It seems like we’ve been hearing about the viability of natural gas as a transportation fuel for so long that it’s almost like thinking about a flying car. Sure, it’s cool to dream about, but it will probably never happen in our lifetimes; that’s something for the future. But the truth is, flying cars are edging ever closer to becoming a reality, with a number of companies completing successful test-flights in the last few years. And widespread use of natural gas to fuel our vehicles? One Oklahoma company is leading the charge to make that a reality much sooner than one might think.
A leading producer of natural gas, Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corporation launched the subsidiary Peake Fuel Solutions, with the goal of developing new technologies to allow for more widespread use of natural gas as an alternative to traditional transportation fuels.
“(Peake Fuel Solutions) is a venture capital effort by Chesapeake,” explains Kent Wilkinson, vice president of Natural Gas Ventures at Chesapeake. “We’re not only developing the tools and technologies that will help make natural gas attractive to potential customers, we go out and try to bring these systems to market.”
Last November Peake Fuel Solutions introduced their latest system, a conversion kit that allows 2010-2012 model heavy-duty diesel engines to operate on a mixture of diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Upon conversion, a truck can operate on up to 70 percent CNG or LNG, saving up to 30 percent on fuel costs. Trucks outfitted with the diesel natural gas (DNG) conversion kit also maintain the ability to run on diesel alone when CNG or LNG is not available.
“What puts us at the forefront of DNG is that our kit is the very first to be EPA certified,” Wilkinson says. “It’s primarily for the heavy-duty trucks, the class seven or eight. But this type of technology will lead to other systems. You’re going to be seeing the same development in the spark-ignited engines.”
All of which sounds wonderful but still doesn’t answer the concerns of many who wonder where in the world they will be able to fill up on natural gas. It’s a valid question. It’s also one that Peake Fuel Solutions can answer.
In October 2012, a little over a month before the announcement of the DNG conversion kit, Peake Fuel Solutions announced its collaboration with General Electric for the launch of the CNG Fuel In A Box system. This system is marketed not only for trucks with the DNG conversion kits, but also for any vehicle that operates on CNG.
“In collaboration with Peake Fuel Solutions, GE is developing infrastructure solutions to accelerate the adoption of natural gas as a transportation fuel,” says Mike Hosford, general manager of Unconventional Resources, GE Oil & Gas, in a press release announcing the system. “The CNG In A Box system is a unique fueling solution that brings together some of the best innovation from across GE to help fleet owners and everyday drivers realize the benefits of cleaner burning, abundant, more affordable natural gas.”
The system receives natural gas via pipeline and compresses it on site. On site can mean at a traditional fueling station, like a convenience store, but it can also mean anywhere else, as long as there is access to a natural gas pipeline and in accordance with local ordinance. The pay at the pump technology means an attendant isn’t necessarily required, either.
“There are some exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Wilkinson says. “These can be entirely self-contained. You could have an unmanned operation.”
The system has a compact design – the “In A Box” moniker is pretty accurate – that allows for mobility, and with 250 units in production, it won’t be long before you’re seeing a few more places to fuel up your new natural gas vehicle. With a price-per-gallon equivalent to about half that of the average price of diesel, and, according to estimates, a 100-year supply in the U.S., natural gas is looking more like a viable alternative fuel to many. And the DNG converter kit and CNG In A Box systems are only the beginning.
Can you imagine never needing to go to a gas station again, except for, maybe, a late-night frozen burrito? Peake Fuel Solutions is also working on a system that will allow natural gas vehicle owners to refuel their cars at their own residences using the same natural gas they use to heat their homes. No announcement has been made as to when this kind of system will be available, but with a company like Peake Fuel Solutions working on it, odds are it will be sooner than you think. And those flying cars? Maybe the manufacturers building those things should look at converting to a natural gas system. There should be plenty of places to fuel up.