WHEELING - When some think of cars that run on natural gas, they may believe style and horsepower will need to be left in the dust if they use this alternative fuel.
However, a Chevrolet Camaro running at more than 300 horsepower is just one example of how vehicles that run on natural gas can be both stylish and economical. As natural gas prices remain relatively low, while gasoline prices hover anywhere between $3 and $4, the possibility of operating more vehicles on natural gas is becoming more appealing to some.
The Ohio Valley finds itself in the middle of the natural gas boom, as production in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations grows. The local region may see more access to natural gas vehicles - and the fuel they need - in the near future.
Garbage trucks in Boise, Idaho are now running on compresses natural gas.
Last year, Dublin, Ohio-based IGS Energy announced plans to operate a $10 million network of compressed natural gas fueling stations for vehicles along Interstate 79 from Charleston to Mount Morris, Pa. The company kept its promise by opening its first station at Bridgeport, W.Va. in September.
"Not only are we utilizing a cleaner burning fuel, but we are putting to use one that is produced right in our own state by hard-working West Virginians," said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at the station opening.
"We are proud to provide the businesses and consumers of West Virginia with CNG as an alternative transportation fuel," said Scott White, president of IGS. "This station will enable drivers to refuel in about the same time it would take at a conventional fueling station at a substantially lower cost than gasoline or diesel."
Partner companies including Antero Resources, Chesapeake Energy and EQT Corp. have already committed to more filling stations.
"Natural gas presents an unprecedented opportunity for providing clean, domestic and abundant fuel for this country thanks in large part to resources in West Virginia. Opening West Virginia's first public CNG fueling station demonstrates the commitment we and our partners have to support the general public's desire for multiple fueling options, which is the way of the future," said Al Schopp, chief administrative officer and regional vice president Appalachia for Antero Resources.
Chesapeake Energy and General Electric also have developed a system that can tap natural gas pipelines to fill vehicle fuel tanks. The "CNG in a Box" system transforms natural gas from a pipeline into CNG on-site at a traditional automotive fueling station or industrial location.
CNG-powered vehicles such as taxis, buses or small trucks, as well as individual consumer vehicles, can then refill their tanks using a dispenser with the same look and feel as a traditional diesel or gasoline dispenser. CNG in a Box is a plug-and-play on-site fueling solution that comes with everything retailers need, GE and Chesapeake officials said. The system features an 8 foot x 20 foot container.
Some school buses in Los Angeles are now using compressed natural gas in place of gasoline, while some of California's garbage truck fleets are now using the natural gas. Also, Atlanta and Arlington, Va. are now running some public buses on natural gas.
Also, Peake Fuel Solutions, a Chesapeake subsidiary, has developed a new diesel natural gas conversion kit, a product that will help heavy-duty truck operators save up to 30 percent on their fuel costs.
Tomblin said in 2013 that state government should convert at least one-fourth of its 7,800-vehicle fleet within four years.
"We have a huge natural gas resource base right here at home and we should capitalize on it to displace foreign oil. Natural gas vehicles are the best way to do that," said Richard Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America. "They are a here-and-now technology, but, through more research and development, natural gas vehicles will get even more efficient, more cost-effective and cleaner."