More natural-gas service vehicles hit the roads

| Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

The Indiana County Transit Authority has been building a fleet of natural gas-fueled transit vehicles since 2000 and now has 15 buses that run all the daily fixed routes through the county.

"It made sense, with the low cost of (natural gas) compared to diesel," said John Kanyan, executive director. Gas utility Peoples TWP supplies IndiGO, as the transit system is known, at a cost of about $1.25 per gallon equivalent of gasoline, and IndiGO has its own compression station.

While a bus that runs on condensed natural gas, or CNG costs $50,000 to $75,000 more than a diesel bus, or up to $425,000, "There is a lot of savings," Kanyan said.

Use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel has grown by about 25 percent in each of the past four years, said Richard Kolodziej, president of industry organization Natural Gas Vehicles for America of Washington. Worldwide, small trucks that run on natural gas are most common, although in the United States, the focus has been on heavy-duty vehicles such as trash and delivery trucks, and buses, he said.

Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, a nonprofit that helps businesses find funding to switch to alternative fuels, received an $888,750 federal grant this month toward replacing 17 diesel tractors with vehicles that run on CNG.

Vogel Disposal of Mars, for example, will buy eight refuse trucks, Equitable Gas of the North Shore will buy seven trucks and said it is converting 10 percent of its vehicles to natural gas.

Giant Eagle Inc., which already refuels its 10 Volvo natural gas-fueled delivery trucks at the CNG station at its Crafton distribution center, will get a yard tractor under the grant, and FYDA Freightliner of Canonsburg will buy two CNG delivery trucks. Engines of the old diesel-burning vehicles must be destroyed under the grant program, said Rick Price, executive director of Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities.

O'Hara-based Giant Eagle has about 250 trucks in all, including 100 based in Crafton. "We hope in the next four to five years, all 100 will be natural gas," said Mike Lickert, fleet manager for the grocery chain.

K Rentals of Jeannette began running two CNG-fueled trolleys in May that the company purchased from a Georgia company. "We were going to convert them to diesel," said Larry Kovacs, who runs the business with his father, Terry. After comparing fuel costs, the company opted to buy a CNG compressor from Eco Friendly LLC of Gibsonia.

The trolleys mainly are used for wedding parties. With the cleaner burning fuel, there are no exhaust fumes if the trolleys have to idle outside a church, he said.

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