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Never a Gas Station When You Need One

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pittsburgh -- We’ve all experienced that moment of panic as drivers: You suddenly notice the warning light on your fuel gauge, but you don’t know when it came on or how close you are to the nearest gas station.

Now imagine you drive a natural gas-powered vehicle. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has only five natural gas fueling stations. That scarcity is a barrier to more people adopting cleaner, more fuel-efficient natural gas vehicles that could also reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Three professors at Robert Morris University have developed a mathematical model that determines the optimal locations for natural gas fueling stations in Pittsburgh, based on existing traffic flow and traffic density. Their paper, authored by Tony Kerzmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Gavin Buxton, associate professor of physics; and Jonathan Preisser, assistant professor of mathematics, indicates optimal locations for up to 128 fueling stations in the city of Pittsburgh. The paper is being published in the journal Sustainable Energy Technology and Assessments.

“A transportation sector dominated by natural gas vehicles would provide a huge step toward energy independence, but this is not the only advantage of natural gas vehicles,” the authors write. “Natural gas vehicles significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane hydrocarbon, particulate matter, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The authors say their model could be extended to include other variables, including socioeconomic status — which is likely related to the concentration of natural gas vehicles, which are new and costlier than gasoline-powered models — and the locations of existing gas stations.

“Say you are BP and you wanted to change some of your gas stations to natural gas. This could tell you where that would make the most sense,” says Buxton.

According to a recent presentation by Robert Beatty, president of “O” Ring CNG Fuel Systems – as reported by the Pittsburgh Business Times – 15 million natural gas vehicles operate worldwide, but only 112,000, including buses and trucks, operate in the United States.

Yet as the RMU professors note in their paper, while the U.S. imports 45 percent of its total petroleum consumption, the nation produces nearly 90 percent of the natural gas it consumes.

“A transportation sector dominated by natural gas vehicles would provide a huge step toward energy independence, but this is not the only advantage of natural gas vehicles. Natural gas vehicles significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane hydrocarbon, particulate matter, and greenhouse gas emissions,” the authors write.

Ultimately, a robust network of natural gas fueling stations could ease the transition to even cleaner hydrogen-burning fuels. “The future potential use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel, which could make use of existing natural gas infrastructure, would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero during vehicle operation,” the authors write.

ABOUT ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY
Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.