Compressed Natural Gas Expanding in the Region – Lakeshore Report
One industry that’s growing both here in the region and nationwide centers on a new use for a product that’s been in most homes for decades. Compressed natural gas (CNG) fuels over 14 million vehicles world-wide, and currently about 100,000 vehicles in the United States. Lakeshore Report spoke with local alternative fuels experts who say CNG is poised to make a major impact on the country’s fleet fueling market.
Adam Goldstein says when it comes to new technology, few businesses are willing to risk being first in an untested market.
“There are the early adopters who, who want to grab the new technology, who want to prove it out,” says Goldstein, “and the others wait for that to happen.”
Goldstein is the managing partner of STAG USA, an outfitter of aftermarket CNG systems for light duty vehicles.
Goldstein says, “The biggest users of fuel in any municipality, in our experience, has been the police department. There are several different what they call PPV’s, police pursuit vehicles. We offer systems for the Chevrolet Impala PPV, Chevrolet Caprice PPV, the Ford Taurus based Interceptor, the Explorer based Interceptor.”
Experts say burning CNG releases fewer emissions than gasoline and is currently cheaper than traditional fuels. That has municipal fleets like the South Bend Public Transportation Company, or Transpo, ready to make the switch.
Transpo General Manager David Cangany says, “We have 16 heavy-duty transit coaches on order that’ll be in the South Bend area by the end of 2014 with a CNG station that we plan on starting in operation in January of 2015. We did a great job in hedging our fuel for 2014, paying an average price of $3.05 per gallon. But when we can take our fuel cost down to about a dollar a gallon, it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Cities and towns aren’t the only ones discovering the return on investment of alternative fuels. Carl Lisek, Executive Director of South Shore Clean Cities, a group which promotes the adoption of alternative fuels, says private companies with large fleets of heavy duty vehicles often benefit from switching from gasoline or diesel to fuels like CNG.
“This is growing and it’s growing very fast.” adds Lisek, “Every day we’re getting a call from a fleet that’s looking at implementing compressed natural gas, alternative fuels, propane.”
Ozinga Bros., Inc., a locally owned and operated concrete business, began converting its vehicles in 2011.
Co-owner and Communications Director Tim Ozinga says, “We started off actually with a couple trucks just to kind of test the market and see how it went. From there we’ve really grown to see the powerful potential that natural gas has. Fast forward to today, we’re up over a hundred, and have plans to convert our entire fleet over to CNG. We utilize the station here in Gary for our own fleet as well as opened it to the public so that other fleets and the general public as well can come in and fuel up.”
The company profile now includes Ozinga Energy, a division which helps design and construct CNG fueling stations. Proponents of alternative fuels, like Brian Houston of Clean Energy, say developing the infrastructure to support the technology is key to future growth.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see CNG or LNG stations on every corner like you do gasoline or diesel stations.” says Houston, “But I think it’s gonna be a lot more main stream.”
Ozinga agrees, saying, “Building up the public infrastructure is huge. It’s just gonna totally accelerate the adoption. The more stations there are, the more availability of the gas there is, the better we’re gonna be able to get the process going.”
Experts agree no one fuel is the solution for all vehicles, but introducing more choice in the market can bring a range of benefits.
Lisek says, “We’re seeing the quality of life improving because our air quality is improved. We’re seeing the cost of operating here in Northern Indiana going down.”
Houston adds that adoption of CNG creates jobs, saying “It cleans up our air, and it’s just a better way of doing things. Natural gas is an American fuel, so it’s a good thing for America.”
Indiana’s 15th CNG station is scheduled to open in Greensburg in July.