A local gas station recently decided to ease the financial pain at the pump with a little humor: “We provide on-site home refinancing to help out with your gas purchase!” read the sign out front. Although good for a chuckle, it still speaks volumes about the continual rising costs of conventional fuel. In hopes of spending less for fuel costs, more and more drivers are beginning to explore the growing range of options available in the alternative fuel market. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicles in particular, are one such option gaining solid credibility as a leading alternative to gasoline, hybrid and ethanol vehicles.
Equipped with many unique features, CNG automobiles are becoming well-known for a decent variety of advantages, such as using a cleaner burning fuel-which produces significantly lower emissions compared to standard gasoline vehicles. Another benefit of using natural gas in cars is that increases overall auto efficiency, and it’s been hailed as a viable solution for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Yet, to many, the greatest appeal of CNG vehicles is simply the overall cost savings involved.
Currently, the Honda Civic GX is the only Natural Gas Vehicle available in the US market. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s the only automobile that can benefit from using CNG. Converting gasoline powered vehicles to CNG use is actually easier-and more locally accessible-than people may think. Phoenix Energy, located in downtown Birmingham, specializes in CNG conversion. With a full staff of certified technicians on-site, Phoenix Energy is not only able to perform a quality CNG conversion process (in a matter of days), but it’s also committed to maintaining customer support 24/7.
Matt Hyde, Operations Director for Phoenix Energy, says the conversion for standard light duty vehicles, can cost anywhere from $5,000-$12,000, depending heavily on how many miles are typically driven every day, and how much storage capacity is desired to remain in the car. “The most costly aspect of the conversion process, is the cylinders used to store the natural gas. This accounts for over a third of the overall conversion cost,” explains Hyde.
For many consumers, paying that much extra upfront can be a tough sell. Yet, Hyde encourages those considering a CNG conversion to view it as a solid investment-one that guarantees a financially valuable return. Most CNG vehicle owners are going to save an average of 40%-50% of the total amount spent annually on fuel, says Hyde. “If you keep that vehicle for 10 years, the savings on fuel alone will almost completely pay for the vehicle itself, completely discounting resale value of the vehicle.”
Another financial incentive to using a cleaner burning fuel, is that it helps extend engine life in the vehicle. “Natural gas on a molecular level is cleaner,” says Hyde. “It has 7 less carbon molecules (natural gas CH4, gasoline C8H18) than gasoline. Carbon is what inevitably kills an internal combustion engine. Due to the nature of natural gas, there is far less carbon build up which attributes to extended oil change intervals and an overall increase in engine life by a modest 30%.”
As one of the cleanest burning fuels in the world, natural gas is a more environmentally friendly option as well, and it’s typically safer than most other fuels. In comparison to petrol, CNG emits significantly less pollutants into the environment, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), “Nitrogen oxide” nitrogen oxides (NOx), “Sulfur oxide” sulfur oxides (SOx) and “Particulate matter” particulate matter (PM).
Currently, there are four public CNG stations in Alabama: one in Birmingham at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority station and three others in Pell City, Tuscaloosa and Evergreen. Yet, Hyde says Phoenix Energy anticipates completing the construction of a new public filling station in Athens by early May.
“There’s still a lack of available fueling stations,” says Bob Strickland, manager of natural gas transportation at Alagasco. Strickland, who also works closely with the Alabama Clean Fuel Coalition, reports that a lot of work is currently being generated in an effort to construct more natural gas fueling stations in Alabama and surrounding states.
Phoenix Energy has been working with the City of Trussville since 2009 when the company began to help convert many of the city’s police vehicles. Since then, Trussville has constructed its own natural gas filling station, available for public use, on Deer Foot parkway. Locally, Phoenix Energy has worked with the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel to convert one of its shuttle buses to CNG, and will begin work on a second one soon. Birmingham’s DART trolleys also use clean burning natural gas as they transport passengers from the City Center to and from the convention center and Five Points South.
The natural gas industry aims to create 500,000 jobs by 2015, which also indicates continual positive progression for CNG. “I think just knowing you are doing something that is good for your environment and country is something you cannot put a monetary figure on,” says Hyde. “Using Natural gas or propane simply makes sense. It is the most logical fuel source or better yet ‘resource’ that we have in this country…”
Phoenix Energy will be onsite at the 2014 Eco-Wheels event, happening Sunday, May4th from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Railroad Park.
For more information about Phoenix Energy and their CNG conversion process, visit: www.phoenixenergycorp.net