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CNG Fueling Station Network Planned for Florida, Georgia

Tallahassee, FL-based Nopetro LLC has opened in its hometown a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling facility, part of a planned regional network "that will make CNG a workable cost-saving option for government and commercial fleets as well as individual CNG vehicle owners," the company said last week.

The facility, which is the product of a partnership of Nopetro and the Leon County School District, is the largest CNG fueling operation on the East Coast, according to the company.

"The school district is transforming its entire fleet of diesel-powered school buses to CNG, and other public and private consumers may also fuel their CNG vehicles at the station," Nopetro said. "A portion of each sale will benefit the school district, thanks to the partnership with Nopetro."

Nopetro has identified 15 additional cities in Florida, including Miami, Orlando and Tampa; and three in Georgia, including Atlanta, that it is targeting for CNG service over the next three years.

"This network of stations will make it possible for heavy truck traffic, local government vehicles and school buses to convert to natural gas, a fuel source that is domestically abundant and at least 25% cheaper and 33% cleaner than diesel fuel," the company said.

Legislation (HB 599) adopted by the state in April requires the Florida Department of Transportation to develop by July 1, 2013 a freight mobility and trade plan that includes policies and investments that promote CNG, liquefied natural gas and propane to reduce transportation costs for businesses and residents.

The partnership of Nopetro and the Leon County School District "is exactly what our legislature had in mind when it established natural gas as a key component of the state's transportation policies," according to Florida Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Commissioner Adam Putnam. "A network of natural gas fueling stations in major cities across our state will encourage commercial fleets and individual consumers to make the move into Florida's energy future."

Nopetro won't be without competition as it brings its CNG network to market. Earlier this year the natural gas marketing unit of Delaware-based Chesapeake Utilities Corp. and Wise Gas Inc. said they plan to jointly develop a series of CNG fueling stations in Florida and along the East Coast to serve both municipal and private-sector fleets (see NGI, April 16). And Florida-based Waste Pro USA has committed to a $100 million program to develop a network of CNG refuse hauling trucks and the fueling stations to support them. Waste Pro operates in 70 locations in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Nopetro was one of eight applicants, along with the city of Atlanta and six other commercial operators, that submitted proposals to AGL Resources' Atlanta Gas Light Co. to build up to nine new CNG fueling stations throughout Georgia under a program authorized by state regulators last year (see NGI, June 4). Atlanta Gas Light announced on Thursday that it has executed service agreements with the city and three commercial operators -- Premier Transportation, Colonial Group Inc. through its Enmark subsidiary) and the Langdale Company -- to open a total of five CNG fueling stations across the state. The first station is slated to open in mid-2013.

But there may be warning signs on the horizon for Nopetro and others betting on widespread use of natural gas vehicles (NGV). A survey of medium-duty truck buyers by J.D. Power and Associates showed that about half of the fleet maintenance sector is skeptical about widespread adoption of NGVs and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Even with increased fuel economy, fleet operators are facing continuing operating cost increases, said Brent Gruber, director of J.D. Power's commercial vehicle practice. "For trucks with alternative [natural gas and other] powertrains to gain widespread market acceptance, truck manufacturers and energy providers will need to assure customers that they will not be sacrificing durability, payload capacity, or ease of fueling with these new technologies," Gruber said.

The survey showed that at least half of the fleet operators/maintainers are familiar with the most popular alternative fuel vehicles, such as NGVs, but concerns about a number of issues have kept they from ordering more of the newer vehicles. Those concerns include quality/reliability, availability and fuel/fueling stations.

Prime motivators to buy the alternatives -- CNG, electric or propane -- include emissions reductions, environmental performance, and future cost savings. "Higher fuel and truck prices have impacted satisfaction, pushing principal maintainers to look at other cost-savings options," Gruber said. "However, they have concerns regarding new alternative fuel technology."

Individuals considering buying alternative fuel vehicles got a bit of good news last week when the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) said it will work with University of Texas at Austin's (UT) Center for Electromechanics to help remove technical barriers on commercially viable home fueling equipment for NGVs.

The partners plan to make it "easier and more affordable" for consumers to own NGVs, GTI said in announcing a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop a cost-effective home compressor to provide compressed natural gas. Current home fueling systems cost about $4,000. The new technology GTI and UT are pursuing would seek to create a $500 compressor, and an overall refueling appliance cost at at cost of less than $2,000. "The GTI team will develop a compressor that will use fewer moving parts, leading to a more reliable, lighter and cost-effective piece of equipment," a GTI spokesperson said.

Earlier this year an NGV home fueling system was begun by General Electric Corp., Chart Industries and researchers at the University of Missouri (see NGI, July 23).

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