Natural gas provides an increasingly large share of the country’s electricity. And now, the fuel is growing in popularity as an alternative to gasoline. A new Louisville plant is betting that natural gas as a vehicle fuel is a technology that will be around for decades or longer.
Westport is a Canadian company with locations all over North America. The company’s newest plant is in Louisville, right across the street from Ford Motor Company’s Louisville Truck Plant. Westport has a contract to install fuel systems on some of Ford’s trucks—special modifications that allow the vehicle to use either conventional gasoline or compressed natural gas—or CNG.
Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline, and emits less pollution. But the driving factor behind buying a truck that can use natural gas is the price. You can fill up at a CNG station for anywhere from 85 cents to three dollars a gallon, depending on the location.
Westport Vice President John Lapetz says it can make economic sense for a company to change their fleet over to bi-fuel vehicles. And it can also make sense for a utility company to install a CNG station for those customers to use.
“If you burn about 100,000 gallons of fuel year, it is worth it to the utility to put in a station,” he said “That represents a good enough business opportunity for them to do that.”
Alternative vehicle fuels are nothing new. Companies have experimented with sources like ethanol, hydrogen and propane. But Lapetz says natural gas has an advantage that none of the other alternative fuels have:
“With natural gas, with these pipeline existing, no matter where the gas originates from, it’s quite easy to put it into the pipeline and move it to another region,” he said. “And the cost of doing that per BTU is very, very cheap.”
But finding a station is a challenge. There’s only one CNG station in Kentucky, and it's in Somerset. Waste Management Kentucky is scheduled to open a station in Louisville next month. Stations in Walton, Princeton and Paducah are also in the works.