Natural gas used in Public Works vehicles

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(Host) Two big cylindrical tanks sit next to the Public Works Department garage in downtown Burlington.

Each holds thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline.

But what comes out of a nearby pump doesn’t come from either tank.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Pump sounds)

(Zind) It takes only a little more time to fuel the big 40-foot bus than it does to fill up your car with gasoline.

(Pump stops with a hiss)

(Zind) The fuel is compressed natural gas.

Natural gas vehicles have been around for some time, but until now they’ve taken hours to refuel from low pressure tanks.

The high pressure pumping station at the Burlington City Garage – the first one in Vermont – is a step toward making natural gas more practical as a replacement fuel. But that’s not the biggest attraction.

(Bus starts)

(Zind) It’s how clean natural gas burns – with one hundred times less particulate pollution than diesel fuel and half the smog and greenhouse gas producing emissions.

Mike Altman is Transportation Manager at the University of Vermont.

(Altman) “I can tell you that if you stand behind this bus it’s pleasant.”

(Zind) The bus is one of two that belong to the University of Vermont. They were purchased largely with a grant the city of Burlington received in partnership with UVM.

The compressed natural gas busses don’t travel far, but they burn a lot of fuel in the constant stop and go of their routes.

In recent years, that fuel has been a 20% bio-diesel blend. Altman says natural gas makes sense: It burns cleaner, it’s cheaper and it’s a domestic product as opposed to the foreign oil it takes to make the bio-diesel blend.

(Altman) “We’re hoping that this project will also stimulate others into being more environmentally conscious.”

(Zind) Already the project has stimulated the City of Burlington to make plans to switch to compressed natural gas in vehicles like street sweepers and recycling vehicles.

(Bradley) “A lot of the vehicles that spend time just creeping up and down the streets, so they burn a lot of fuel.”

(Zind) Dan Bradley is transportation planner for the city. Bradley says now that the fueling station is operating, there is a ‘build it and they will come’ dynamic at work. Businesses that operate fleets of large vehicles are now expressing an interest in using converting to compressed natural gas.

Bradley says compressed natural gas isn’t a be all end all fuel – its part of a mix that includes biofuels and will continue to include the gasoline and diesel fuel that sit in those big tanks at the city garage.

(Bradley) “We’ll be using less of it, hopefully.”

(Zind) The University of Vermont will add to its fleet over the next two years. And eventually six compressed natural gas busses will shuttle students around campus.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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