CNG fueling station being encouraged for Yuma

By Chris McDaniel | Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014 3:17 pm

As an increasing number of long haul semi-trucks convert from diesel engines to power plants fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG), Southwest Gas is encouraging private businesses to construct CNG fueling stations in the Yuma area.

There are currently no such stations here, but a CNG gas station is already in service in El Centro, with many more in the Phoenix area.

Joe Varela, Southwest Gas manager of energy solutions, was in town recently to speak about the merits of the growing technology, and possible benefits to the local economy, with the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation (GYEDC).

“Arizona is kind of like a bridge that helps get long haul trucks from the Texas area and Midwest out to the ports and back,” he told the Yuma Sun. “It is ramping up and becoming pretty widespread. In Texas, it has become really big. It is kind of moving its way out to the West Coast. The next leg of the journey along Interstate 8 could be Yuma. That is why we are working with GYEDC, to educate them on the fact that a station could be beneficial to Yuma.”

While CNG fueled semi-trucks are becoming more popular, they can only travel to and through regions which offer CNG fueling stations. Southwest Gas sells CNG to companies which own such fueling stations, which is part of the reason why the company is promoting the construction of the facilities within its service territory.

“What we are trying to do is work with turnkey station builders,” who would receive bulk CNG from Southwest Gas and pressurize it for customers to fill their tanks, Varela said.

CNG consists of Methane stored at high pressure, and is considered to be a safer alternative to traditional fuels because it emits fewer toxic gases when burned, Varela noted.

“Long haul trucks have been converting” to CNG fuel to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions – roughly 20 to 28 percent depending on how the truck is driven.”

And CNG is cheaper than gasoline or diesel fuel.

According to data collected by Southwest Gas across the country between April 1 and April 15, the average cost per gallon of gasoline was $3.65, while diesel fuel was $3.56. In contrast, CNG was just $2.15 per gallon during that time.

CNG is also readily available from domestic sources. It can be found above oil deposits, or collected from landfills or wastewater treatment plants where it is known as “biogas.”

Since there is a large domestic supply of CNG, the reliance on imports to supplement the U.S. market is far less than that of traditional fossil fuels — the price of which can fluctuate wildly depending on current events around the globe. Because of this availability, the price of CNG is expected to remain static well into the future.

“It is a secure fuel,” Varela said. “It is here in the United States or in North America” and doesn’t need to be imported, “so that adds a lot of security” to pricing stability.

In addition to providing a cheaper source of fuel, more stations would be financially beneficial to those operating CNG vehicles during the conversion process, Varela added.

“What we are finding out is the most expensive part of converting a long haul truck to compressed natural gas is” installing CNG tanks, which need to be strong enough to handle the high pressure. “The more tanks you have, the further you can go, but that also increases the cost of your conversion. If there are more stations, then you could put in less tanks.”

As more infrastructure designed to accommodate long haul semi-trucks, school buses, garbage trucks and municipal transit buses is put in place, the availability of CNG may prompt the private sector to begin purchasing CNG vehicles or converting their gasoline or diesel engines to CNG, Varela said.

“One of our goals is to work with these customers to open up their stations” to the general public.