EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

April 27, 2014

Conversion costs make some wary of natural-gas fleets

Many with ties to the energy industry are fighting a perception battle that is preventing more compressed natural gas vehicles from hitting the road.

Matt Nealis is one of them.

For years, he has heard from potential clients who have shunned converting their corporate fleets of cars, trucks and buses into CNG vehicles because they think it will cost too much to bring their garages up to fire code.

The CNG project manager for Larson Design Group, an architecture and engineering firm in Williamsport, Pa., spends a lot of his time consulting with fleet managers about modifying their garages to handle the demands of the different fuel — and making the case that some price estimates for the work may be inflated with unnecessary changes.

“I don’t want a garage modification to prohibit a company from converting to CNG,” said Nealis, who often travels to conventions and trade shows educating people on the topic. “And it shouldn’t, because your investment is very minor compared to the long-term return.”

The chemistry of compressed natural gas is different than that of diesel and unleaded gasoline. When diesel or unleaded gas leaks, it falls to the ground because it is heavier than air. CNG is lighter than air, so it rises. That can be problematic in garages built to service conventional vehicles. Fans, electrical wires, heating and ventilation systems, and a variety of other ceiling components can ignite natural gas that leaks and rises.

Renovations to prepare for a CNG fleet require ceilings to meet fire code and to provide proper ventilation, so any natural gas that leaks does not linger.

The National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization in Quincy, Mass., sets the standard for fire codes nationwide, including those related to CNG vehicles. Local municipalities can write their own code to supplement, or supersede, NFPA code.

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