I must admit, I thoroughly enjoy a good old American road trip.
We’re lucky. My children are good travelers. They take the ups and downs of long hauls in their stride. We’ve logged up to 850 miles in a day, but typically we try to limit ourselves to 500 miles a day as we crisscross the country. It is not uncommon for us to rack up 3,000 miles in the course of a week, as we explore the best of what America has to offer.
Along the way I’ve come to anticipate the all-important question: “Where’s the next bathroom?”
When there are five people in the car, coordinating bathroom stops can be a marvel of linear programming. Usually we try to combine bathroom breaks with food and a fueling stop, which leads me to the heart of this article…
While the truck stop, Pilot Flying J, has been around for almost half a century, my family and I didn’t start visiting it until we happened into one when we found ourselves overflowing and running dry (so to speak).
What we found was reasonably priced gasoline and the treasure of all road trips… clean restrooms! This meant that, where possible, the Pilot Flying J stations moved to the top of our list.
And now I have another reason to extol Pilot’s virtues: the company is partnering with T. Boone Pickens’ new enterprise, Clean Energy (CLNE), to provide compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling stations in over 100 locations.
This is the missing piece to the energy puzzle.
The last ten years have been weird for energy. Oil spiked higher. The U.S. has been involved in two wars in the Middle East. Green energy has been praised and subsidized. And natural gas went from severely limited availability to a 100-year supply thanks to fracking.
So now what? In the end, it all comes down to ease and price of conversion on the part of users.
When it comes to electrical generation, plant operators can develop a fuel supply that services many, be it coal, gas, hydro, etc. Those of us who simply “plug stuff in” don’t really notice.
But when it comes to vehicles… well, that’s a different story.
Not All Fuels Are Created Equally
Ethanol was great if you grew corn. But if you ran a vehicle then the agri-fuel was hard on your engine and had inferior energy storage. You simply can’t get as much energy out of a gallon of ethanol as you can gasoline. In addition, the production of ethanol uses a lot of energy AND the industry is widely subsidized, including mandated use as a fuel additive.
Bio-diesel is an alternative, but we can’t use it in large quantities (meaning greater than 5% to 15% of a fuel mixture) in newer cars because it “gums up” the works.
Electric vehicles are tethered to recharging stations and suffer from a lack of power and range.
This is where compressed natural gas-powered vehicles enter the fray. You see, it’s relatively inexpensive to convert a gasoline vehicle to a CNG vehicle; just a few thousand dollars. And there’s no loss of power or range.
And with the new over-supply of natural gas, a gallon of CNG only costs about $1.50 while traditional gas costs around $3.30. That’s a 55% savings – pretty good if you ask me. With ease of use, no loss of power or range, and a great price point, what we are missing is availability. The Clean Energy / Pilot Flying J partnership is large step toward bringing CNG vehicles into the mainstream.
I couldn’t be happier with this transition. Not only are CNG vehicles cleaner burning, and therefore better for the environment, but the fuel source is local. The current account deficit of the U.S. would plummet if we cut our daily oil imports in half. At the same time, we would boost employment in the U.S.
Here is a fuel source that can exist side by side with petroleum – same fueling stations, equivalent power, basically same engines – that we can produce locally to cut our imports, cut our costs, employ more people and reduce, if not eliminate, our dependence on nations that would like to see our demise.
The only things in our way are infrastructure build-out and consumer awareness. As we overcome these two problems, the increased use of compressed natural gas will help carry the U.S. into the next period of economic prosperity.
It won’t occur overnight, but be thankful that we’re on the right path in this part of our economic evolution!
And if you need a clean bathroom on a long trip, don’t hesitate to park among the big rigs at a Pilot Flying J.
Ahead of the Curve with Adam O’Dell
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