Charrette Provides Environmentally-Conscience Natural Gas Delivery Vehicles

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Woburn, MA, 10/29/01 - Charrette Corporation has unveiled two new pick-up and delivery vans that burn natural gas in place of gasoline or diesel fuel. These environmentally friendly, Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) have joined the fleet operated by Charrette's ProGraphics Division. One NGV operates between Boston and Providence, RI, while the other is being utilized in the Philadelphia area. Although the announcement of new trucks powered by natural gas might sound like cutting edge technology, such vehicles have been in use since the 1930's. In today's environmentally conscious world, alternative fuels have become efficient and practical choices for use in vehicles of all types. Currently there are about 70,000 NGV's located in the U.S. and about a million in operation worldwide. "When presented with the idea, we quickly recognized the value of using NGV's, " said Frank Clark, divisional operations manager for the Woburn, Massachusetts-based firm. "The decision to utilize Natural Gas Vehicles is not only environmentally responsible, but makes sound financial sense since local gas companies provide incentives for their use." The two, 2001 model E250 Ford vans appear to be much like any typical van, except for the eye-catching, promotional poster-wraps added by Charrette's large format graphics division, Invisuals. However, under the hoods are cleaner, more efficient, natural gas-burning engines. Natural gas fuel has the benefits of adding fewer pollutants into the environment than gasoline, is domestically abundant, and costs less - 20 to 40 percent less - than conventional gasoline. It is also lighter than most other fuels, non-corrosive, and non-toxic. Charrette sought alternative vehicles in response to rising fuel prices, the high cost of maintenance service for regular gas vehicles, and a committed interest in being environmentally responsible. Reliability is also a crucial factor in order to meet Charrette ProGraphics' busy customer order pick-up and delivery demands. Charrette plans to replace additional gas-powered vehicles with NGV's based on the performance of these initial two. ProGraphics division President Mark DiPasquale noted "We are excited about the Natural Gas Vehicles for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, they do not pollute our air, second, they support the cause of reducing our reliance on imported oil and third, they are cheaper to operate. There is really no downside!" Ultimately Practical Economically, natural gas fuel is practical on all fronts. Besides being 20 to 40 percent cheaper to purchase, it is a clean-burning fuel that reduces vehicle maintenance. "Oil only needs to be changed every 15 to 25 thousand miles," commented Clark, "and then there are details like spark plugs, which can last as long as 100,000 miles. Engines stay cleaner and last longer." "Natural gas typically costs less than a dollar, but there is one disadvantage at the moment," continued Clark. "At this point, there are few stations that sell natural gas in the Boston area - one in Lexington and one near the airport. We also utilize a station in Providence. So, we have to think ahead to be in the right place at the right time." This is the case in the Philadelphia area as well. Nevertheless, this issue does have a remedy. Vehicles can be "fast filled" in five to six minutes using compressed gas stored in cylinders, or fueled overnight on a "timed fill" basis in about five to eight hours. The slow fill gets more gas into the tank, because as the gas builds up, the pressure in the tank is in effect compressing the gas that is already there. Charrette opts to refill twice a day on its Boston to Providence run and as needed in Philadelphia when operating within the city. Kind to Mother Nature Environmentalists will cheer this technology, because natural gas is the cleanest burning alternative fuel. Exhaust emissions from NGV's are much lower than those from equivalent gasoline powered vehicles. For instance, NGV emissions of carbon monoxide are approximately 70 percent lower, non-methane organic gas emissions are 89 percent lower, and oxides of nitrogen emissions are 87 percent lower. In addition to these reductions in pollutants, NGV's also emit significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gases and toxins than do gasoline vehicles. Dedicated (sole fuel) NGV's produce little or no evaporative emissions during fueling and use. For gasoline vehicles, evaporative and fueling emissions account for at least 50 percent of a vehicle's total hydrocarbon emissions. Dedicated NGV's reduce carbon dioxide exhaust emissions by almost 20 percent. Exposure to the levels of suspended fine particulate matter found in many cities, Boston and Philadelphia included, increases the risk of respiratory disease. (Diesel exhaust is under review as a hazardous air pollutant.) Natural gas engines produce only tiny amounts of this matter. Road Safety Many public transportation fleets and schools are purchasing NGV's partially because of their excellent safety record. For one thing, compressed natural gas, unlike gasoline, dissipates into the atmosphere in the event of an accident. Gasoline pools on the ground, creating a fire hazard. A U.S. survey taken of more than 8,000 vehicles found that the injury rate for NGV's per vehicular mile traveled (VMT) was 37 percent lower than the rate for gasoline powered fleet vehicles and 34 percent lower than the entire population of registered gasoline vehicles. Also, no deaths were recorded for the NGV's in the survey, while the U.S. national average was 2.2 deaths per 100 million VMT for all U.S. gasoline vehicles. The two reasons for this excellent safety record are the structural integrity of the NGV fuel system and the physical qualities of natural gas as a fuel. The fuel storage cylinders used in NGV's are much stronger than gasoline fuel tanks. The design of NGV cylinders is subjected to a number of federally required "severe abuse" tests, such as heat and pressure extremes, gunfire, collisions and fires. Systems are "sealed," which prevents any evaporative losses. Even if a leak were to occur in an NGV fuel system, the natural gas would dissipate into the atmosphere because it is lighter than air. Charrette ProGraphics President Mark DiPasquale further noted "As if the environmental and economic rationale for these vehicles wasn't enough, the safety benefits alone are compelling." Natural gas has a high ignition temperature, about 650 degrees centigrade, compared with about 350 degrees centigrade for gasoline. It also has a narrow range of flammability; that is, in concentrations in air below about five percent and above about 15 percent, natural gas will not burn. The high ignition temperature and limited flammability range make accidental ignition or combustion of natural gas unlikely. Natural gas is not toxic or corrosive and will not contaminate ground water. In short, NGV's use the same energy that has safely and comfortably heated homes and cooked meals for more than 100 years. Fuel Availability Natural gas is a domestic, readily available fuel, although currently there are few stations that fill NGV's. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 65-year supply of natural gas is available in the United States using existing technology to access it. Five million NGV's would use less than three percent of current annual natural gas consumption. Nearly 100 percent of all natural gas used in the United States is produced in North America. Based on the use of traditional and non-traditional exploration and production technologies, it is estimated that the United States has a 200-year supply of natural gas. Cost Effectiveness "These vans did cost more than a standard vehicle," said Clark, "but the gas company offers a rebate which gets the price down, and with the cheap maintenance and the low price for day-to-day fuel, they soon pay for themselves." "We really like the idea that these NGV's are not only cheaper and more friendly to the environment, but also safer in the long run," added Clark. "Our drivers are on the road all day, and safety is always a factor of top priority." "Acquiring and taking a careful look at these vehicles was the only responsible decision to make," concluded DiPasquale. Improved Fleet Function Charrette is dedicated to providing products and reprographic services to the design marketplace. The ProGraphics division is a technology-based, reprographics management and services group that serves business and design professionals. It provides value-added reprographic services and web-based tools to the professional marketplace through its web site and over 200 On-Site Services (OSS) programs and twenty-one service centers in the United States. A significant portion of Charrette's products and reprographic services' output is transported directly to customers via its fleet. Efficient, reliable, people-friendly vehicles are necessary to keep this aspect of the business at its best. Charrette's NGV's integrate quality service with environmentally sound and safe operations.