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Economy and Business

Clean-fuel comes to Cleveland
Natural gas powered fleet vehicles are gaining popularity, but new infrastructure may encourage individuals to drive CNG powered cars

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
Andrew Chiarelli sells natural gas powered Honda Civics for Motorcars Cleveland. While the clean-fuel cars have been popular for fleets, they are now becoming practical for individual owners.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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In The Region:

Cheap natural gas may soon change the way we drive.  Cleveland is opening two public fueling stations next month for fleet vehicles that run on natural gas. 

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports the technology may also make sense for individual owners.

Clean fuel comes to Cleveland

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Colorful kites and blue skies greeted the small gathering Tuesday for the first annual clean-fuel motorcar expo on Cleveland’s lake shore.  The Earth Day Coalition organized the event on Whiskey Island to highlight the small but growing market in vehicles powered by fuels other than gasoline and diesel. 

Tim Lewis is general manager of Ace Taxi, one of the event sponsors.  He proudly shows off a shimmering black mini-van.  A storage cylinder bulges out of the space where luggage might go.  Lewis says it holds 11.5 gallons of CNG -- compressed natural gas. 

Ace has 20 new natural-gas powered taxis ready to hit the streets of Cleveland, with 30 more on order.  With natural gas running around $1.50 less per gallon than gasoline, Lewis says his drivers are anxious to get moving. 

“Our facility at E. 55th is going to have a public natural gas fueling station.  So our guys will be able to use it and other companies around the area will be able to use that fueling station.” 

Ace Taxi built the fueling station with partner Clean Energy Fuels, a California-based company founded by oil-man T. Boone Pickens to promote domestic energy production.

Clean Energy spokesman Cory White says in the last two years, lower natural gas prices caused a surge in natural-gas powered vehicles.

“And that’s because of the resurgence of fracking and finding natural gas reserves that we’ve never seen.”   

Clean Energy opened a natural-gas fueling station in Canton this summer, and will soon open two more in Cleveland. Another company operates four stations in central Ohio.

But some people have been driving the cleaner fuel cars years before this infrastructure was built. 

“Some of the sisters were afraid to ride in the natural gas cars, they were afraid they would explode.”

Sister Mary Schrader says the Sisters of St. Joseph in Cleveland at one point had a dozen natural-gas powered cars. They’re now down to five, because the lack of fueling stations limited how far they could travel.

Schrader says the order installed its own natural gas fueling station about a decade ago to reduce its carbon footprint, but it hasn’t been easy.

“The refueling station that we have at the Mother House is called a slow-fill, you have to have the car there a couple of hours for it to fill up.  The ones they’re building now are fast-fills and they take about the same amount of time as if you were filling your car with gasoline.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph drive natural-gas powered Honda Civics, the only production model fitted from the factory for natural gas. All other makes currently require EPA approved retro-fits.

At the clean fuel expo at Whiskey Island, Motorcars Cleveland sales rep Andrew Chiarelli says part of his pitch for the natural-gas powered Civics is the clean in clean fuel.

Chiarelli says he breathes the exhaust of the CNG Honda for 60 seconds, a trick he says,"not to try at home."  His point is that natural gas burned in a car engine is essentially the same as the fuel you use to heat your home, or boil an egg.  There's virtually no soot, smog-producing chemicals, or Carbon Monoxide.  

Chiarelli says the two natural-gas fueling stations opening in Cleveland are going to make his job a lot easier.

“In two weeks, we’ll have infrastructure right here in downtown Cleveland at E. 55th Street and also at the airport both of those stations will be open to the public.  It will be $2.35 per gas gallon equivalent, so for about $14 you can drive this car 250 to 300 miles.  I can’t even do that in my Civic Hybrid.”

Much of the funding for the new fueling stations comes from state and federal grants as part of the Clean Cities initiative through the U.S. Department of Energy. 



Listener Comments:

At south america the convert to cng is only 800 and 1000 dollars for big cars. why 6000?

Posted by: Carlos (parma) on January 10, 2013 4:01AM
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