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General Electric Co. said Wednesday that it will work to develop a cheap and fast way to refuel natural gas cars at home with the help of government research money.
The price of natural gas has fallen so low that car and truck makers have been exploring ways to expand the market for natural gas-powered vehicles. Vehicles that run on natural gas could save drivers money on fuel and reduce oil imports.
But without a network of natural gas fueling stations, natural gas vehicles have been mainly limited to sanitation companies, utilities, public transit authorities and other groups that operate vehicles refueled at a central location.
GE will team with gas processing company Chart Industries Inc. and the University of Missouri to develop an inexpensive home refueling station that would connect to home gas lines, compress the gas and deliver it to vehicle fuel tanks. The project will receive $2.3 million through an Energy Department program called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.
The goal is to create a home fueling station that could sell for $500 and fuel a car in less than an hour. Home fueling stations now cost $5,000 and take five to eight hours to compress natural gas and fill a vehicle's storage tank. The high price of home refueling currently reduces or eliminates any savings a customer might realize from lower fuel costs.
Natural gas drillers have unlocked enormous resources in shale deposits under several states. The newfound gas has pushed prices to record lows, and the amount of gas now within reach leads experts to believe that natural gas prices will stay low for years to come. Oil prices, meanwhile, are expected to stay relatively high. That will keep gasoline prices high as well, since gasoline is made from crude oil.
Natural gas vehicles cost more to build than gasoline powered vehicles, in part because they require a heavy storage tank to hold the compressed gas, and they cannot travel as far as gasoline-powered cars without refueling.
Natural gas engines burn much cleaner, however, and the fuel is far cheaper at today's prices.
Sales of natural gas-powered buses, delivery trucks and garbage trucks are rising, and efforts to create a refueling network for long-haul tractor trailers powered by liquefied natural gas are under way.
Right now only Honda sells a natural gas-powered passenger car, a version of its Civic small sedan. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are beginning to sell more pickup trucks powered by natural gas, aimed at corporate fleets of natural gas companies and other companies with easy access to natural gas.
GE shares rose 9 cents to $19.81 in afternoon trading Wednesday. Chart Industry shares rose 88 cents to $64.