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Higher Gasoline Prices May Fuel More Interest in Compressed Natural Gas

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa- Anyone doing in driving in eastern Iowa probably got "sticker shock" passing any gas stations on Thursday. Gasoline prices at most Iowa stations shot up 20 cents a gallon overnight and are up at least 30 cents a gallon from last week.

But one convenience store in Cedar Falls is currently installing a fueling system that will dispense a product now selling for the equivalent of about $1.59 a gallon. Of course, there is a catch.

The Kwik Star at 7500 Nordic Drive in Cedar Falls is putting in a compressed natural gas (CNG) system to fuel vehicles. And drivers griping about gas prices were almost giddy when told CNG now sells for more than two dollars a gallon below gasoline.

One driver, Nick Moler, said "that'd be pretty exciting right now after all the prices going up this week."

The problem is very few vehicles can use compressed natural gas as a fuel and there are very few places to fill up with that alternative. The Kwik Star in Cedar Falls will be the second in Iowa after a similar fueling station in Grimes near Des Moines. But Kwik Star's alternative fuel managers are trying to drum up interest with fleet vehicle operators now before the Iowa station comes on line.

Managers showed off some of the latest CNG vehicles and answered questions about switching fuels at a seminar in Cedar Falls. It costs about $8,000 to $10,000 to convert a full-sized pickup truck and probably $40,000 to $50,000 for a semi. Still, the more you drive, the quicker you'd pay off the cost of conversion.

Justin Strahan, from Manatts Construction, said his company is seriously thinking about changing some trucks to run on compressed natural gas.

"I think you'll find more and more people are willing to check out the technology and it's hard to argue with the dollars," Strahan said.

Joel Hirschboeck, alternative fuels manager for Kwik Trip/Kwik Star, said compressed natural gas vehicles aren't different when it comes to driving. There are extra tanks for vehicles equipped to run on both gasoline and CNG. Such dual-fuel vehicles often have an extra gauge on the dashboard showing compressed natural gas levels and usually switch fuels automatically.

The mileage for most vehicles, including pickup trucks, is about the same compared to running on gasoline. Semi owners would see about a ten percent loss in fuel economy due to the different type of engine needed for natural gas compared to diesel.

Hirschboeck said Kwik Star has trucks of its own hauling gasoline but running on compressed natural gas. And the company is seeing savings.

"I just talked to my fleet manager and he projects we'll save enough money per truck to purchase another truck. So that really starts to speak volumes to the opportunities compressed natural gas brings to the market," Hirschboeck said.

Kwik Star currently has ten CNG fueling stations in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The company is building ten more this year including the new one in Cedar Falls.

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