By CASEY JUNKINS
WHEELING, W.Va. - As the network of natural gas pipelines continues to expand in the Upper Ohio Valley, Chesapeake Energy and General Electric have a system that can tap the lines to fill vehicle fuel tanks.
With gasoline prices hovering near the $4 per gallon mark, officials believe there is more demand than ever for the alternative that compressed natural gas can provide.
"Natural gas is produced at a relatively lower cost and is cleaner burning than gasoline or diesel fuel - natural gas vehicles can show an emissions reduction of up to 80 percent compared to gasoline vehicles," said GE ecomagination Vice President Mark Vachon.
The CNG (compressed natural gas) 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.
The solution was unveiled at the National Association of Convenience Stores 2012 Annual Show in Las Vegas this week.
"Right now, we are installing two of the boxes in Texas. We area certainly hopeful to have some in the West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio area," said Bob Jarvis, manager of corporate communications for Chesapeake Energy, the local area's most active natural gas driller.
Jarvis said it will cost those seeking to install the CNG boxes an average of $750,000 to get the operation up and going, but said GE is offering generous financing.
"This is still just getting started. We are very encouraged by the initial response," Jarvis added, noting GE and Chesapeake plan to eventually install 250 of the modular units nationwide.
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.
Mike Hosford, general manager of Unconventional Resources for GE Oil & Gas, said the system is a convenient way to increase the use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel.
"The CNG in a Box system is a unique fueling solution that brings together some of the best innovation from across GE to help fleet owners and everyday drivers realize the benefits of cleaner burning, abundant, more affordable natural gas," he said.
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.