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Increasing the Adoption of NGVs with a Novel Natural Gas-Powered Compressor

Natural Gas-Powered Compressor

Those who have worked in the alternative transportation fuels industry over the years have more than once seen their hopes for wider adoption of cleaner fuels be dashed whenever the price of conventional, dirtier fuels decreased. We have experienced another one of those challenging phases during the past few years. These swings in our industry are frustrating because we all know that cleaner fuels are available and have proven performance. The costs often just do not pencil out for businesses and government agencies who are working with ever-increasing tighter budgets. This reality is especially frustrating for managers of return-to-base fleet vehicles. These managers know that many operators with similar fleets are benefitting from using natural gas vehicles (NGVs) with on-site refueling. Natural gas fuel cost is low and predictable, and the vehicles are clean, perform well, and have low maintenance. Often the barrier to realizing this opportunity is the cost of the on-site refueling system to provide the CNG used by these vehicles. Our company, Onboard Dynamics, located in Bend, Oregon, was established with the initial support of the US Department of Energy/Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to lower this barrier. Over the past four years we have succeeded in doing this by developing a novel natural gas compressor system that will bring CNG to many additional fleet operators for whom it was not previously feasible.

Our GoFlo(TM) compressor system will make CNG attractive to many more fleet operators for the following reasons:

  • Lower cost for the fuel used in performing the compressor operation. Using electricity to drive the electric motor of traditional CNG compressors adds 10 to 20 cents per GGE (gasoline gallons equivalent) in many parts of the country. Powering the compressor with an internal combustion engine fueled by natural gas costs between 5 and 10 cents per GGE. In most parts of the country, electricity prices are forecast to increase in the years ahead, while natural gas prices are forecast to be stable. Ironically, as the electric grid continues to be “greened up”, this cost disparity is likely to increase: green electricity supplies tend to be available in the afternoon whereas CNG compressors tend to be operated at night. Running an electrical CNG compressor at night will either mean operating on dirtier, base load electrical sources (e.g., coal) or more expensive green electrical sources (e.g., solar energy making a round trip to/from batteries). For these reasons, the natural gas fueled compressor will be both the less expensive AND the “greener” option than electricity in many locations.
  • Lower initial installation cost. Those who have studied the cost of CNG refueling stations understand that the unit cost of the compressor system itself (sometimes referred to as the “skid” due to its packaging) typically represents only one quarter to one half of a complete refueling system. Interestingly, in many locations, the second largest component can be the cost to bring electrical power (typically 480-volt, 3 phase) to the compressor. For the GoFlo(TM) system, this cost is zero.
  • Appropriate size. Many fleet operators have yet to purchase their first CNG vehicle due to lack of size-appropriate refueling options. These operators need a refueling system that is cost effective at the smallest possible size (e.g., as little as 100 GGE/day) … yet scalable as their CNG fleet grows. Traditional electric-driven systems tend to be cost effective only when daily demand is over 1000 GGE/day … a threshold that is not realistic for early fleet adoption.
  • Greater flexibility in siting. Electric-driven compressor systems tend to have relatively large capacity. Therefore, they need a large electricity supply AND a large natural gas supply. Furthermore, given the cost of electricity to power an electric-driven compressor can be high, it is desirable to locate such stations near a source of higher pressure natural gas (e.g., 100 psi) to reduce that power cost. Because the operating fuel cost of the GoFlo(TM) is lower, because it does not need access 480-volt power, and because of its smaller scale, more siting options are available.
  • Greater flexibility in relocating. Installing an electric-driven CNG system means that you have essentially buried the cost of the electrical supply in the ground … truly a “sunk cost”. If the operator needs to relocate the fleet yard during the 20-year life (typical) of the compressor system, this cost cannot be recovered.
  • Greater resiliency. For many fleet operators, it is essential that their vehicles be fully fueled and available through any emergency. The natural gas grid has shown itself to be consistently reliable through natural disasters, while the same cannot be said for the electrical grid. Freedom from electricity makes a CNG fleet fueled by GoFlo(TM) compressors the resilient choice for operators of vital service fleets.
  • Attractive to “CNG-as-a-Service” providers. Many fleet operators choose to invest their capital in vehicles as opposed to in the refueling infrastructure. At the same time, there are 3rd parties (including many local natural gas distributors) whose business it is to invest in clean energy technologies with the provision that they are paid back over time based on the clean energy that is provided. The convenient transportability of the GoFlo(TM) system will make these “CNG-as-a-Service” business models more attractive so that more and more fleet operators will be able to have a CNG refueling system and simply pay per GGE consumed.
  • Built in the USA from US components. The ingenuity of the patent-pending GoFlo(TM) system, is that both the IC engine and the 4-stage compressor are derived from a single, natural gas fueled industrial V8 engine. And what is more American than a V8 engine? And what fleet operator is not familiar with V8 engines? Because the heart of our system is based on a mature, volume-produced component, its cost is low and its performance is predictable.... key benefits for our users.

Over the past four years the team at Onboard Dynamics has worked hard to understand what is needed to increase the adoption of clean, inexpensive, domestic natural gas for transportation fuel. We believe GoFloTM will make an important contribution in this direction. And now that you understand us better, we’d also like to acknowledge our key regional supporters including Oregon BEST, ONAMI, OSU, NW Natural Gas, Portland Seed Fund, Reference Capital, US Metalworks, and KEM Equipment.

Contact Onboard Dynamics for more information on how to order your GoFlo(TM) system today!

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