AT&T converting to natural gas on 8,000 fleet vehicles

Posted by Rick C. Hodgin

Chicago (IL) - Over the next five years, as part of a project costing $350 million dollars, AT&T will buy and convert 8,000 Ford Motor Company vans and trucks over to natural gas (AT&T currently has 88,000 vehicles in its entire fleet). This move is the single largest commitment ever by a U.S. corporation toward using alternative fueled vehicles.





Compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) does burn cleaner than gasoline, producing about 25% less carbon emissions at the tailpipe. Since there aren't a lot of CNG/LNG filling stations around, AT&T will not only buy the vehicles and convert them (with a contract company yet to be named), but they also look to build 40 CNG filling stations around the United States to power its newest fleet.



In addition to the $350 million expenditure to buy and convert the CNG vehicles, AT&T also looks to spend $215 million over the next 10 years to replace 7,100 passenger cars in its fleet with hybrids and possibly other future fuel sources available by then.





Natural gas



Natural gas is a byproduct of the normal crude oil extraction process. It is a colorless, odorless gas which is lighter than air (unlike propane which is heavier). It comes up out of the ground naturally under very high pressure during drilling and crude-oil extraction. It has been reported that at the north slope of Alaska (Prudhoe Bay) that today under current operations (no new drilling), there is already enough natural gas coming up to supply the entire need of the United States, as well as the projected growth for the next 200 years.



The operations at Prudhoe Bay reportedly pump over one billion cubic feet per day (roughly 12 million gallons were it liquefied, enough to completely power 360,000 vehicles for 500 miles per day, or 4.5 million vehicles were they driving 40 miles per day) of natural gas back into the ground. To put that volume of gas back into the ground they are reportedly using 50 jet turbine engines, the same as are found on 747 airplanes, to power the pumps necessary to compress the natural gas back into the ground under such extreme high pressure.



The natural gas operations at Prudhoe Bay have not been well exploited commercially to date because there was no economical way to get the gas from the north slope of Alaska to markets. However, there has been a renewed interest due to its greenhouse gas savings, as well as the increase in fuel prices, in addition to marketing this "waste product" as a commodity.



Natural gas, while becoming popular in Europe and Asian nations, is slowly catching on in the United States. Several cities use the fuel for their buses because it is much cleaner than diesel. After market CNG and LNG (liquefied natural gas) conversion kits are available for most vehicles, though they are often cost prohibitive.



Opinion



It is very likely that with 88,000 vehicles on the road, AT&T could save the same 25% in greenhouse gas emissions these 8,000 vans and trucks will make simply by making sure all vehicles in their entire fleet have properly inflated tires, clean air filters, regular oil changes, or even if they told their employees to keep vehicle speeds down to 45 mph in cities and 55 mph on highways, saving on fuel economy.

A company doesn't have to spend $350 million (and build 40 new natural gas stations) just to make an environmental savings. In fact, I'm absolutely amazed the board of directors approved this action as there are far more cost sensible ways of getting there.



I wonder how many completely solar-cell powered (or solar-cell recharged via some company recharging station), all-electric vehicles $350 million would buy? I bet there are a lot of startups out there who would gladly design an intelligent all solar-cell vehicle for AT&T for $350 million, producing at least 8,000 of them (average of $43,750 per vehicle) over five years. Such all-electric vehicles could replace their entire southern state fleet where the sunlight is more direct.

The all-electric reality is also more true now than ever with MIT's recent battery material disclosure, a revised lithium-ion manufacturing process which enables batteries to discharge and recharge much faster, allowing for enhanced regenerative abilities in all-electric cars, trucks and vans, as well as computers, cell phones and other electrical equipment.