Although prices for conventional petroleum gas have begun to fall over the last few weeks, there's an even less expensive alternative for fueling one's vehicle.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), made from methane stored at a high pressure, is currently $1.57 per gallon at the city's first public CNG station, which Memphis Light, Gas & Water opened this past July. That's about half the cost of conventional gas and more than half the price of diesel per gallon.
The station is located at MLGW's service center (1180 Tupelo) in North Memphis.
"If you go back to what our mission statement is as a company, it's to improve the quality of life of the people we serve," said Michael Taylor of MLGW's CNG sales division. "If we can make a fuel available to the community and to businesses that's half the cost of gasoline and diesel, we feel like that's our responsibility to do that."
According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuel Data Center website, CNG powers about 112,000 vehicles in the United States and roughly 14.8 million vehicles worldwide. CNG vehicles provide environmental benefits such as reduced pollution and lower levels of emissions. Some new vehicles are already designed to take CNG, but older models must be converted to use the fuel.
Current CNG-compatible vehicles on the market include the Honda Civic, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500, the Dodge Ram 2500, and the Ford F-250 pickup. Certain CNG pickup trucks come with a bi-fuel option, which means they can operate on either regular gas or natural gas. A new natural-gas vehicle costs several thousand dollars more than a conventional gas vehicle.
Taylor said a person could modify their conventional gas vehicle to run on natural gas for around $9,000.
"The ones who really can benefit right away are those really high fuel users like garbage trucks, transit vehicles, and large trucks," Taylor said. "A lot of those vehicles only get four to five miles a gallon, so when they can save $1.50 a gallon, the savings rack up."
Although MLGW introduced its first CNG station to the public in July, Ray Ward said the company has been using natural-gas-dependent company vehicles for years. Ward said more than 300 people filled up at MLGW's CNG station in October.
"We have a lot of transient people. There are [CNG] facilities in Nashville and Little Rock, so they come here to fill up on their travels," Ward said. "And there are some people here in town who fill up too."
Heather Taylor owns a Honda Civic that is CNG-dependent. She said the only difference in driving a CNG vehicle versus a conventional gas vehicle is the price she pays at the pump.
"I used to drive a minivan that was getting about 18 miles a gallon, and it was costing me $3 or more per gallon to fill it," Heather said. "Now I drive [a Civic], and I get between 30 and 35 miles per gallon. And the last time I filled up, it cost me $8."
According to the Alternative Fuel Data Center website, there are about 1,000 natural gas fueling stations across the U.S., but fewer than 600 are available for public use.
MLGW aspires to have its next CNG station open to the public in mid-2014. The station would be located at MLGW's south service center. MLGW plans to eventually have CNG stations available at all of its service centers.