Fleet efficiency

Transportation Case Study
Feb. 16, 2010

Compressed Natural Gas fuel for vehicle fleets:
Hatching the egg on the Western Slope

Widespread use of compressed natural gas to fuel cars and trucks in Western Colorado is just around the corner, but fuel distributors and fleet owners have to make the leap at the same time.

Northwestern Colorado is produced 551 million Mcf of natural gas in 2009, but very little of the $2 per gallon-equivalent fuel is being burned in the region because of three key factors:

  1. Only one CNG-burning vehicle, the Honda Civic GX, is available for purchase direct from an auto manufacturer.

  2. Vehicle conversions cost from $10,000 to $20,000, although tax credits and rebates can offset some of that cost.

  3. There are no public natural gas fueling facilities on the Western Slope, and the cost of installing a station ranges from $350,000 to $750,000.

Factor No. 3 is about to change, however, and that will increase the opportunity for vehicle fleet owners to invest in after-market conversions of cars and trucks to take advantage of the cleaner-burning, locally produced fuel.

Honda Civic GXCNG-fueled vehicles emit 25 to 30 percent less greenhouse gases, and virtually none of the smog-forming chemicals or tiny particles that gas- or diesel-burning vehicles emit. And because natural gas is produced plentifully in North America, CNG is a geopolitically secure source of fuel for fleets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

It’s an untapped resource for transportation in western Colorado because there’s no place to fill up, said David Hill, vice president of Natural Gas Economy Operations, a division within EnCana Oil and Gas USA, which is a major gas producer in Garfield County.

On the other hand, a fueling station needs to sell 200,000 to 300,000 gallon-equivalents per year to make a profit. That means 300 to 500 vehicle fill-ups per week.

“It is truly the chicken and the egg, but we want to hatch the egg,” Hill told participants the Vehicle Fleets in the Clean Energy Economy Workshop held Feb. 5, 2010, in Glenwood Springs. (Workshop archive)

Hill presented an ideal scenario of developing CNG fueling stations in Grand Junction, Parachute, Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Eagle and Silverthorne. That would link the 13 public fueling stations open on the Front Range and the dozens of stations in Utah to make the I-70 corridor functional for CNG fueled vehicles.

Kirk Swallow, a long-time gasoline and diesel distributor in Garfield County, is applying for grant funding being offered by the Governor’s Energy Office to build public CNG fueling stations in Parachute and Rifle. Swallow says his new company, Rocky Mountain Alternative Fueling, will build the Parachute station whether it wins the grant or not.

The Parachute fueling station would be added to Swallow’s Phillips 66 station at 28 Cardinal Way. And if Rocky Mountain Alternative Fueling wins the state grant, the Rifle fueling station would be added to Swallow’s Shell station at 101 Railroad Ave. The grant award is to be announced by May 1.

To bolster his grant application, Swallow is supplying letters from natural gas companies and other fleet owners committing to make vehicle conversions to CNG. At the Vehicle Fleets workshop, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson announced that county government will purchase six bi-fuel vehicles in 2010 and six more in 2011.

Bi-fuel vehicles run primarily on CNG, but can switch on the fly to a second tank of gasoline on extended trips.

Colorado companies are also stepping up to offer sales and service of CNG vehicles.  Glenwood Springs Ford, as well as Layton Truck Equipment and FuelTek of Denver which operate state-wide, are all committed to offering new vehicles equipped with CNG bi-fuel conversions for use on the Western Slope. A growing variety of vehicles are available from multiple manufacturers, ranging from five-passenger sedans to three-quarter-ton pickup trucks.

Hill said EnCana is already using a Honda Civic GX sedan as a commuting car for company staffers who live in Grand Junction and work in Parachute. The car gets refueled using a home-sized compressor pump system at the Parachute office. The fueling system cost about $5,000 to install, so home fueling is not really an economical solution, he noted.

Widespread conversion to CNG vehicles would barely nick western Colorado’s natural gas production, Hill noted. Even if half of all vehicles in Western Colorado burned CNG, they would consume just 13 percent of the region’s annual production, Hill said.

At present, there are 1,300 CNG-burning vehicles in Colorado and 13 stations, he said. Other Western states are far ahead with more vehicles and more fueling stations. Utah has 2,800 CNG vehicles on the road and dozens of stations.

Colorado CNG stations | Utah CNG stations

In the news

The Daily Sentinel, Feb. 15, 2010
Natural gas fuel stations needed in area, panel says
By Gary Harmon

The Daily Sentinel, Feb. 7, 2010
Rifle gas wholesaler sees expanded business in compressed natural gas
By Dennis Webb

In this section

Reducing fuel consumption cuts carbon emissions and saves money. These pages offer proven means to reduce fuel consumption in government fleets.

Carrying out recommended actions

Real-world examples of fleet efficiency:

EXAMPLE 1: Use electric or smaller gas-powered service trucks

EXAMPLE 2: Purchase efficient tires for passenger vehicles

EXAMPLE 3: Purchase hybrid passenger vehicles

.............

Example green fleets policies

.............

Transportation Case Studies

How Eagle County cut fleet costs and fuel consumption

Nitrogen is nifty for holding tire pressure

Compressed Natural Gas: Hatching the egg on the
Western Slope

Retrofitted school buses save fuel, electricity, time, emissions

.............

Vehicle Fleets in the Clean Energy Economy workshop
Feb. 5, 2010
Archive of presentations and meeting materials


Compressed Natural Gas facts

5.7 pounds CNG = 1 gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE)

126 cubic feet of uncompressed natural gas = 1 gallon gasoline equivalent (GGE)

1 Mcf of natural gas = 8 gge of uncompressed gas

CNG is stored in a vehicle’s tanks at approximately 3,000 psi (similar to scuba tanks used by divers)

Today’s cost of CNG: $2 per GGE

CNG fuel is rated at 117 octane

Compared to gasoline,
CNG-burning vehicles emit:

  • 25% less carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas)
  • 90 to 97% less carbon monoxide
  • 35 to 60% less nitrogen oxide (smog-forming)
  • Fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants
  • Little or no particulate matter
  • No evaporative emissions (fuel tank top-offs escaping to the atmosphere)

Garfield County natural gas production in 2009: 461 million Mcf

State of Colorado total natural gas production in 2009: 1.29 billion Mcf

Sources:

U.S. DOE Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission


Resources

DOE Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center > Natural Gas Vehicles

DOE Natural Gas Vehicle Technology Forum

Natural Gas Transit and School Bus Users Group

Natural Gas Vehicles for America (industry organization)

FuelTek (a Colorado-based CNG vehicle conversion company)

Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange >
Fleet Managers
(nifty 1:44 min. video: The Power of Scale)