Bi-fuel vehicles gaining speed
BY JIM DINO
Detroit is beginning to produce vehicles that can run on both natural gas and regular gasoline.
Anyone who has natural gas service in their home can tap off the same gas line to gas up their vehicle – at least until more commercial natural gas stations are established.
Those facts make Marcellus Shale natural gas even more important to Pennsylvania.
That’s what Mike Narcavage, manager for corporate development for Chesapeake Energy, told members of the Manufacturers and Employers Association recently.
Chesapeake Energy is the second-largest natural gas producer in the country, and the most active driller, employing 13,000 in 17 states, including 1,400 in Pennsylvania.
“How we got into the situation we are in now with high gas prices was because we consume a lot of petroleum in this country,” Narcavage said. “By 2020, the International Energy Association predicts world oil consumption will increase 60 percent. We’re going to have to find an awful lot of oil to meet that demand.”
In 2011, the United States imported 62 percent of its oil – 362 million barrels.
“We send $1 million a minute overseas to fuel our addiction,” Narcavage said. “China and India is where all of the oil is going, and why the prices are being driven up so much.”
Marcellus Shale can be the next source for fuel, but vehicles have to be part of the equation.
“Because of Marcellus Shale we will be a major player in the world for natural gas,” Narcavage said. “We (the United States) rank 14th in the world in natural gas vehicles. Countries like Pakistan and Iran outpace us in running on clean-burning fuel.
“The use of natural-gas-driven vehicles in the world has risen dramatically. We’re languishing behind Africa. Asia and the Pacific-rim countries, even Europe and Latin America, have taken off,” he added. “The best thing about natural gas is that it is American. We can keep it here, and use it here. It’s clean. It’s affordable.”
Natural gas autos
Narcavage said last month Ford rolled out its F-250 pickup truck in a bi-fuel compressed-natural-gas version. Next year, Dodge Ram and Chevy Silverado will also come direct from the factory as bi-fuel vehicles.
“You get the same mileage on a gallon of (natural) gas, but the tank doesn’t hold as much fuel,” he said. “You won’t be able to go as far on natural gas as you would in a passenger vehicle. But compressed natural gas is roughly half of what it costs for regular gas at the pump.”
He said versions of the Honda Civic can run on either, but not both, fuels.
Earl Berger, president of Berger Family Dealerships, West Hazleton, said the technology has existed for many years.
“When we had the fuel crisis in the ’70s, we were selling motorhomes,” Berger said. “They went to propane in motor homes and large trucks, but then (propane-powered vehicles) disappeared when gas became plentiful and cheap again. The technology is there, but the federal government has to certify everything.”
Jim Corazza, president of Fairway Chevrolet, said the Chevy Silverado bi-fuel pickup truck goes into production next spring.
“I’ve seen the truck,” he said. “It will be offered in a three-quarter ton version only, with an 8-foot box, but any kind of cab, regular, extended or club cab.”
The reason for that truck is that the natural gas tank will be placed in the pickup box, right behind the cab.
“The tank takes up about 2 feet of the box,” Corazza explained. “The tanks are rated in gas gallon equivalent. It will be a 17 GTE tank, and will also have a 36-gallon gas tank. The truck will have a range of 650 miles (completely fueled).”
Chesapeake has started initiatives with partners to produce a home refilling appliance, a stronger tank for a vehicle to carry natural gas, and commercial natural gas filling stations to make it easier for natural gas to be used in vehicles.
“We’re known for producing natural gas, but we realize, too, that we have to take the bull by the horns if we are going to get some initiatives to move forward,” Narcavage said.