Beginning this fall, automotive students at Francis Tuttle Technology Center will be able to earn certification as alternative fuel technicians.
Automotive service instructor Charles Lawson will add about two weeks of instruction on working with compressed natural gas vehicles to his engine performance class at the Rockwell campus.
The donation of a 2008 Chevrolet Impala from Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s fleet will help Francis Tuttle teach its students to work on CNG-fueled vehicles, Lawson said.
“Because it's an alternative fuel, there's some different things, mostly in the safety area, that they need to learn about,” he said.
Tom Friedemann, superintendent at Francis Tuttle, said the expanded program fits with the school's vision for its curriculum.
“We continually look to our business and industry partners to help us improve our curriculum,” he said. “We started down the road of environmental responsibility as one of our strategic initiatives a few years ago, and preparing our students for an emerging technology like CNG vehicle maintenance fits well within that.
“With the oil and gas industry being one of Oklahoma's strengths, we can continue to help our country reach toward energy independence.”
Natural gas is gaining a foothold as an alternative to gasoline or diesel, particularly in Oklahoma thanks to the advocacy of Chesapeake and Gov. Mary Fallin.
Chesapeake is converting its entire vehicle fleet to CNG, while Fallin led a 22-state coalition seeking bids for natural gas vehicles for state fleets.
Oklahoma already has added about 320 CNG vehicles to its fleet, Fallin said at Tuesday's Oklahoma State University Energy Conference.
Francis Tuttle has added five CNG Honda Civics since 2011 as it replaces vehicles in its fleet, spokesman Jeff Knapp said.
Oklahoma requires anyone who works on alternative fuel vehicles — those that run on natural gas, propane or electricity instead of gasoline or diesel — to have state certification.
Courses for CNG technicians are available through Oklahoma City Community College, Tulsa Technology Center, Autry Technology Center in Enid and the National Center for Employee Development in Norman.
Those who complete one of the courses must pass a state test to earn certification.
Oklahoma has more than 500 CNG-certified technicians, said Peggy Beaty, administrator of the alternative fuel technician examiners program at the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
She said about 80 state companies are certified as well after committing to hiring only certified technicians.
Lawson said about 125 students pass through Francis Tuttle's automotive program each year.
Once the CNG component is added to the school's curriculum, he said students will be ready to work on dedicated natural gas vehicles or those outfitted with bi-fuel systems so they can run on CNG and gasoline or diesel.
Lawson said he has seen demand for CNG technicians rising as more natural gas vehicles hit the road.
“Oklahoma is a leader in the compressed natural gas industry right now so we have a lot of outside states that actually come in and train in Oklahoma,” said Lawson, a member of the state's alternative fuels committee.