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 to 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 low and gasoline prices hover anywhere between $3 and $4, a new direction that includes the possibility of operating more vehicles on natural gas is becoming more appealing to some.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. representative John Hanger showcases a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro that is powered by compressed natural gas during the recent Developing Unconventional Gas East Conference and Exhibition in Pittsburgh.
With local natural gas production on a major upswing, the region may see more access to natural gas vehicles - and the fuel they need - in the near future.
IGS Energy announced plans earlier this year to operate a $10 million network of compressed natural gas fueling stations for vehicles along Interstate 79 from Charleston to Mount Morris, Pa., which is just outside Morgantown.
The national average price of compressed natural gas is $2.10 per gallon for the energy equivalent of gasoline.
In West Virginia, residents may also apply for the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit, which offers credits of up to $7,500 for converting passenger vehicles to natural gas and up to $25,000 for industrial vehicles over 26,000 pounds.
Chesapeake Energy and General Electric 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.
A vehicle using CNG can reduce annual fuel costs up to 40 percent, Chesapeake and GE officials said, noting this represents savings totaling as much as $1,500 per fleet vehicle per year.
A fleet operator can also reduce carbon dioxide "emissions from fuel combustion by about 24 percent, or 2.2 metric tons per vehicle annually, assuming an average fleet vehicle travels approximately 25,700 miles per year," the companies state.
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.
According to Peake, diesel natural gas allows trucks to run on a mixture of diesel and up to 70 percent natural gas.
When compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas fuels are not available, trucks retain the ability to run on 100 percent diesel.
Peake's conversion kit has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a variety of engines.
The certificate of conformity makes it the only dual-fuel natural gas retrofit certified by the EPA, allowing DNG kits to modify a variety of engines from model years 2010-12 that encompass power ratings from 400 to 600 horsepower.