If you've spotted a white truck with green leaves on it at Colorado Mountain College's Rifle campus, you've seen the latest addition to our integrated energy technology program.
The truck, a 2012 Ford F-250 Super Duty, runs on compressed natural gas, a fossil fuel composed mostly of methane. CNG is an emerging technology in the alternative fuels field. The truck will be a valuable educational tool for CMC's integrated energy technology program and is part of our initiative to make our energy courses and programs more accessible.
The truck was purchased through a $1.3 million share of a three-year federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium grant awarded to CMC last year, and an in-kind donation of $11,000 from Encana. The grant will also allow the college to purchase a new mobile learning lab with equipment, expected to arrive sometime in early summer. The truck and lab will eventually travel throughout Colorado, providing hybrid energy courses for students who can't make it to the Rifle campus.
Using CNG for automobiles makes sense for a number of reasons. It's a "transition fuel" to help reduce the United States' dependency on foreign oil and gasoline, natural gas is abundant, it is one of the cleanest-burning alternative fuels, and it's less expensive to operate. Currently in Rifle, the price of the gasoline gallon equivalent - the amount of alternative fuel it takes to equal one liquid gallon of gasoline - is $2.59 a gallon for CNG versus $3.79 for gasoline.
This CNG vehicle has significant advantages over electric vehicles. As a bi-fuel vehicle, it can run on both CNG and gasoline. This allows the vehicle to go longer distances between refueling. I estimate CMC's truck could go around 700 miles before refueling, and since the vehicle can switch to gasoline, this helps when a CNG refueling station is too far away. CNG vehicles also have more horsepower, giving them significantly better towing capabilities over electric.
As with any alternative fuel source, there are disadvantages. There is a slight decrease of 10 to 15 percent in engine performance, compared to cars running on gasoline. And there is only one public CNG refueling station in Garfield County, the Shell station in Rifle. However, there is currently a CNG filling station in the works in Parachute. Plus, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority announced plans last January to convert 22 of its buses to CNG in 2013.
This truck embodies the values and purpose of the CMC integrated energy technology program at our Rifle campus. Not only will we be able to provide new educational opportunities centered on an emerging technology, we are bridging traditional and renewable energy industries.
Rob Winn is Colorado Mountain College's new grant coordinator.