SustainAbility: Energy briefing

John Sluder was the guest of honor at the most recent Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce energy briefing. His claim to fame is department head for Business, Applied Science and Information Services at Western Colorado Community College.

Sluder was sharing details about a nifty new project at the college funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. This endeavor typifies local interest in compressed natural gas (CNG) as fuel for vehicles.

The goal is to design compressed natural gas conversion kits for small Honda engines currently powered by gasoline or propane. The final product will be fully tested by running a generator and possibly a dune buggy.

The project is part of a Capstone course utilizing Integrated Learning Systems to reach across curriculum barriers and “recreate a real world working environment,” according to Sluder.

Capstone favors process system technology and has a “strong renewable and natural energy component,” he explained. It includes coursework in alternative energy such as solar, wind and biofuels.

There are four streams in the program: computer-aided design, technology integration, welding and hybrid automotive including service and maintenance. The project team consists of one student from each area and will run through the spring semester.

Project members have already been in contact with the city of Grand Junction and plan on using the city’s CNG fueling station.

The city and Grand Valley Transit are building a CNG fueling station with two pumps and a maintenance facility adjacent to the city shops off Riverside Parkway. The pumps will be operational early this spring.

The station will service city vehicles and buses with a slow-fill pump. So far, the city has ordered four garbage trucks that use CNG, and one will be on its way by month’s end. The remaining three will arrive in the spring. The city will buy additional trucks as the old ones wear out.

Two Grand Valley Transit buses are due to arrive in November, and the purchase is a first step in weaning the entire fleet from diesel fuel.

As soon as a local operator is established, fleets and individually-owned CNG vehicles will be able to refuel at the facility’s fast-fill pump. Eventually, some of the CNG will be made from methane digester gas collected at the Persigo wastewater treatment plant.

The facility is part of a concerted effort to create necessary infrastructure on the Western Slope for vehicles powered by homegrown CNG. It will provide a missing link in the system between Denver and central Utah. Once the gap is filled, a variety of vehicles, including big rigs, can take advantage of CNG.

Recently, area natural gas producers such as EnCana, Williams and the Bill Barrett Corp. have started converting their private fleets to CNG.

The switch can improve air quality, provide local jobs and increase energy independence by decreasing the use of foreign oil. CNG produces about 25 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and about 95 percent less particulate pollution than gasoline.

Another advantage is that CNG is relatively cheap and, depending on gas prices, can be half the cost of gasoline. Current prices at the pump improve the financial picture for filling up with CNG.

With proper infrastructure, CNG seems to be a sustainable means of powering our vehicles during the transition from fossil fuels to alternate forms of energy.

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Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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