Alternative fuels trickling into Miami's automotive mix
By Meena Rupani
Alternative car fueling stations are gaining momentum in South Florida: the first public compressed natural gas fueling station opened last week in Fort Lauderdale courtesy of Wise Gas Inc.
The second is to open this month in Miami Gardens, according to the Florida Natural Gas Association, a non-profit organization.
"The opening of both stations was nicely timed with the Ford Focus $4,000 tax credit, the largest grant amount earned by an American-made CNG vehicle to date," the association said. "The Ford Focus runs entirely on natural gas and the tax credit is available to households, businesses and municipalities starting immediately."
CNG reduces greenhouse gas emissions 21% to 26%, the association said.
Although the Wise Gas station, between Sunrise and Broward boulevards, wasn't completed, the company decided to open nonetheless to meet what it called demands of area fleets.
"We are still adding the finishing touches to the station, but fleet operators are waiting to use the station so we opened earlier than expected," said Christine Slager, president of Wise Gas.
The station was privately funded, although the company "tried to apply for numerous grants," Ms. Slager said.
She called compressed natural gas "the cleanest-burning fuel."
"Some will tell you that coal is the cleanest, but if you are plugging directly into a coal plant then it is certainly not."
Most natural gas comes from wells such as natural gas-and-condensate wells and oil wells.
There are private CNG stations in Florida. However, Ms. Slager said, the public station is important to the community.
"The average soccer mom or businessman cannot refuel his or her natural gas vehicle at a private station," she said. "The private stations are only for those fleets within area limits."
Ms. Slager said Broward County has four private stations, Miami Beach and Sunrise one apiece.
Of 1,100 CNG stations in the US, half are public.
The Honda Civic GX and the Ford Focus are the most popular natural gas vehicles.
Vehicles running on regular gasoline can convert, but it's costly. According to Wise Gas, conversion of a regular vehicle would cost $7,000 to $13,000.
Wise is planning on opening more CNG stations in Florida to "remove the dependency on foreign oil," Ms. Slager said.
Natural gas is certainly abundant in the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration: there were over 9 million barrels of natural gas in the liquid form in the US and 245 billion cubic feet of dry natural gas proved reserves as of 2008.
Other alternative fuels are also available in Florida.
Eight fueling stations in the state offer E85, a blend of 85% denatured ethanol and 15% gasoline. The only one in Miami is U-Gas on Northwest 79th Street.
Demand for E85 stations is growing because the US is the world's largest ethanol producer. Similar to diesel fuel, however, E85 is offered only at specially marked pumps at 700 stations nationwide, according to the Environmental Protection Administration.
Biodiesel fuel is also offered in Florida at six stations. The only one in Miami-Dade is Biodiesel in Motion on Southwest 117th Avenue.
Ford, Chrysler and GM all have created special vehicles to run on E85 fuel and biodiesel fuel. Both fuels decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
However, compressed natural gas is still the cheapest of the three alternative fuels, costing $1.99 per gallon as of July 15 compared to the average gasoline price in Miami of $2.71, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In Miami, a gallon of E85 averaged $2.40 and biodiesel $2.67.
"One in every five transit buses runs on natural gas," said Jenna Bernardo, public relations director for the Florida Natural Gas Association. "More and more people are using it and as a result more CNG stations are developing because of the high demand."