CNG-vehicle trend may get lift from EBR

07 01, 2013 by The Advocate

Louisiana’s move to compressed natural gas vehicles, although still in the early stages, could gain some major momentum within the next month, with the city-parish expected to take bids on converting its fleet of 2,000 vehicles and as more commercial fleets go in that direction.

“Right now, CNG is roughly around 50 percent the cost of gasoline. Just in the Department of Public Works alone, it would mean millions of dollars in savings in fuel,” said William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden.

The city-parish isn’t talking about converting its entire fleet at once. Bidders might, for example, recommend converting some vehicles, replacing aging vehicles with new CNG-powered ones, using the savings on fuel to pay for CNG stations, or even partnering with the state.

“We want someone to come in, look at our fleet and make a recommendation to us on how to transform our fleet into a CNG fleet,” Daniel said.

The metro area has lagged behind Lafayette and Shreveport in moving to natural gas-powered vehicles. Lafayette Consolidated Government had more than 60 CNG vehicles at the end of 2012. In February, the city opened its first public CNG station. The city began the year with five CNG buses but expects to have 22 by the end of August.

Lafayette and Shreveport are further along because oil and gas firms have been the early adopters of CNG. Baton Rouge doesn’t have those types of companies or their large, commercial fleets, said Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

But a massive conversion by the city-parish, or CATS switching its buses to natural gas, would get the average person to think about making the same move, Briggs said. Less than 1 percent of Louisiana’s cars and trucks run on natural gas, and roughly 2 percent nationwide.

There are about 120,000 natural gas vehicles in the United States and more than 15.2 million worldwide, according to NGVAmerica. There are about 1,000 natural gas fueling stations nationally, with about half open to the public.

Baton Rouge has three public CNG stations and one private station. Entergy has a private station and owns the CNG equipment at two of Lavigne Oil’s stations. The stations didn’t have much business before 2010 but now serve about 50 vehicles a day, Entergy spokeswoman Charlotte Cavell said.

Lavigne Oil Controller Anne Virgets said the company installed the CNG equipment in the early 1990s, back when everyone was talking about the coming move to natural gas. The talk remained just that for years, but interest in CNG has resurfaced recently, with abundant natural gas supplies and cheaper prices. Lavigne Oil is even looking at adding CNG service to some of its stations along Interstate 10 to serve commercial customers.

Lavigne is far from alone.

On Thursday, Chicago-based Trillium CNG announced it will build 101 public CNG stations nationwide — three of them in Louisiana — by 2016. Trillium said it plans to build the stations off major interstates but no specific locations were available.

Earlier this week, Houston-based Halliburton announced it has rolled out nearly 100 light-duty, compressed natural gas trucks in Louisiana and six other states, with an eye toward moving all of its pickups to CNG. Louisiana has five of the new CNG trucks.

Larry Deweese, Halliburton global manager for equipment maintenance, said Halliburton has 10,000 vehicles in its U.S. fleet but hasn’t decided how many eventually will run on natural gas.

Deweese said he did not know the size of Halliburton’s fleet in Louisiana, but the company is all over the Gulf Coast, as well as Bossier City.

Deweese said the company will place the CNG vehicles where appropriate. In the short term, Halliburton plans to fuel its CNG trucks at public stations, but if the fleet grows large enough and the numbers make sense, the company might consider building its own stations.

It costs a little less than $10,000 to convert a truck to natural gas, but Halliburton will easily recover the additional expense.

Halliburton replaces its trucks every four or five years, depending on usage, Deweese said. The company estimates that burning natural gas will slash its trucks’ emissions by 90 percent and cut fuel costs by $5,100 a year.