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Utah Fleet Veering Away from Natural Gas, Toward Ethanol

Salt Lake Tribune. Managers of Utah’s state fleet are rejecting natural gas vehicles—which the governor embraces—in favor of E85 flex-fuel vehicles.

The managers of the massive state fleet are abandoning natural gas, saying the vehicles are too expensive and drivers didn't like searching for stations that carry the alternative fuel.

Instead they have bought more than 600 flex-fuel vehicles, which can run on normal gas or E85 ethanol. And almost all are running on gasoline because E85 ethanol is not readily available in the state. It is more expensive to truck it in from the Midwest, where it is produced from corn, than to ship in gasoline.

Fleet managers say they intend to start buying hybrids next year.

We don’t have any plans to buy any additional [natural gas cars]. The industry is going away from that.

—Margaret Chambers, Fleet Director



This looks like part of a campaign of misdirection.  Natural gas supplies are shrinking, and E85 isn't even available in Utah.  There has to have been a conscious decision to avoid hybrids, which are the one route to sustainable vehicles (PHEVs and EVs).


So...they should make E-85 PHEVs. Then we'd have to
produce a lot less ethanol.


I take that back. E-100 PHEVs should be produced.

P Schager

This is a clear step backwards for altfuel on oil independence, because even if they did use the ethanol, ethanol is going to remain for many years a minor part of the ethanol-plus-gasoline supply, so near-conventional cars and infrastructure still dependent on that will only weakly weaken OPEC compared to full altfuel. Especially since so far "flex-fuel" cars have remained petroleum-biased/ethanol-crippled, with fixed low compression. On global warming, natural gas vs. ethanol may be a wash; ultimately both should become renewable. But damage is being done which is relevant over the next stage of several years especially because of the precedent of reversals and failed reform investments.

EPACT has succeeded in little but training everyone that cooperating towards Washington's half-hearted independence goals is a sure way to buy yourself headaches and high costs, and that the appearance that you are safe in the company of all these other patriotic parties jumping in with you is surely an illusion. EPACT's downfall has been a vicious circle of half-heartedness and failure to bring down the costs. Failure of the various government entities involved to work together in common cause towards a practical strategy to serve this federal government-set goal/requirement and build the complete network. To put in enough pumps, to make it easy for people to find and use them, give them a proper incentive to do so and buy consistently and enough that the cost can come down.

We now have to question whether governments will even get their employees to bother to plug in PHEVs.

The fact that industry is aborting the natural gas vehicle push before it can be made easily competitive as promised should tell you what to make of the push now to do hydrogen. The difficulties of hydrogen are much like those of natural gas only three times heavier.

In principle, the best use of natural gas (or any fuel) for vehicles is in stationary generators (preferably SOFC/turbocompounder with cogeneration) to charge your PHEV. But there will be ICE addicts for many years yet, and the loss of NGV's now is a win only for the anti-freedom, pro-cartel petroleum club. We need to push against oil dependence from several angles and not let any of these pushes bomb. Or it's like engaging a war with so few troops you just get ambushed. Natural gas cars have been the cleanest short of xEV's and don't need a lot of strategic metals for their catalytic converters or anywhere else. And why are they being allowed to fail just before advances like ANG (adsorbed natural gas) promise to solve the problem of high fueling station (compressor) costs?

It won't be a good day when Iran shows that they can make NGV's practical after America gave up.


NGV's haven't been "allowed to fail".  They were failures from the beginning, due to:

  • Declining supplies of natural gas (N. America is well past peak), and
  • Need for expensive infrastructure.
The reason the future belongs to PHEV's is that the infrastructure needs can be as little as an extension cord.


or as long.


Of course if Utah had a mandatory alt fuel vehicle program for it's fleets - they'd have to partner with the ethanol guys to install E85 pumps. Fleet pumps only need to be in the fleet depots - as long as drivers calc their consumption reasonably.

Good opportunity for Utah to lead the pack by installing E85 and buying flex HEVs or PHEVs when available.

Roger Pham

Smart, very smart! Switching from NG to FFV-Ethanol and now run on gasoline only since E-85 is not available, so the E-85 capability is just in name only, in order to get green credit! You can eat a cake and still have it, too.

But if they really care, they could have used a Honda home NG filler to fuel up their vehicle at home or at work once a week or so, and avoid having to look for a NG filling station.
Methane can be a renewable fuel derived from waste biomass fermentation or gasification, with much higher EROIE than ethanol, be it corn or cellulosic, with the exception of sugarcane ethanol being very efficient, but we can't grow sugarcane here.


If we could make enough biogas to run these cars, it would make sense.  But the last time I calculated the potential gas production from landfills, it came out to be a very small fraction of our total use.  Given that the fossil supply is shrinking rapidly, biogas for motor fuel only makes sense for stranded supplies.


Just gasify the biomass and make SNG. Either way, I agree with EP that biomass to electric to cars makes sense.

Jeff Cross

Who are the idiots that decide to switch to ethanol when there is none to be found in Utah and is not that much cheaper than gasoline, and in turn will cost the Utah tax payer more to fill the tanks of the fleet vehicles with gas and make will make the hazy worst because the state employees are to dam lazy to fine out where the natural stations are and to check how much fuel is in the tank before they leave.

Thank you,

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