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Fuel for the future



Published: Wed, July 18, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Natural gas is looking more like a ...

By Jamison Cocklin

jcocklin@vindy.com

youngstown

With the spike in shale-gas drilling and an increase in the domestic production of liquefied fuels comes renewed interest in using both compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas as cost-effective alternatives to gasoline.

Priced anywhere from $1.50 to $2 lower than its gasoline-gallon equivalent, natural gas is swiftly emerging as a more cost-effective way to put a dent in the nation’s ever-increasing energy consumption, especially as it relates to transportation.

Unlike electric cars, whose manufacturers have had difficulties in pinning down issues with maximum range and keeping retail costs down, CNG and LNG vehicles are garnering more attention from private industries and public entities.

Now, in places such as Ohio, Texas, California and Florida, to name a few, natural-gas filling stations are beginning to proliferate.

A host of companies is seizing on what they anticipate will be a rising demand for the fuel, not only among consumers, but also among the cash-strapped municipalities that are just now beginning to realize the cost benefits of converting their fleets to CNG and LNG.

At the moment, gauging just where these stations will be located, how prominent the fuel will become going forward and which job markets stand to gain the most are anyone’s guess.

“On a broad basis, we’re asking ourselves how do we promote natural-gas vehicles in the state,” said Craig Butler, assistant policy director of environment, energy and agriculture for Gov. John Kasich, in discussing the administration’s plans for CNG and LNG.

“Whether that’s bringing together auto manufacturers, natural-gas companies or conversion companies, we want to be making those sorts of connection,” he added. “We’d like to see natural gas as a fuel for the future in Ohio.”

Identified as one of “10 pillars of Ohio’s energy policy,” the administration’s plans for alternative fuels appear to fall in line with what those inside the industry say is required to continue growing the infrastructure in Ohio.

Many contend that public- private partnerships are necessary to build more filling stations and catalyze the fuel to a place where it can reduce transportation costs for consumers and municipalities alike.

Ohio has joined 13 other states in attempting to stimulate the industry by exploring bulk purchases of natural-gas vehicles for their fleets. Ohio’s fleet includes more than 22,000 vehicles.

“This is not a new technology; it’s been upgraded for the U.S., but we need the political side to step up in terms of assisting infrastructure construction,” said George Wrataric, fleet manager at CNG Solutions of Ohio, a company in McDonald that specializes in converting gasoline-powered cars into ones that use CNG.

“We’ve been in business for about a year-and-a-half now,” he said. “We saw the chicken-and-the-egg scenario. For stations, you need conversions, and for conversions, you need stations. Now those stations are starting to come along and each side should be thinking about how we can build this network.”

Within the last year or so, Ohio has seen a marked increase in CNG filling stations alone.

In June, the city of Dublin installed a fueling station for its newly converted municipal fleet.

The city estimates it will save $30,000 a year with the move. That station will also be open to corporate fleets and the public.

Last month, Westlake-based TravelCenters of America, which operates full-service truck stops in 41 states, announced it would construct 100 LNG filling stations, to meet the rapidly increasing demand from long-haul freight carriers converting their trucks to LNG.

Additionally, Giant Eagle has announced plans to expand its CNG offerings in Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio.

Costs for installing natural-gas infrastructure varies depending on size, capacity and the type of natural gas being dispensed.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates those costs to be between $10,000 and $2 million, versus around $1 million for a regular gas station.

Butler said it’s likely that many such stations could land in Ohio, considering its place as a corridor for the long-haul trucking industry.

He added that the state would like to grow its revolving loan fund, which offers competitive grants to individuals or organizations seeking capital for energy projects.

“This industry has the potential to, as long as natural-gas prices remain stable, grow significantly,” Butler said.


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