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Alternative energy vehicles spawn road-range concerns

Energy Editor Adam Wilmoth took his natural-gas powered car out of state for the first time this weekend, stretching its range and testing how far it can go across the country.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: July 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: July 18, 2013

One of the main hindrances limiting adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles is a phenomenon known as “range anxiety.”

Most alternative fuel vehicles cannot travel as far as traditional gasoline-powered cars and trucks, and they face the limitation of far fewer opportunities to refill or recharge.

When I bought a natural-gas powered car in April, I wrote that a dedicated natural-gas vehicle is a commuter car and is not a good fit for cross-country driving because there are relatively few stations throughout the country.

After the column was published, I received several calls, emails and comments from people who disagreed with my assessment. Several said they had driven dedicated CNG vehicles to Florida, Chicago and other parts of the country.

I have been anxious about venturing out too far, mainly because of range anxiety — if I were to run out of gas, I couldn't just walk to the next corner, fill up a small red tank and return to my car. Instead, I'd have to have my car towed to the nearest CNG station, which outside of Oklahoma tend to be at least 150 miles apart.

My 2009 natural gas-powered Honda Civic holds only eight gasoline gallons equivalent, but it rarely fills completely. Unlike traditional gasoline pumps, CNG pumps fill based on pressure. My tank can handle up to 3,600 PSI, but if a pump recently has made a large fill or otherwise is not at full pressure, I could receive about a gallon less.

My car has an estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway. I had been told that when driving long distances on the highway, I could expect at least 250 miles per tank.

I was skeptical.

But I tried it out this weekend, when we took the Civic out of state for the first time on our way to Six Flags in Arlington, Texas.

Oklahoma is third behind California and New York for the number of public CNG stations. It's safe to travel throughout much of the state. But there are no refueling options between the Red River and Dallas.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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