The future of fuelThe top number looked like something from another decade when Kwik Trip officials lit up the reader board at the La Crosse chain's newest store Tuesday: $1.56.
By: By Chris Hubbuch, La Crosse Tribune, Wis., Superior Telegram
The top number looked like something from another decade when Kwik Trip officials lit up the reader board at the La Crosse chain's newest store Tuesday: $1.56.
That's the pump price for compressed natural gas, one of several nontraditional options at the first-of-its-kind alternative fuel station. There's liquid natural gas (chilled to minus 260 degrees), bio-diesel, and propane. There's regular diesel, too, but the closest thing you'll find to regular unleaded is E-85, an ethanol blend.
Though not the first to offer natural gas, it is the first store in the country to offer such a wide array of alternative fuels under one canopy, said Lorrie Lisek, executive director of Wisconsin Clean Cities, an organization working to encourage the use of alternative fuel vehicles.
Along with a station that opened last month in Menomonie, it is also the first site in western Wisconsin to offer compressed natural gas for sale to the public.
Kwik Trip is also installing compressed natural gas pumps at its Cass Street store in La Crosse as well as in Sturtevant, Wis., and Rochester, Minn.
The idea came from a part-time employee who became familiar with compressed natural gas while serving in the merchant marine. He also happened to be friends with CEO Don Zietlow's grandson.
"If we can use natural gas from our own country and not import all that crude oil, how much better that will be for the country," Zietlow said. "It's the right thing to do."
Alternative fuels specialist Ruanna Hayes said Kwik Trip believes compressed natural gas is the fuel of the future.
"We'd like to see this more mainstream," she said.
Kwik Trip's commitment will go a long way to making that so, Lisek said.
The alternative fuel station will serve the 20 natural gas vehicles Kwik Trip has added to its own fleet -- from a light duty pickup truck up to a Peterbilt semi that's already logged more than 1,500 miles delivering traditional fuels.
Chad Hollett, director of Kwik Trip's distribution division, said the company will use the first station -- an investment of about $3 million -- to test the market.
As petroleum prices spike, so does interest in vehicles that run on natural gas, a cheaper fuel that's cleaner burning, abundant -- and home grown.
Natural gas vehicles -- which have internal combustion engines similar to conventional gas and diesel models -- have been around for decades.
Measured in terms of vehicles, natural gas accounts for a tiny fragment of the U.S. fleet, but in terms of fuel use, it's a rapidly growing share thanks to growing use in heavy duty vehicles.
Hollett said the economics of a fuel that sells for half the price of gas or diesel is reason enough to embrace natural gas; the environmental and political benefits of using something cleaner and that's domestically produced just makes sense.
Kwik Trip plans to add about 20 natural gas vehicles each year to its own fleet and will offer conversions and roadside assistance to other businesses looking to convert their fleets.
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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