Compressed natural gas hub to open in Toledo

Source: Toledo Blade

An Indiana businesswoman announced plans Wednesday to build a compressed natural gas fueling station off I-75 in Northwood near the former Hostess bakery.

If all goes as planned, the station will be the area’s first public fueling station offering compressed natural gas when it opens later this year.

Marilyn Lahr, owner of Fort Wayne, Ind., based CNG Stations of America, said she became interested in the Toledo area after seeing comments from local officials about the region’s potential as a transportation hub. Ms. Lahr spent a couple of months scouting sites before deciding on a site at the intersection of Wales Road and Chelsea Drive, about three miles north of the Ohio Turnpike.

“I think it is just a perfect location for a compressed natural gas station,” she said Wednesday. “I think we’re at a nice little apex.”

Compressed natural gas is most commonly used in commercial trucks, though there are a number of other vehicles using it. Honda, for example, sells a CNG version of its Civic. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sells a CNG version of its heavy-duty Ram pickup.

But CNG usage is not widespread. The U.S. Department of Energy says only about 150,000 vehicles on U.S. roads are powered by the fuel. Still, those within the transportation industry say the fuel has significant potential.

“Compressed natural gas is really the first alternative fuel to diesel that really has some merit,” said Thomas Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association.

The problem, Mr. Balzer said, is that there isn’t an established network of CNG fueling stations.

Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit that promotes alternative fuels, said there are currently about 1,500 compressed natural gas fueling stations in the U.S. The group said just 31 are in Ohio. The nearest to Toledo is in Findlay.

“It’s still a fairly small percentage of fleets in the United States. It’s a well-known and well-used fuel supply outside of the U.S., but in the U.S. it’s still a new and growing industry,” Ms. Lahr said. “I think part of it is it’s a chicken and egg problem.”

That is, do fleets buy CNG vehicles before there’s a large refueling infrastructure, or do stations crop up before there’s a large demand.

Ms. Lahr firmly is betting on the latter. She also is building a station in Lansing, and plans to eventually have a network of 20 stations.

Work will begin on the Northwood station as soon as the weather is suitable. She said Wednesday she hopes to have the station up and running within six months.

Ms. Lahr wouldn’t say how much she will spend, but said generally it costs from $1 million to $3 million to build a compressed natural gas station.

CNG Stations of America will not sell gas or diesel, and mostly will be unmanned with buyers paying at the pump.

Though the station can be used by anyone, Ms. Lahr figures the majority of business will be fleet operators. She said she’s currently scouting companies to contract with.

“This is a tech that is not only green, but it offers price stability to an industry that has never had price stability,” she said.

Dave Black, president of the Toledo Trucking Association and an employee of General Truck Sales in Maumee, said there definitely is interest in CNG, but high initial cost and anxiety over where the next fill-up will come from have kept demand short.

“The need can’t grow without the infrastructure being there,” he said. “Everyone that’s thought about it, the next issue is where do I get fuel or how much will it cost to set up my own, and it’s just not happening.”

Mr. Black said most of the fleets he’s aware of using CNG operate close to home.