Meridian Star

Local News

April 27, 2014

New gas station to offer compressed natural gas

MERIDIAN —     A growing number of drivers in the U.S. are searching for alternative fuel sources for their autos and one local company is hoping to turn that into profit.

    Bernie Mitchell of Burns and Burns Inc., a fuel distributor with about 30 stores across the state, said the company is just a few weeks away from opening its first fast-fill compressed natural gas pumps in Meridian.

    This marks the first such gas station in the state, Mitchell said. There are other stations in Mississippi that provide CNG via the slow-fill pumps, which take about an hour to fill a truck, he said. Fast-fill puts fuel in a vehicle at about the same rate as unleaded gasoline or diesel, he said.

    Mitchell said as interest grows, there will be more of these stations available.

    There are advantages to using CNG in vehicles, he said.

    "It's a cleaner fuel than gasoline or diesel, a lot cleaner. It is abundant in the U.S. It's not a foreign fuel," Mitchell said.

CNG is just like the natural gas that is piped to homes and businesses — the difference being the process of compressing it.

    "We have compressors that will make it into a combustible form where it can actually run your car," Mitchell said.

    Prices now are equal to about $2 per gallon, versus what motorists are paying at the pump for unleaded gas, which is currently about $3.60 a gallon, he said.

    Natural gas vehicles are already in production, but traditionally fueled cars and trucks can be equipped to run on CNG too, he said. Honda already has a CGV Civic model, he said, and other automakers have them in the works.

    Most people who currently use CNG for autos do it with a dual system that runs on either CNG or gasoline, he said. There is a conversion kit people can purchase that's about the size of a pickup toolbox.

    "You put CNG in that tank and the truck automatically runs off CNG until it reaches a point where it's low," Mitchell said, "then it swaps back over and runs unleaded."

    Depending upon the size of the tank, the conversion kit costs between $7,000 and $10,000.

    "You need to drive about 25,000 miles a year to justify that expense," Mitchell said.

    As demand grows, there will be more gas stations to accommodate their fuel needs. Burns and Burns hopes to attract customers who use mid-size transport trucks, like vehicles used to haul garbage, and beer distribution trucks that typically travel within a 100-mile range and return back to base each day, he said.

    Eighteen-wheelers that use CNG use a blend in which the natural gas is infused with diesel fuel, Mitchell said.

    With this investment in the company, Mitchell hopes people will become more interested in using CNG-fueled autos.

    "It's a slow process. We don't think everybody's going to do this tomorrow," Mitchell said, "but it's coming."

    After deciding to move forward with installing the CNG fast-fill pumps, the company had to build a new parking lot and order the compressors and other necessary equipment. The compressors, storage tanks, as well as the dryer, which removes moisture from natural gas, are in and the project is expected to be completed in a few weeks.

    Some companies are already using CNG, but the problem now is that in planning their routes, they have to make sure they have sufficient fuel sources. There are not as many CNG stations out there, but the number will grow, Mitchell said.

    Unlike some other states, Mississippi does not have an incentive program offered by state government for constructing a CNG station, Mitchell said.

    According to the CNG Now website, CNG is a readily available alternative to gasoline that’s made by compressing natural gas to less than 1 percent of its volume at standard atmospheric pressure.

    "Consisting mostly of methane, CNG is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It's drawn from domestically drilled natural gas wells or in conjunction with crude oil production," the website states.

    Natural gas powers more than 12 million vehicles on the road today but only 250,000 of these are being used in the U.S., according to General Electric. The average growth rate in the U.S. shows a 3.7 percent increase per year since 2000, as contrasted with a booming global growth rate of 30.6 percent per year.

    The history of CNG as a transportation fuel dates back to World War II, CNG Now said.

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