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Chesapeake, GE Get in on Home-Refueling Game

Several US companies are working on new ways to render natural gas cars more attractive: developing affordable home refueling systems that would make it easy to take advantage of low natural gas prices courtesy of the shale boom.

Home refueling units aren’t a novel idea—they’ve been around for years, letting consumers tap into their existing home natural gas supplies and compress the fuel overnight to fill the tank of their car. The potential should be high given the fact that some 57% of Americans already use natural gas at home for heating or cooking.  

The problem is that it’s too expensive, despite the fact that we are in the middle of a massive shale boom and natural gas prices are at their lowest ever and up to $2 less per gallon than gasoline or diesel.

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The upfront expense of buying and installing home refueling units has kept a novel idea from becoming widely adopted; as has the higher prices for natural gas cars, which on average carry a price tag that is $10,000 higher than conventional vehicles.

There is only one manufacturer of home refueling units in the US—Italian-owned BRC Fuelmaker, and its units cost around $6,500 with installation. Now some new players are ready to pounce on this scene, and are promising to change the way we think about home-refueling.

Chesapeake Energy, second-largest producer of natural gas, is working with General Electric Co. and Whirlpool Corp. to develop a $500 home-refueling unit.

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The new units, if successful, could make natural gas a more viable alternative to gasoline, driving up sales of the vehicles. At this point there are some 110,000 light-duty natural gas-powered cars in US. Also, out of total 120,000 gasoline stations, there are only 540 public compressed natural gas refueling stations in the whole country.

The new unit, currently under development, will fit in a residential garage, hook into a natural gas line and dispense compressed natural gas into vehicles.

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon says that once drivers can refill CNG cars at home, General Motors, Toyota and other auto makers will boost production of the vehicles. “When GM and Toyota see that, you’ll see the cars flying out.”

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com




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