Mr. Green Car: Natural gas power in Rockford

Compressed natural gas refueling station at Kelley-Williamson Mobil on South Main Street. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

It has been several years since I test-drove a Honda Civic powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). Back then, I found the car had plenty of pep and drove like any other Honda Civic. The only issue is where to get fuel? It is possible to buy your own compressor and fill up at home from your natural gas source — or fill up at some of the intermittent CNG suppliers around the country. With a map of where these places are, one can make trips without running out of fuel.

I first learned that Rockford had a CNG station when I spotted a new CNG Honda Civic in traffic one day — I got the attention of the woman driving the car, and she was happy to tell where she bought the car (Lyle Honda) and gets her fuel. So now, Rockford is on that map. The Kelley-Williamson Mobil station on South Main Street (Illinois Highway 2) at Highway U.S. 20 now has a Trillium CNG station. Presently, there are two “pumps” to supply CNG.

The main reason this CNG station exists is because across the street, local waste-hauler Rock River Disposal has 10 waste-hauling trucks that run on CNG — with a dozen more on order. The trucks are not conversions, but are made to order with CNG fuel.

A driver I spoke with while taking photos of the site says the CNG trucks don’t have quite as much power as the diesel versions, but they are certainly much cleaner in operation. And so proclaims the billboard-sized decals on the side of the trucks. He said it takes about 10 to 15 minutes for them to fill the tank. But one must bear in mind they are taking on the equivalent of 50 gallons of fuel every day. That takes some time, no matter what fuel is involved. I’ve spoken to other operators of CNG vehicles who claim it takes no more time than filling with gasoline.

Rock River Disposal trucks powered by compressed natural gas refueling at the Kelley-Williamson Mobil on South Main Street in Rockford. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

CNG is very compressed natural gas, a considerable amount of electricity is involved, and one should factor that into the “greenness” of the fuel. However, filling the tank is simple; but there are a few more steps than operating a gasoline pump (although today’s gas pumps make you take a quiz every fill-up!). In reading the “Fueling Procedures” brochure available at the pump, there is little more to do than your average fill-up.

Filling with CNG is also somewhat safer. I’ll list below the important safety and environmental issues about CNG listed in the Trillium brochure.

CNG has a narrow flammability range. It is far more likely that either gasoline or diesel would ignite than natural gas.

Natural gas is non-toxic, non-corrosive, and will not contaminate groundwater. [And doesn’t make a smelly mess.]

Compared to gasoline, CNG reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 90-97 percent, nitrogen oxide by up to 60 percent and hydrocarbon by 50-75 percent.

CNG storage cylinders are subject to ‘severe abuse’ tests that include heat and pressure extremes, gunfire, collisions, and fires before they can pass inspections.

Natural gas is lighter than air and will dissipate rapidly, rather than pool in one place.”

Additionally, there are instructions to hit the emergency stop button if you suspect anything is going wrong, and to call Trillium’s hotline phone number. Loud popping noises are normal when pressure relief valves work, but if you are concerned, you can stop the pump and call in.

The main reason Rock River Disposal is using CNG — and you might want to consider it as well — is the low cost. On the day I visited, CNG was selling for $2.09 per gallon equivalent. Since much of that price is taxes, it makes for a cheap fuel from a domestic source. So, whether you have a fleet of vehicles with a big fuel budget, or you own a Honda Civic, it is nice to know you can fuel it up, save some money and help the environment — right here in Rockford now.

Comparing the cost of compressed natural gas with the gasoline gallon equivalent. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
A compressed natural gas pump at the Kelley-Williamson on South Main Street. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
Nozzle head on a compressed natural gas pump. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

From the Aug. 14-20, 2013, issue

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