio Adds Stations Dispensing Compressed Natural Gas

Source: Columbus CEO

A North Side fueling station has nine pumps and not a drop of gasoline.

The station, opened on Tuesday by Columbus city government, dispenses compressed natural gas, or CNG.

Another CNG station near Hilliard officially opened the same day.

The stations, which bring the total to eight in the Columbus metro area, are part of an effort to encourage drivers to adopt a fuel that powers a tiny share of vehicles. The early adopters are almost all businesses and local governments.

“There still today are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to compressed natural gas,” said Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for Columbus.

His new station, at 2333 Morse Rd. on the North Side, opened on Tuesday. Covering 1.4 acre, it is the largest publicly accessible CNG station in the Midwest, he said.

It cost $6.4 million to develop, which the city hopes to recoup in 10 to 12 years through fuel sales to the public and its own fuel savings.

“Look, this isn’t new technology,” he said. “It’s been used on the West Coast for decades, and it works. We’re slow to the game, but we’re in the game at this point.”

Columbus has 88 vehicles that run on the fuel and plans to have 440 within six years, including snowplows, garbage trucks, street sweepers and pickup trucks.

This is the second CNG station operated by the city. The first one opened in 2012 on Groves Road on the East Side and has about a 50-50 split in traffic between privately owned and city vehicles.

The city and other fleet owners are attracted to the price. The fuel costs $2 to $2.25 for the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, roughly a 40 percent savings compared with gasoline.

But the vehicles cost more than gasoline-powered versions: an additional $7,000 for a new Honda Civic that runs on the fuel, or about $10,000 to convert a vehicle. An industrial vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer, can cost an extra $60,000 to convert to run on CNG.

Also this week, GAIN Clean Fuel cut the ribbon on its compressed-natural-gas station at 1710 Atlas St., south of Hilliard. The station was developed with FST Logistics, a shipping and warehousing company, to serve the company’s fleet. It is open to the public.

The central Ohio stations are among 22 in the state and more than 700 in the country, with a disproportionate share clustered in California, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The stations serve an estimated 118,000 CNG vehicles in the country, according to a 2011 government figure, the most recent available. The vehicles are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of vehicles on the road.

Governments and businesses see the fuel as an opportunity to save money and reduce harmful emissions. Frito-Lay, the snack-foods company, is among the notable businesses that have made big investments in the vehicles.

“It has a big upside to the consumer in that it’s relatively cheap,” said John O’Dell, a senior editor at Edmunds.com who specializes in alternative-fuel vehicles. “It delivers virtually the same fuel economy as the gasoline version of the vehicle.”

O’Dell drives a Honda Civic Natural Gas, the only model that comes from the factory ready to run on CNG. Several other automakers have arrangements with contractors that can convert new vehicles to run on the fuel, and a host of businesses will do conversions of new and used vehicles.

O’Dell thinks compressed natural gas has a promising future as an engine fuel in certain regions. He has doubts, though, about whether promoters of the fuel will be able to get enough of a fueling network to make it a nationwide option.

Ohio companies and government officials are eager to adopt the fuel, in part because of the plentiful supply of gas from the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in the state.

One of the leading developers is IGS Energy of Dublin, which has six stations open to the public, including one in Dublin operated with the city government, and several more under construction or being planned.

“We believe that the economics for a fleet owner, the savings, is so compelling that we think there’s a real opportunity here, and our company is looking to be on the forefront of that,” said Dave Mrowzinski, program manager for IGS CNG Services.

Back on the North Side, Reagan said his new station is only one step. His office is looking at building stations on the West Side and Downtown in the next few years.

“The objective,” he said, “is to share that fuel with the community.”