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Natural Gas a Cheaper, Cleaner Vehicle Fuel than Gasoline

October 1, 1990

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (AP) _ Carm Rossi pulls his Dodge Aries up to the pump, pulls out the nozzle and sticks it into the wrong end of the car.

But before any passersby notice he’s refueling into his front grill, Rossi is ready to drive away with a full tank - of compressed natural gas.

That, Rossi and others say, may be at least part of the solution for cities that need to economically reduce air pollution caused mainly by gasoline- fueled engines.

″It’s the same stuff that we cook our meals and heat our homes with,″ said Rossi, who heads the natural gas vehicle program for National Fuel, a gas utility based in Buffalo. ″It’s always been a clean-burning fuel and it still is a clean-burning fuel in an internal combustion engine.″

Worldwide, 700,000 vehicles run on compressed natural gas, only 30,000 of them in the United States.

But things are changing, according to spokesmen for the gas industry and for several state governments who are promoting the technology, especially for large vehicles that don’t travel great distances.

″For heavy-duty vehicles, the emissions regulations that are in place make it very difficult to run ordinary diesel fuel,″ said Larry Hudson of New York state’s Energy Research and Development Authority. ″Something is going to have to change.″

Emissions tests show natural gas produces up to 97 percent less carbon monoxide, 24 percent less carbon dioxide, 39 percent less oxides of nitrogen and 72 percent less reactive hydrocarbons (a heavy contributor to smog) than gasoline. And natural gas costs about 75 cents per equivalent gallon.

″If it cleans up the air and reduces fuel costs to the users . . . we’ve got a nice package,″ said Hudson.

Why has the public been slow to warm to such a ″nice package?″ Rossi points to the reinforced steel cylinder in his trunk.

″The traditional reaction I get when I demonstrate my car is people say, ‘I wouldn’t drive around with that in the bottom of my trunk,’ ″ he said.

The public fears the tanks will rupture and explode in an accident, Rossi and others say.

That’s why Rossi shows a demonstration film of the tanks being dropped from 90 feet or sitting on a bonfire or being shot at by a high-powered rifle. In all instances, the tank performed as designed, with the gas dissipating into the air through release valves.

Another problem is limited range. Rossi gets a maximum of 120 miles out of the 478 cubic feet of natural gas in the cylinder in his trunk, compared with 300 to 400 miles the average gasoline-burning car can travel on a full tank.

There are about 600 natural gas refueling stations in the country, but most are private. National Fuel’s pump in Tonawanda is the only public one in upstate New York. One possibility is allowing users to tap into existing lines that deliver natural gas for heating and cooking.

There has been progress.

Gov. Mario Cuomo recently announced a six-year, $40 million program to operate 268 state buses, cars and trucks on methanol and compressed natural gas.

After a test program with school buses in Garland, Texas, that state passed legislation mandating the use of fuels other than gasoline or diesel in large fleets.

″By the year 2000, we’ll have over a million vehicles impacted by our program,″ said Mark Glick of the Texas General Land Office, which leases millions of acres of state land to oil and gas drillers.

Oklahoma passed a law earlier this year that sets up a revolving fund for interest-free loans for public entities to convert to natural gas, said Jason Smitherman, with the office of Gov. Henry Bellmon.

Conversion kits, which range from $1,700 to $2,500, are necessary because no U.S. auto manufacturer makes vehicles factory-equipped to burn natural gas.

GMC Truck, however, announced in July that it will begin to produce at least 1,000 gas-burning pickup trucks next year in a joint venture with a consortium of utilities and the Texas General Land Office.

Proponents of natural gas vehicles believe that once auto makers make factory-ready gas vehicles available to the public, the problem of a lack of public refueling stations will be addressed.

″It’s like jumping up a ladder two pegs at a time,″ said Jeff Seisler of the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition. ″One leg is the development of the engine technology and the other leg is providing the fueling infrastructure.″

End Adv Monday, Oct. 1

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