Steering Into the World of Alternative Fuels

  • The RAM bifuel pickup truck with Pgh Region Clean Cities director Rick Price at the wheel. Photo: J. Szweda Jordan

Pittsburgh Region Green Cities is educating individuals and business and governments, anyone with big fleets of vehicles, about using alternative fuels.  Whether that’s electric, propane, or natural gas, as in the RAM bifuel pickup that Rick Price showed The Allegheny Front’s Jennifer Szweda Jordan recently.  Rick Price directs Pittsburgh Region Green Cities.  The Ram pickup he’s driving runs on gasoline and compressed natural gas, or CNG.  Let’s take as spin. Learn more in person at our upcoming Green Gathering.

PRICE: If I wanted that to say gas, and I wanted it to run on gasoline, I could go and shut the valves off in the back and it would just run on gasoline.  Like this morning, I hadn’t ran it since Friday, I started up this morning and it started on gas, and within a minute it switched over.  You can’t tell that at all.  Either idling or running down the road, you can’t tell any difference.”

JORDAN: Do you own this truck?

PRICE: No this is a demo that I received from the Chrysler regional manager to basically, as a demo to run through fleets in the Pittsburgh area to let them try the vehicle.

JORDAN: So what is the advantage?

PRICE: I’m not going to say that gasoline prices won’t go up, but it’s never going to go with the same—of CNG—will not go up but they’ll never go at the same delta that the petroleum based fuels are.  And we’ve seen that over the years, if you have something that just goes on, a refinery breaks down, or a conflict in another country over there, it’s nothing for our gas to go up 15 of 20 cents.

JORDAN: So you’re working with the clean cities campaign to not just educate individual consumers, but also larger fleets and governments?

PRICE: Giant Eagle is the leader in this area with 20 of the Class-A tractors running 100,000 gallons of gasoline gallon savings just in those first 10 trucks they had.  I saw the Pitt-Ohio has a Class-A tractor.

JORDAN: Do you expect that alternative fueled vehicles will get a boost from the fiscal cliff deal that President Obama signed? It includes various alternative fueled vehicle tax credits.

PRICE: Oh yes, those tax credits giving you the 50 cent tax credit on propane and natural gas, your dollar on biodiesel.  The infrastructure tax credit of up to 30,000 dollars for installing infrastructure.  I see all the people that were talking about building natural gas stations probably want to do more of those this year.  And you even have the home refueling units; you can get some money from that on the tax credits.

JORDAN: Ok, can we look under the hood?

PRICE: Sure, I’ll show you the back first.  Here’s your refueling nozzle where the gasoline is as well, and the high-pressure nozzle.  This locking nozzle goes over here…back here is where your storage tanks are for the natural gas.  Like I said, it’s 18.2 gallons.  And so, we need to educate the first responders when we start talking about alternative fuel, so we are doing that as well.

JORDAN: In case there’s an accident?

PRICE: Sure, they need to be, you know they’re usually there before anybody else.  They just don’t want to treat this like a gasoline vehicle.  You want to be able to isolate the natural gas.  One thing good about natural gas is that natural gas goes up, gasoline and propane go down.

JORDAN: Natural gas is very light

PRICE: Right, right.  So basically what you have here under the hood, you have things called fuel rails, which are basically rails that run along the engine, where your—for your--goes into the gas cylinder. You have a regulator that basically takes the gas from 3,600 pound and brings it down between 100 and 200 pound.  And then you have your stainless steel high-pressure lines that run through there.

JORDAN: The two silver things we’re looking at, are those the fuel lines or no?

PRICE: Yes they do look like that.  They’re the injector board, so those are the fuel lines.  That little valve on there, that’s a pop off.  In case the pressure gets too high, that would release.

JENNIFER: Should we take a little ride?

PRICE: Sure, by all means.

(DOOR SLAMS)

PRICE: See it’s nothing any different

(CAR STARTS)

PRICE: As you can see, we’re running on CNG.  You can see the two gauges where we have a little over a half tank of gasoline; we have about a half tank of CNG.  Right up here, one of the private investors has bought the old rent a camp building and they’ve run into a little bit of a problem and they must be putting in a natural gas station on West Carson Street, or at this Exxon station right down here at station square.  So, there have been some people that didn’t want the station with housing being that close.

JENNIFER: I work here, but I don’t even know, there’s all these little hidden things that you don’t know if you don’t have one of these vehicles.

PRICE: We were supposed to put a biodiesel station right behind 7th and 8th street.   There’s a great deal of interest in putting stations in, and running vehicles here.  We’re putting in electric charging stations and plugging in electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt where there are tax credits.  Between the state and federal, we can turn around and have about 11,000 dollar off with these plug-in and electric vehicles.