It's getting easier to drive cross country in a vehicle fueled by compressed natural gas.
But some vehicles couldn't do it without Mark McConville.
McConville's CNG Logistics provides mobile refueling services. It is a collaboration with National Transfer, a company that pays drivers to take vehicles across the country.
McConville said there is strong demand for dedicated natural gas vehicles in California because of stringent air quality standards, but it isn't easy to get them there.
McConville's first gig, when he started his company about two years ago, was helping a CNG-fueled trash truck get to the Golden State from Alabama.
Trucks like that are well-suited for cheaper CNG, he said, because they get only about six miles a gallon.
One of the potential drawbacks of switching to an alternative fuel like CNG is finding fueling stations. McConville said “range anxiety” is magnified on cross-country trips, which is where he comes in.
McConville has a van equipped with four CNG tanks, which can hold a total of 80 gallons. He used it in 2010 when he drove his CNG-fueled 1966 Pontiac GTO along Route 66, from Santa Monica, Calif., to Chicago.
He needed to provide his own fuel along some legs of the trip because there were no public fueling stations available.
McConville said it is simple to transfer CNG from one high-pressure tank to another. Gas moves from the fuller tank to the emptier tank until the pressure equalizes.
“It's called equalizing,” he said. “The very best I can do is half a tank.”
McConville's service is needed because there aren't any CNG stations between Midland, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz.
“Once you leave Midland, there is a 600-mile gap,” he said.
McConville said on his first trip, he escorted the trash truck all the way to its destination to figure out the gaps where fuel was not available.
It also helped to plot the best course to hit the available CNG stations. He said that means looping south to New Orleans and Houston before moving back north to Midland.
McConville said natural gas is available in El Paso, but it is liquefied instead of compressed, so he needs to be available to help fuel trucks on their trek across the desert.
He said he typically has to fill up a truck three times to get it to Tucson.
“It's a very safe, low-key thing,” McConville said.
McConville acknowledged the refueling business isn't a long-term venture due to the continued construction of new fueling stations, but he said there could be a localized market for the service in areas where there are a lot of dedicated natural gas vehicles
McConville remains an unabashed advocate of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
The Alabama resident learned about the benefits of compressed natural gas over gasoline about five years ago while looking to save money for his airport shuttle business, which was running between Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta three times a day.
He still runs the shuttle, along with his refueling business, while working as a regional marketing ambassador for Westport, a company specializing in natural gas transportation.
McConville said he asked to work in Oklahoma, which he called the “epicenter” for natural gas vehicles because its tax incentives, low fuel costs and existing infrastructure.
“I figured if I can't sell vehicles here, I can't sell them anywhere,” he said.