Chesapeake Energy Corp said it is working with General Electric Co and Whirlpool Corp to develop a $500 appliance that will allow natural-gas powered cars to be refueled at their owners' homes.
According to the Wall St. Journal, the effort would be Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake's latest push to promote compressed natural gas as a mainstream fuel and boost its own sales. It is the first attempt at overcoming one of the biggest challenges in putting natural-gas powered cars on the road—convenient refueling.
Just as many consumers are apprehensive about electric vehicles in some part because of the time required to charge batteries and the uncertainty of finding convenient places to re-charge, passenger vehicles fuled by compressed natural gas (CNG) have not taken off because of the lack of available refueling locations or affordable infrastructure. That may soon change.
Chesapeake and other natural gas producers have felt a cash crunch as a technology-led increase in natural gas production has led to a supply glut and brought prices to a decade-low in April. U.S. natural gas stockpiles were 3.929 trillion cubic feet last week, the highest level on record, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration
About 112,000 natural-gas powered vehicles are now on U.S. roads, mostly delivery trucks and other vehicles driving a set circuitous route with easy access to refueling stations. Auto makers have been slower to offer compressed natural gas-fueled passenger cars and trucks, in part because not enough refueling stations exist to service them on long trips. About 540 stations are open to the public, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The appliance that Chesapeake, GE And Whirlpool are developing will fit in a home garage, hook into a natural gas line and dispense compressed natural gas into vehicles designed to use the fuel, Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said during an investors' conference last week.
Chesapeake says that once drivers can refill CNG cars at home, General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp and other auto makers will boost production of the vehicles. "When GM and Toyota see that, you'll see the cars flying out," Mr. McClendon said.
A $500 appliance that allows vehicle owners to refuel their CNG cars at home "is just smart thinking," said GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel. "Providing a refueling infrastructure is exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen to expand the use of alternative fuels," she said.
The auto industry is in the early stages of equipping its vehicles to run on natural gas. Earlier this year, Chrysler Group LLC became the first to install natural gas tanks on its pickup trucks at the factory rather than sending the vehicles elsewhere for the installation. GM recently started production of the 2013 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra 2500 HD bi-fuel pickup trucks at its plants in Fort Wayne, Ind. The pickups are available for order by fleet and retail customers through Chevrolet and GMC dealers.
If affordable passenger vehicles can be made to run safely on CNG that we can access at home, that's a game changer. What do you think?