Chesapeake, GE to roll out refueling stations for gas-powered - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Chesapeake, GE to roll out refueling stations for gas-powered vehicles

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Most of the major automakers in the United States are rolling out models that can burn natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel fuel, but so far one obstacle to widespread consumer and fleet acceptance has been a lack of places to fuel them.

But in a year, that may not be such a problem.

Chesapeake Energy and GE have announced plans to deploy GE's "CNG In A Box" units at service stations and convenience stores. The units would dispense compressed natural gas to vehicles that can burn it. The first of the 250 planned units could be in place by this fall.

Kent Wilkinson, vice president of natural ventures for Chesapeake Energy, said gasoline sells for about $3.79 a gallon, but the equivalent in natural gas sells for $1.85.

According to the Associated Press, vehicle manufacturers are producing cars and trucks that can run on natural gas. Ford has offered natural gas-ready pickups and vans since 2009. Chrysler will sell a Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup that has tanks for both gasoline and gas, and can switch seamlessly between the two.

Late this year, General Motors will sell natural gas versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD pickups.

Chrysler and GM expect almost all their sales of the gas-powered trucks to be to fleets.

Honda sells a gas-powered version of the Civic, mostly to fleets, according to the AP.

Wilkinson said the collaboration with GE will make gas available to more people. The price difference will work in gas' favor, he said. Natural gas is "the clean, affordable fuel of the future," he said.

"How do I enable a person to make that rational choice rather than convince him to make a rational choice," Wilkinson said. "It's no longer a chicken-and-egg issue."

Wilkinson said he expects many of the CNG In A Box installations to be placed in existing convenience stores and other places that now sell gasoline and diesel fuel.

A spokesman for Speedway, one of the largest chains of convenience stores in West Virginia, said his company does not have any stores that sell natural gas for vehicles. The company does not comment on possible future plans, he said.

According to a news release from Chesapeake Energy, a vehicle using CNG can reduce annual fuel costs up to 40 percent, assuming 25,700 miles per year driven, gasoline priced at $3.50 per gallon and CNG at $2.09 per gasoline gallon equivalent. That represents savings totaling as much as $1,500 per fleet vehicle per year.

For each fleet vehicle using fuel provided by CNG In A Box instead of gasoline, a fleet operator can reduce CO2e 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 news release said.

CNG In A Box takes natural gas from a pipeline and compresses it on-site at an industrial location or at a traditional automotive refilling station to then turn it into CNG. A CNG vehicle, such as a taxi, bus or small truck, can then refill its tank using a traditional fuel dispenser, much like those used for diesel or gasoline refueling.  The fuel dispenses at the rate roughly equivalent to seven gallons of gasoline a minute.

The CNG technology will be brought to market by Peake Fuel Solutions, a Chesapeake affiliate with experience with natural gas vehicles, vehicle emission controls and natural gas market dynamics. Chesapeake also brings in-house expertise in CNG market development to the GE collaboration, including retail station relationships, fleet outreach and education programs and policy engagement.

According to the AP, the CNG Ram starts at $47,500, or about $20,000 more than the base Ram. The natural gas Civic starts at $10,000 more than a base four-door model. Converting a vehicle from gasoline to natural gas can cost up to $18,000.

The Obama administration has proposed a tax credit of up to $10,000 for advanced technology vehicles, which could make gas-powered vehicles more affordable, according to the AP.

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