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Filling up naturally

By John Geluardi
Saturday July 28, 2001

City finds new way to pump gas  


When politicians and city officials gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony there’s usually enough hot air generated to inflate a fleet of air balloons ... or, in this case, fuel a few city vehicles. 

Deputy Director of Public Works Patrick Keilch emceed the grand opening of Berkeley’s first compressed natural gas station. About 25 people attended the ceremony including Mayor Shirley Dean and a cadre of city and state officials.  

The new CNG station, located at the end of Second Street near Harrison Street, will pump compressed gas vapors into the fuel tanks of vehicles owned by the city, state and local businesses. 

City officials said CNG burns 75 percent cleaner and increases the longevity of engines by about 50 percent as a result of reduced carbon buildup common in vehicles that use liquid gas or diesel fuels. 

“These vehicles are much cleaner burning and much longer lasting,” said Department of Public Works Fleet Manager Bill Ivie.  

Keilch said the CNG fuel costs about five to 10 percent less per mile than liquid gas. 

Environmental Planner Matthew Nichols, of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, estimated that one Berkeley refuse program, which will use seven CNG-fueled garbage trucks, will reduce 4,600 pounds of pollutants that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere every year.  

The facility, which compresses the same natural gas used for residential heaters and stoves, costs nearly $500,000. At the site, natural gas will be drawn from PG&E lines and then compressed before being pumped into vehicles. 

The project was funded by the BAAQMD, the California Energy Commission and Trillium USA, a privately-owned company that will operate the facility. The city of Berkeley contributed administrative support and about $25,000. 

The fuel station will be used by a variety of public agencies including the city of Berkeley, the city of Albany and UC Berkeley. Some of the businesses that will use the station are American Soil, Acme Bread Company and the San Francisco International Airport Shuttle Service. 

Currently, the department of public works uses six CNG Pickup trucks and the police department uses four CNG patrol cars.  

“We have the seven garbage trucks on order as well as three other vehicles on the way,” said DPW Fleet Manager Bill Ivie. “Now that we have the infrastructure the number of CNG vehicles will snowball.” 

Dean said the project is the type of public-private association she would like to see more of.  

“This is wonderful,” she said. “We’re getting cleaner and this fuel is [not as] hard on the engines.” 

Peter Ward, a fuel manager for the California Energy Commission, said CNG fuel stations are becoming popular. “There are about 100 public CNG fuel stations throughout the state and another 100 stations for private use,” he said. “That’s compared to 10,500 gas stations, so we have a long way to go.” 

The CNG vehicles are purchased with stock vapor-burning fuel systems and, in the case of the new Ford trucks used by the DPW, cost about $4,500 more than a regular vehicle. The additional cost is paid with grant money from the BAAQMD, which distributes about $20 million annually for projects that reduce pollution emissions. 

Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner L.A. Wood attended the ceremony and said he has supported the CNG fuel station for years and was glad it finally opened with one reservation. 

“The city should of done the minimum environmental review,” he said. “Vehicles will be coming all the way across town from the university to fuel up and there’s other contaminants that automobiles put in the air besides fuel emissions.”