Real transportation fuel diversity just getting under way in WV - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Real transportation fuel diversity just getting under way in WV

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In the West Virginia of the future, you might drive a natural gas–powered vehicle. Your neighbor to the east might have a couple of electric cars. And your neighbor to the west, who knows? Hydrogen, maybe.

"I think our future is going to be multi-fuel," said William Davis, assistant director of operations for the National Alternative Fuels Training Center in Morgantown. "As a country, we are no longer going to be able to survive with two fuels — gasoline and diesel. We're going to have to have multiple fuels."

Fuel diversity is only just beginning — and it's especially new in West Virginia, which shows up as a conspicuous blank area on a locator map maintained by the Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center.

The AFDC tracks infrastructure for and use of seven alternative fuels. Nationwide, electricity had by far the most fueling stations in 2012, followed by propane and E85; coming in with far fewer stations were compressed natural gas, biodiesel, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen. Compressed natural gas, or CNG, can be used in most vehicles, while LNG is for the heaviest-duty vehicles.

On the map, the west coast and the eastern third of the country pop with electric charging stations. The upper Midwest, corn country, has lots of E85 — a gasoline blend for flex-fuel vehicles that contains up to 85 percent ethanol, most commonly made of corn — and propane is especially dense in the country's middle third.

West Virginia does have 12 public electric charging stations on the map, most of them at McDonald's and at Nissan dealers. It has nine propane stations and one E85 station. The website altfuelprices.com shows fewer propane stations, at six, but has two E85 stations and one biodiesel station.

The NAFTC's Davis provided an update on the status of alternative fuel fueling in the state.

"For electricity," he said, to start with the nation's and the state's most popular alternative fueling station, "the infrastructure in West Virginia is just getting a good foothold."

The fact that most electric vehicles can be charged with standard household current probably is delaying the development of high-speed charging, he said. As demand rises, with increased ownership of plug-in hybrids and pure electrics, the state will begin to see more charging stations at hotels and motels and in municipal parking lots.

Propane could play an important role as a transportation fuel in West Virginia, Davis said. While the state's mountainous areas don't have the pipeline infrastructure for natural gas fueling, they do have propane delivery systems in place.

E85 may be on its way out.

"Part of the reason it hasn't taken off is the fact that manufacturers have just not embraced putting E85-capable engines and systems in vehicles," Davis said.

Of the less popular types of stations nationwide — compressed natural gas, biodiesel, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen — the state took steps in 2012 to promote the use of natural gas in particular when it formed the Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force.

It's a chicken-and-egg problem, said task force Chairwoman Hallie Mason, but one that could shift quickly once it gets going.

"Certainly along the interstate, if you see signs for gas at $1.80, it will generate a lot of interest," Mason said. "We believe the demand will come as people see the price is significantly lower than diesel and regular unleaded gas."

Overlaying maps of population, state and other government vehicle fleets, and pipelines showed the task force that prime locations for natural gas fueling stations are Ohio County in the northern panhandle along with the more populated counties along the Interstate 64, 77 and 79: Kanawha, Wood, Cabell, Raleigh, Monongalia, Marion and Harrison counties.

The task force expects to issue a report in February with recommendations for advancing the use of natural gas vehicles in the state.

The high investment required for alternative fuels infrastructure makes the chicken-and-egg problem significant.

"We have to see consumers support all of these fuels in order for them to become readily available," said Judy Moore, spokesperson for the NAFTC, which works to provides education to build awareness of the options.

Helping to move infrastructure along is the state's alternative fueling infrastructure tax credit. It offers a credit of 50 percent of allowable costs up to $312,500 for infrastructure for public use and remains in effect, with occasional adjustments to the maximum, through 2021.