For alternative-fuel automobiles and commercial trucking, there may be no friendlier place right now than Texas.
The state recently installed 13 new fueling stations along the so-called Texas Clean Transportation Triangle that offer natural gas for commercial and consumer vehicles.
The new fueling stations are the result of statewide efforts by natural gas producers and legislators, who have been working since 2010 on a plan to connect San Antonio, Dallas and Houston — three of the nation’s largest cities — with fueling stations for natural gas vehicles. The efforts culminated with the creation of the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle, an organization developed to identify legislation promoting the use of vehicles that run on natural gas, which should result in cleaner air for Texas.
The organization received support from Sen. Tommy Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands, who authored Senate Bill 20. The legislation allocated $16 million for the Natural Gas Rebate Program, which will provide cash rebates for converting medium- or heavy-duty vehicles to run on natural gas and $4 million for the installation of the natural gas fueling stations. The bill passed the state Senate and was signed into law July 15.
“We determined that a good, conservative start was the need to get 500 trucks on the road and to get 13 fueling stations along the triangle to ensure drivers could travel between the three cities with no fueling issues,” said Lynn Lyon, manager for strategic projects within domestic operations at Pioneer Natural Resources, a Texas Clean Transportation Triangle partner.
The fueling stations currently offer either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG, which is 600 times more compact than CNG, is the only alternative fuel option for heavy-duty trucks. Although LNG must be kept at a cooler temperature, tanks can hold 50 percent more LNG compared to CNG, which makes LNG ideal for commercial applications, like trucking, that benefit greatly from extended fuel ranges. Consumer vehicles that run on natural gas exclusively use CNG.
Move Toward Natural Gas Vehicles Would Provide Significant Benefits
Natural gas vehicles are popular outside the United States. According to NGV Global, an international association that promotes natural gas vehicles, there were 12.7 million such vehicles worldwide in 2010, including 2.7 million in Pakistan, 1.95 million in Iran, 1.9 million in Argentina, 1.7 million in Brazil and 1.1 million in India. Most natural gas vehicles were located in the Asia-Pacific region, with 6.8 million, followed by Latin America, with 4.2 million.
However, the Honda Civic GX — which first appeared in 1998 — is still the only consumer natural gas vehicle commercially available in the United States. Members of the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle hope to change that, while at the same time encouraging people and business to convert existing gas cars to natural gas.
The group’s initial efforts will concentrate on medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles and fleet vehicles, a move that the group hopes will result in more industry for the state, higher air quality in cities, a lower dependence on foreign oil and, ultimately, more consumer natural gas vehicles on roads and highways in Texas.
One Houston-based company is already making plans to take advantage of the expansion of natural gas infrastructure for vehicles. Apache Corporation, an oil and gas exploration company, is converting its fleet of 900 Chevrolet Silverado trucks to run on natural gas.
“By year end, we will have 230 of those, or 25 percent, converted to run on natural gas,” said Frank Chapel, Apache’s director of natural gas transportation fuels. “By 2015, our goal is to have 80 percent [of the vehicles] operating on natural gas. To support that, we will be constructing fueling stations at field offices.” Four of the five fueling stations, including the locations in Houston, Midland, Texas and Lafayette, La., will also be available for public use.
Chapel said the construction of more natural gas fueling stations could encourage more industries to relocate to Houston. With more natural gas vehicles on the roads, Houston’s air quality would improve, resulting in a removal of the city’s nonattainment air quality rating by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“If we get our transit system and more private vehicles doing this [fueling with natural gas], it could encourage more industry to come into the area,” Chapel said.
Additionally, the move toward natural gas would also lower the United States’ dependence of foreign oil, according to Ana Hargrove, manager of marketing and sales for CenterPoint Energy. “At current consumption levels, we send $1 billion a day to foreign countries,” Hargrove said.
The Honda Civic GX is currently available for fleet sales in all 50 states but retail sale in only four states — California, New York, Utah and Oklahoma. The GX is expected to go on sale throughout the United States in 2012.
“Natural Gas Fueling Stations Planned for Houston Area,” Community Impact Newspaper, Sept. 16, 2011.
“Volt and Leaf Fail to Topple Honda Civic GX From Green Book List,” The New York Times, Feb. 16, 2011.
NGV Global, “Natural Gas Vehicle Statistics