Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

Bakery Goes Green to Save Green

May 2008, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Joan Shim

Charles Feder, owner and operator of Rossmoor Pastries in Signal Hill, Calif., stumbled upon a goldmine when he purchased his first natural gas vehicle (NGV) at auction in April 2006. The dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) Dodge van, with only 14,000 miles, cost $4,300, while the gasoline-fueled vans were going for around $7,000. Although he wasn’t familiar with NGVs and how they worked, it was a deal he could not pass up.

But the deal did not end there. He saw the major savings potential when he went to a local CNG station. It cost $1.50 per gallon to fill up on CNG, while gasoline was about $2.50 per gallon. As the bakery used up 70 gallons a day on deliveries around Southern California, Feder realized a CNG fleet would immediately realize a savings of $70 per day.

Impressed by the figures, Feder and his business partner Janice Ahlgren purchased eight additional CNG vehicles. They also figured out that they would save big by getting their own fueling system, because the local gas company would sell them natural gas for less than $1 per gallon.

Although the company had to make the initial investment to purchase the vehicles and set up fueling capability at the business, those costs were recovered by April 2007.

While most people in California fret as the price of gasoline nears the $4 mark, Feder smiles on the future. “I’m saving a ton of money, I’m green, and I feel good about what I’m doing,” he says.

Environmentally Friendly Refleeting

Feder found his dedicated CNG vehicles at regular and government auto auctions, which are open to the public. Government vehicles typically have low miles and are well maintained. He purchased six 1999 Dodge passenger vans and two 1998 Ford E-350 vans, each with an average of 30,000 miles. He also bought a CNG Crown Victoria. After buying the NGVs, he sold off his old fleet of Dodge vans for $18,000.

Some minor modifications were made to the vans. The seats were removed and a one-inch insulated floor and racks were installed in the back to carry the bakery items. Feder also tinted the windows and added the company’s logo on the sides of the vans.



Feder anticipates running these vans for a long time, particularly because the fuel burns clean. “These engines last forever. They can go 500,000 miles because they run so clean,” Feder says. “And I don’t burn any oil. The oil lasts 10,000 miles if you want it to.”

Because natural gas vehicles have unique systems, it is crucial to work with a certified CNG mechanic. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) has a certification test for CNG technicians.

Vehicle manufacturers typically offer the support of trained technicians. Local Clean Cities Coalition offices as well as community colleges and auto mechanic schools may also be able to refer a CNG mechanic.

The vehicle’s manual should include an inspection schedule. Natural gas tanks must be checked regularly and certified by a CNG mechanic, particularly if the vehicle is in an accident. Additionally, “the gap setting is different on the spark plugs, and the O2 sensor must be checked and working properly,” Feder says.

According to Feder, the only roadblock to using a CNG fleet is the limited supply of vehicles. While Honda still sells the Civic GX NGV, most manufacturers are no longer producing them commercially.

The upside is that any vehicle can be converted into a dedicated or bi-fuel NGV. A dedicated vehicle runs exclusively on natural gas while a bi-fuel vehicle has two tanks to run on both gasoline and natural gas. All that is needed, Feder explains, is “a fuel rail, a tank, and a regulator, and you’re in business.”

It would cost around $1,800 to convert a car, he says. However, a converted CNG vehicle may suffer a power loss of 10 to 15 percent.


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