Fuels Forward Blog: Passionate for CNG

How a backyard hobbyist is bringing altfuels to Pa. and beyond

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Fuels forward blog

COOLSPRING, Pa. -- How’s this for passion? Back in 2005, Robert Beatty Jr. set up his own compressed-natural-gas (CNG) fueling station behind his house. He converted his home—appliances, heat—as well as his lawn mower, forklift and personal vehicle to run on CNG.

A longtime executive in the CNG industry as a system designer and distributor, Beatty ultimately followed that passion to establish “O” Ring CNG Fuel Systems L.P., Coolspring, Pa., a provider of CNG system design and installation, vehicle and fleet conversion, and also an operator of four alternative fueling stations in Pennsylvania.

Robert’s daughter, Heather Beatty—marketing director at “O” Ring—told me recently that the first couple of these fueling sites were set up almost as an experiment, after the company converted its own fleet to CNG. The third station offers not only CNG but also propane, natural gas, diesel and gasoline, and will be the model followed by “O” Ring in the future.

Beyond its own locations, the company offers different ownership arrangements for CNG sites.

“It wouldn’t necessarily be 100% owned by ‘O’ Ring CNG,” she noted. “It could be fleets—the customer could own it, or it could be some mix in between.” While “O” Ring works primarily with public and private fleets, it is also open to partnering with convenience stores. And interestingly, the CNG fueling system it provides—compressor, etc.—is mobile.

“Our design is a semi-permanent solution,” Beatty explained. “We build a majority of the equipment on a trailer. It can be folded up and moved down the road in case you want to move to a different fueling location.” The system includes natural-gas compressors from Mount Vernon, Ohio-based Ariel Corp. and CNG dispensers from Wayne, a business unit of GE Electric headquartered in Austin, Texas.

It’s here again that “O” Ring’s passion shows. Part of the reason Robert Beatty Jr. founded the company and embraces CNG is because the fuel supply is domestic. This same attitude touches the equipment side.

“It’s important to put it together as local as possible or in the United States,” said Heather. “We try not to outsource from overseas.”

In the “O” Ring’s case, Wayne’s location in the United States, network of distributors and ability to offer dispensers for multiple types of fuel were key. Kent Robinson, product manager for Wayne CNG dispensers, told me that the company is seeing a lot of interest from retailers on CNG, but notes there is a real time and financial commitment to opening your own fueling site.

Heather estimates that “O” Ring spends between $1.3 million and $2.3 million per station, depending on whether it owns the real estate and has to erect a building and/or canopy. The dispensers are a small fraction of this amount—maybe 10% to 15% of the cost—with the compressor and storage tank the biggest chunks.

“A lot of people think they can just hook up a pump to a gas line,” said Heather. “Besides the compressor, you are analyzing and drying gas, and preparing it for storage.” For a fast-filling application, designed to fill up a tank with CNG at the same rate as gasoline or diesel, a site would need a combination of compressors, dryers and adequate storage to handle multiple vehicles at once.

“The goal is to mimic the same fueling experience with gas or diesel,” said Robinson, who noted that this includes the dispenser, which has the same look, interface and POS as a traditional fuel pump.

Heather said the biggest challenge for “O” Ring is education, dispelling rumors about the safety of CNG, which has a narrower flammability range than gasoline or diesel. Infrastructure is the next biggest challenge.

“Fleets are used to pulling into gas stations on every corner; you can’t do that with CNG,” she said. “For large fleets, it makes more sense for them [to build their own CNG fueling site] than use a public site. The second thing is the cost of entrance; you can’t just stick your toe in and try it.”

For its own fueling sites, “O” Ring is ready for growth, with eight to 10 sites in the pipeline for Pennsylvania and a longer term goal of 50 CNG fueling stations to be built during the next 10 to 15 years along the Interstate 79/Interstate 80 corridor running through western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

“We really believe in it,” said Heather. “It’s the answer to a lot of our prayers, helping the economy, providing jobs, and is a cleaner and domestic resource. It’s not a solution forever, but it’s a nice bridge to get where we need to be with other alternative fuels. We have a good supply to last us 120 to 140 years. There’s no reason to not do it, and we keep jobs here.”