by Dennis Dalman
Thanks to a hefty grant from the federal government, St. Cloud Metro Bus will eventually have a fleet of “green” buses, including those on its Sartell route.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited St. Cloud last week to announce Metro Bus will receive $3.3 million to develop buses that will run on compressed natural gas. LaHood was accompanied by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis when he made his announcement at the Metro Bus headquarters in east St. Cloud.
The Metro Bus fleet has long been operating on diesel fuel. Compressed natural gas, domestically produced, is both less expensive and more environmentally friendly than diesel fuel. The New Flyer Co. in St. Cloud already manufactures buses designed for compressed natural gas. In his remarks, LaHood praised New Flyer, Metro Bus and St. Cloud in general for far-ranging vision in understanding the importance of cleaner-energy sources.
LaHood’s grant announcement is one of 27 grants recently made by the Department of Transportation throughout the nation for a total of $59 million. All of the grants are part of the Clean Fuels Grant Program. They are aimed at cities buying cleaner, greener buses that can reduce harmful emissions while improving fuel economy. According to the Department of Transportation, such funds are part of Pres. Barack Obama’s emphasis on an independent and more secure energy future.
“In Minnesota and across the country,” LaHood said in a press release, “Pres. Obama is committed to investing in sustainable transportation systems that will improve access to jobs, education and medical care for millions of riders, while bringing cleaner air to our communities and reducing our dependence on oil.
These projects will also help transit agencies operate more efficiently so they save money in the long run.”
The $3.3-million grant will pay for a new fueling station (compressed gas) and remodeling of the operations center. For the foreseeable future, Metro Bus hopes to replace 18 of its 39 buses to run on compressed gas. The cost savings would be about $500,000 annually in fuel. Natural gas would save as much as $2 per gallon on what Metro Bus now pays for diesel fuel.
The adaptation to the new buses will be completed in 2014.
Klobuchar said in the past few years, the United States’ dependence on foreign energy sources has declined from 60 percent to 45 percent.
“We have a lot farther to go, but that is an amazing change,” she said.
Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting mainly of methane. It’s found in deep underground rock formations throughout the world. Natural gas was formed during a period of millions of years through buried organic material under great pressure from the miles of rock and earth above.
Natural gas must be processed before it can be used as fuel, and during the processing many other useful by-products are created, such as propane and butane.
Compressed natural gas is obtained by compressing the gas to less than 1 percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure. It’s then stored in cylindrical tanks. In the case of Metro Bus, the buses will be converted into bi-fuel vehicles so their internal-combustion engines can use the compressed natural gas.
Some estimates claim there is enough natural gas deep in the ground of the United States to supply energy needs for 100 years. Use of natural gas (as opposed to oil) has also been touted as a way to help reduce global warming. Millions of public-transportation vehicles throughout the world have already been adapted to use natural gas, including most dominantly in the countries of Pakistan, India and Argentina where people experience a scarcity of other vehicle fuels.