Clean Energy Acquiring FuelMaker from Honda

Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is acquiring FuelMaker Corporation, maker of the Phill home natural gas refuelling system (earlier post), from American Honda Motor Co. and the FuelMaker Trust for US$17 million in cash. The acquisition is expected to be completed within 25 days. FuelMaker manufactures, distributes, installs and services vehicle refueling appliances (VRA) and accessories for fueling vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The consumer version of the VRA is the Phill, a home refueling device that compresses natural gas from the home gas line for fueling vehicles. The new era of high fuel prices has created a dramatic increase in demand for lower-cost natural gas fueling in all transportation sectors, ranging from trucking to consumers. Due to the greater worldwide acceptance of light duty natural gas vehicles, we are broadening our strategic focus to offer fueling solutions for small fleets and consumers. With the Phill unit, customers can fill up at home as well as at stations. This acquisition also continues our business expansion outside the United States where natural gas vehicle use has risen dramatically to more than 8,000,000 vehicles worldwide. In Europe alone, there are many makes and models of natural gas-powered consumer vehicles produced by major manufacturers. We expect the majority of FuelMaker’s sales to be international in the near term. —Andrew Littlefair, Clean Energy President and CEO The proprietary FuelMaker system for small fleet and home fueling is certified by gas associations in Canada, Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, and Argentina, as well as the European Economic Community and the United States. Clean Energy is the leading provider of natural gas (CNG and LNG) for transportation in North America. Comments In a 2005 Honda press release "The Phill home refueling appliance will be available for purchase in limited quantities in California by spring 2005. The retail price of Phill will be approximately US$2,000. Depending on Federal, State, and local government rebates, the actual cost of ownership may be reduced to consumers."

Can anyone tell me if this ever happened? Who "limited the quantities"? Why is there no consumer market throughout the US like there is in Brazil? At $2 per gallon equivalent, a long distance commuter (50 miles each way) would make up the price of conversion to CNG in less than a year. Plus, I understand that CNG is much better for your engine, that you can expect double or triple the life of combustion parts because CNG leaves fewer harmful deposits. Where do I sign up? I don't know all but I do know that they were sold to real retail customers, though probably not many. Given the price of Fuelmaker's entry-level commercial CNG compressors ($8k) and how similar the specs of Phill were to be to those, they probably didn't want to promise an unlimited supply. Whether that meant that anybody walked into a California or Arizona Honda dealer, asked for a CNG Civic, and wanted a Phill to go with it was told they couldn't have a Phill, I don't know.

There are *some* retail CNG facilities available in those areas, too. Not on every corner, but if you use the Department of Energy database, you can find them.

I have used and fueled CNG vehicles as a state employee, including the Civic GX. They can work OK, but the extreme bulk of the CNG tanks can be problematic. The Civic GX doesn't have a trunk to speak of, the CNG tank takes the whole thing. I put a laptop bag in it once, and could probably have put in a second, but that would be it. Then again, given the limited refueling infrastructure, you won't be taking it on a road trip, either. If you think of it like current electric cars- not suitable for all people under all circumstances- they are fine. The limitations are similar- the energy storage is bulky, refueling can be done at home but takes 8 hours, refueling can be faster at specialized fueling stations that are hard to find but do exist.

I don't know why it's so much more popular in some other countries but I'd assume it has to do with tax policy. I do know that before E85 was all the rage there were MORE CNG vehicles for sale at retail- albeit mostly full-size trucks, vans, and sedans. Almost all of them have been cancelled due to lack of demand, since the fleets required to use alternative fuels can satisfy the requirements by buying E85 flex-fuel vehicles, even if they never see a drop of E85. E85 capability so much cheaper to build into a vehicle in comparison. It was hard for fleet managers to justify choosing CNG over E85 when the price premium was often \$10k. Urban transit buses are about the last stronghold where CNG is in heavy use in the US now.

Its simple.. The actual cost of the system is very high but various programs lower the cost quite a bit enabling it to make money selling them at greatly reduced prices.. Its THE ONLY WAY it makes economic sense any time soon.

And obviously each such program only has so much money.

Compressed natural gas vehicles and electric vehicles should always be made to use alternate fuels. It is quite possible to make a combustible gaseous fuel from any liquid hydrocarbon and air. Simple LNG mixes with air are called SNG, Substitute Natural Gas. Any car computer injection system could be programmed to accomodate fuel energy differences, and regulate fuel pressures appropriately.

Using anaerobic fermentation, compressed natural gas can be made quickly at home from materials bought at the super-market if necessary.

Regular gasoline cars should simply have the means to burn small amounts of either LNG or CNG added for limited range travel. This will save much gasoline and imported oil since most car trips are short. Several small tanks can be fitted into unused corners of the body even inside structural elements. ..HG..

Honda only makes and sells 1000 Civic GX's (natural gas version) in the US a year. At least for the consumer here in the good ol' US, that was the market for these items. Supposedly Honda upped production for 2009 to 1500 GX's, although they are already sold out from what I understand. Kinda weird to be dropping this from their portfolio at this point though - would seem to be a real growth opportunity item.

No, several small tanks really aren't practical. The trunk-eating tank in the Civic GX holds the energy equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline, and to achieve even that, the cylinder is pressurized to 3600 psi. To withstand that pressure, the cylinders have to be very thick, very heavy, and made in the shapes that are characteristic to high pressure gas tanks because they withstand the pressure well. Scaling the idea down doesn't work well, because you have a super-thick shell to hold back all the pressure but minimal volume at the center.

I use compressed gases at work that are stored in cylinders like these, and I can assure you that you aren't going to find any that will store anywhere handy, and aren't there aren't any great engineering workarounds. Composites will help with the weight but not the bulk. LNG packages much more easily, but to get it into that liquid state, it takes 40% of the energy value of the LNG you make.

As for making an engine run on either fuel, it can be done, but it's not a happy marriage. You need a high compression ratio engine for CNG and a lower compression ratio for gasoline, and compression ratio is part of the mechanical geometry of the engine, so you can't adjust on the fly. If you really wanted a fuel that paired well in an internal combustion engine with CNG, a much better match would be ethanol or methanol- but to get the benefit you'd lose the capability of running on gasoline/E10.

"Simple LNG mixes with air are called SNG, Substitute Natural Gas."

No, from the definition:

"Renewable natural gas is a subset of synthetic natural gas or substitute natural gas (SNG)."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_natural_gas

Yes, it is grate device, we sell it in Russia.

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