At their Aug. 13 meeting, our city commissioners wisely voted to study the option of moving toward compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel the city’s fleet of buses, trash trucks and other vehicles before they purchase three new buses. Here are some key points of interest to voters and taxpayers.
Since that meeting, three interesting developments hit the national news:
1) The FAA approved a general aviation plane that runs on CNG.
2) Chevrolet announced the 2014 Impala will be available from the factory set to run on CNG, joining the Honda Civic, already sold here for several years.
3) A major Mideast crisis sent crude oil prices spiking while natural gas prices remained flat, near their ten low. The Mideast will likely continue to make crude prices unstable and high.
Prices: Presently, CNG prices for fleets are running about half the cost of diesel fuel. A Purdue University study (http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q3/purdue-study-buses-fueled-by-natural-gas-a-better-option-now.html) predicts the disparity between CNG and diesel prices will continue to grow. It calculated that disparity in 2012 as $l.50 per gallon for CNG and $3.19 per gallon for diesel fuel. It projects that by 2028, the prices will have risen to about $2.75 for CNG and about $6.60 for diesel.
One reason natural gas will remain lower than diesel is the amount of proven reserves. The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates U.S. reserves are 2,203 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, about a 92-year supply at current consumption rates. The same agency reports the global supply of crude oil, other liquid hydrocarbons, and biofuels is expected to be adequate to meet the world’s demand for liquid fuels for at least the next 25 years. Reliance on natural gas for fleet fuel is a good strategy for secure and economical future supplies with reduced pollution.
Foreign policy experts and others fear the Mideast may be on the brink of civil wars in Libya, Egypt and Iraq that might — along with Syria — become a full-blown regional conflict. If terrorists block the Straits of Hormuz or the Suez Canal, global oil prices will skyrocket and remain high indefinitely. Our secure, domestic natural gas prices will remain more stable.
Low initial cost: No big capital outlay is required to set up a natural gas refueling station. There are several corporations that provide turnkey facilities and recoup their costs over the life of a long-term contract. One such firm is located in Overland Park.
Safety: CNG refueling facilities are not dangerous. As long ago as the 1980s the service stations in New Zealand were pumping CNG along with gasoline and diesel. CNG refueling pumps are available in many sizes and shapes, some only slightly larger than typical gasoline or diesel pumps.
Low maintenance: CNG trucks and buses do not require expensive maintenance facilities. One bay of a multi-bay maintenance shop can be equipped with the required ventilation, tools and equipment. That modest cost is more than offset by the fact that the CNG vehicles require less maintenance than comparable, diesel vehicles.
Low pollution: CNG vehicles not only require less maintenance, they produce far fewer harmful emissions than even the latest “clean diesel” engines.
An alternative to hybrids: The performance of hybrid buses that combine diesel engines and batteries is compromised by the ton or so of heavy batteries that they must tote around and the fact that they are complicated and may require more extensive maintenance (Purdue study). CNG vehicles do not have the penalty of the extra weight and complicated components.
Proven concept: CNG vehicles are not a new idea. According to Wikipedia, in 2011 there were 14.8 million CNG vehicles operating worldwide. Major fleets, like UPS, and many cities, like Kansas City and L.A., are converting to CNG to reduce pollution and cut costs.
Multiple suppliers: In terms of operating efficiency, reduced emissions and lower fuel cost, our city should begin converting our fleet to CNG. In addition to Gillig, CNG buses are available from El Dorado National, Neoplan and other suppliers, making competitive bids desirable. The same applies to providers of fueling stations.