CNG Fueling Gains in Colorado

The state is home to an estimated 4,000 medium- to heavy-duty CNG-fueled vehicles

Loveland chef and food truck owner Scott Atchison doesn’t want customers of his signature Moose Balls treats and popular Sloppy Elk Sliders to catch a whiff of diesel fumes.

That’s why his mobile cuisine operations at The Sweaty Moose are fueled by CNG, or compressed natural gas, which emits fewer air-polluting chemical compounds. His kitchen occupies a converted CNG-powered, 30-foot passenger bus that he bought used in 2016 from Canopy Airport Parking near DIA.

“I wanted something greener, a little bit more environmentally friendly,” says Atchison, who fuels his 14,000-pound truck powered by a V-10 engine at various CNG stations in Boulder and Weld counties.

Atchison operates one of the more unique CNG vehicles in Colorado, but the state is home to an estimated 4,000 medium- to heavy-duty CNG-fueled vehicles out of some 160,000 in the U.S., according to Sherrie Merrow, a Denver-based natural gas vehicle consultant with MVista Strategies. Colorado currently has 22 public CNG fueling stations with locations from Grand Junction to Colorado Springs, from Eaton to Trinidad. Businesses and fleets utilize 20 additional private stations within Colorado, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Natural gas vehicle use in the state has grown along with the nation’s, to 4 percent of the 2016 transportation market, up from 0.2 percent in 2009, Merrow says. The increase is due to technology innovations and expanded business models for fueling stations.

Currently, the I-25 corridor has adequate CNG station coverage, and the I-70 corridor has basic coverage with a longer gap that developers want to plug between Denver and Glenwood Springs.

Station developers such as X3CNG, Sparq, Clean Energy and Trillium are designing new locations, including Rifle (opening by summer 2018), with plans in the works for Durango and Limon, and a goal of within two years in Burlington, Golden and Eagle. The most recent public stations opened in Gunnison in August and a second location in Greeley in July. Support for station development as well as CNG fleets comes through the ALT Fuels Colorado programs at the Colorado Energy Office.

“Colorado has the best incentives of any state because they combine tax credits and grants and have programs for stations and vehicles,” Merrow says. “Colorado really has put the incentives in place to make the alt fuel industry grow.”

State tax credits are available for purchase, lease and conversion of light- medium- and heavy-duty alternative-fueled vehicles such as natural gas, electric or plug-in hybrids.

Station developers say CNG, which is selling at about $2.39 per gallon equivalent, is continuing to gain a foothold with refuse trucks, transit buses, school buses and package delivery trucks. Three manufacturers make CNG pickups, and progress is happening with 18-wheelers hauling heavy freight. Companies using CNG vehicles in Colorado, or bi-fuel vehicles that can operate with CNG or traditional gasoline, include adopters such as FedEx, UPS, Noble Energy, Ryder, Frito-Lay, Core-Mark, Waste Management, Alpine Waste & Recycling and Dillon Transport.

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