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Te Chicken and the Egg Stirk Compressed Natural Gas works to build supply and demand at the same time


Convincing truck companies to use

compressed natural gas is a lot harder sell today than it was just a few years ago, when diesel prices were at their peak and CNG’s relative cheapness meant owners could make up the engine cost difference in less than two years. Now, with the two fuels much

closer in price and still no federal tax incentives to help offset the higher cost of CNG-burning vehicles, the repayment time stretches out to three or three-and-a-half years. So companies in the CNG business, like Lincoln-based Stirk Compressed Natural Gas, are looking instead to emphasize CNG’s environmental sustainability and ease truck owners’ concerns about the availability of CNG refueling stations along major routes. Stirk did that in a rather dramatic way last

summer: Tey used Stirk’s own CNG-fueled truck to haul a CNG storage tank from Maine to Lincoln, where manufacturer Hexagon Composites was slated to make some repairs on it, in just three days. Ten, they loaded the tank back on the CNG truck and drove it to Washington state, where the tank’s owner was making a presentation about CNG to a potential new client. And finally, Stirk drove the tank on its CNG truck from Washington state back across the country to Maine. “One of the questions that always comes

up is, ‘How far can you get?’ said Hoelscher, managing member at Stirk. “Tere are a lot fewer CNG stations that are able to service a Class A truck with a tractor-trailer.” Stirk’s CNG truck has 140 gallons of fuel

storage, which gives it a range of about 600 miles, Hoelscher said. A lot of dedicated CNG trucks can travel 1,000 miles or more, he said. Traveling on interstates 80, 90, and 94, the Stirk team was able to plot out a route with enough refueling stations to get them across the country and back.

“At the time, there was a real differential

between CNG and diesel pricing,” said McClymont. “Tat’s changed dramatically.” Even with diesel’s current low prices,

though, there’s still a financial benefit to using CNG, McClymont said. Because CNG prices are much more stable than diesel — the price of CNG at Stirk’s first station in Lincoln has varied by 20 cents per gallon over three years, compared to a $1.50 per gallon variation in diesel — fleets can lock in CNG prices for up to five years in advance, compared to about six months for oil-based fuels. “We feel in the long run that CNG

will win out over diesel,” McClymont said.

Tere are other pluses as well, McClymont said. With the “Tere were only two stations on that

route that were more than two miles off the interstate, and they were both within 10 miles of the interstate,” Hoelscher said. Te trip showed just how far the public-

access CNG infrastructure has come in a short time. Interstate 80 in particular was a hole in the network, Hoelscher said. “When we started three years ago, there

was no way you could have made that trip,” Hoelscher said. “From Chicago to Cheyenne, there were no stations on I-80. In the last three years, with our stations and some others out there, that corridor is building up.” Stirk was formed about three years ago

by Hoelscher; Kirk McClymont, senior marketing manager; and Steve Knuth, senior vice president and partnership development. All have decades of experience working in the commodities and energy sectors in Nebraska.

Environmental Protection Agency’s strict guidelines on diesel engines, trucking companies spend a lot of time and money on upkeep. CNG engines are simpler, McClymont said — eight sensors, compared with 27 sensors on a diesel engine. “We have some data from a fleet that their

cost per mile for maintenance is 17 cents per mile on a diesel engine vs. 6 cents per mile on a CNG engine,” McClymont said. “If you run 100,000 miles a year, that’s $11,000 in savings on maintenance and repair. Plus, the trucks are on the road instead of sitting in the shop broken down.” Sustainability is also an important part of

the equation for some companies, Hoelscher and McClymont said. Companies such as Frito Lay, FedEx, and UPS — companies


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