Golden Eagle Distributors opened a new CNG fueling station on Aug. 22 in Casa Grande, Ariz. The station will refuel Golden Eagle’s local fleet of five CNG vehicles, and sell the fuel to other commercial fleets, and be open to the public. Trillium CNG partnered with Golden Eagle to develop the station, which is the second for the distributor.
With an expanding national infrastructure of fueling stations, more beverage companies are taking a serious look at alternative fuels.
Various state-level incentives and rebates are driving the growth for natural gas in different parts of the country, and the ready availability of propane makes that fuel an attractive option to diesel. If the return-on-investment advantages are not persuasive, the importance of positioning a beverage company as a conscientious corporate citizen using green fuels is hard to overlook.
Wholesalers like Monarch Beverage Co., Golden Eagle Distributors and Manhattan Beer Distributors have already taken the plunge, and more are likely to follow, say industry experts contacted by Beverage World. Beverage companies are seen as promising candidates for alternative fuels because many of their trucks return to home base on a daily basis and can be refueled overnight.
“Beverage fleets have some really good choices now, and this is the time for the beverage industry to step up and move into clean fuels,” says John Boesel, president and chief executive officer of Calstart.
The three principal alternative fuels under consideration are:
- Compressed natural gas, or CNG, best for delivery routes and short hauls,
- Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, recommended for long distances, and
- Propane, or propane autogas, also best for shorter mileage vehicles.
In addition, there is biodiesel, vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel fuels; ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel; bi-fuel or dual-fuel vehicles that use a combination of the products; and electric and hybrid electric. A company called eNow makes solar-based auxiliary power systems.
Many beverage distributors are looking into CNG for their fleets, with three options for fueling: private, with the fuel pumps “inside the fence;” public, either building or using a fuel pump outside the distributor’s property; or a combination, with the fuel pumps in the distributor’s facility, but also making them available for non-affiliated truckers to use, paying for the fuel and helping offset the cost of the natural gas operation.
One example of a combination CNG station was recently (August 22) opened by Golden Eagle Distributing in Casa Grande, Ariz. The station will refuel Golden Eagle’s local fleet of five CNG vehicles, and sell the fuel to other commercial fleets, as well as be open to the public. Trillium CNG partnered with Golden Eagle to develop the station, which is the second for the distributor.
The Department of Energy reports there are 1,343 CNG private and public stations in the U.S. “We are seeing more and more demand for natural gas vehicles of all sizes, and a strong push for cost-effective CNG refueling infrastructure,” says Scott Magnus, director of marketing at Trillium CNG.
Fueling stations cost from $250,000 to $1 million, depending on a company’s needs, but there are state incentives available, and natural gas companies may help fund the installation with an agreement by the distributor to buy their fuel at a set price, says Rich Kolodziej, president, NGVAmerica. “We are seeing 20-25 compressed natural gas stations going in a month around the country,” he says. They are scattered around the U.S., going in areas where there is substantial natural gas vehicle growth, with hubs in urban areas, he says.
“As those hubs grow, then you start developing the spokes, and you will start seeing stations put in along the interstates that connect cities,” Kolodziej says. The development of infrastructure clusters around states offering incentives, he adds.
“That’s why you see very high per capita deployments of CNG in some states that might surprise you, like Oklahoma and Utah,” says Matt Most, vice president of commercial, Encana Natural Gas. Other places with incentives, and clusters of CNG infrastructure, include Colorado, New York and other eastern states, and California, notably Los Angeles.
“Florida is now offering $250,000 to folks who put in a CNG station, helping offset the cost of converting to a CNG-powered fleet. But every state is a little different,” says Jeffry Swertfeger, director of marketing, TruStar Energy.
“The state incentives are huge,” Boesel says. “They are really dictating where firms like Pepsi and Coca-Cola deploy their trucks. They can see a business case when you have got some significant state-level incentives like California has.”
There are 144 LNG stations in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy. Beverage companies that send their products long distances on big trucks should consider LNG, Kolodziej says. “If you want a truck that is going to go 700 miles, it’s hard to do that with compressed natural gas. You can do it with liquefied natural gas.”
Another fuel with a longer track record, and an established infrastructure, is propane. The Department of Energy lists 2,884 propane stations in the country more widely dispersed than natural gas.
Brian Carney, director of marketing, Roush CleanTech, says the cost of infrastructure for propane, at $20,000-$25,000, is much lower than CNG. “Propane autogas is the least expensive refueling infrastructure of any conventional alternative fuel. Most of our customers bring their vehicles back to a central location every night. Those are ideal situations for onsite infrastructure installation,” he says.
“The status of existing infrastructure of propane is wonderful, and more robust than any other network,” says Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer, Propane Education & Research Council. “Because of its low cost to install, and the general upward trend in vehicles, it is only going to continue to grow.”
There are both public and private refueling stations for propane, but Carney notes, “Private is the best bet because that is how you can command the best price.”
“Given the fact there is more propane refueling available than any other alternative fuel, and that we are always building more, we are on a good path. We don’t get calls from our customers with thousands of vehicles on the road saying they don’t have anywhere to refuel. That problem doesn’t exist. But it is a challenge when you are talking to a customer for the first time,” he adds.
“We are just about to the point where people realize our vehicle mix is here to stay,” Perkins says. “They know the fuel is here to stay. They know the price advantage is here to stay. So they are starting to make much longer-term decisions on both vehicles and infrastructure.”
Beverage distributors also need to look at other factors that affect fuel economy. Brian Buckham, segment marketing manager, commercial tires, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., notes: “Fleets need to consider overall vehicle weights to ensure they can continue to carry the same payloads as today and make sure they are equipped with low rolling resistance tires to help reduce their fuel expenses.”