June 20, 2013

Kansas’ first public natural-gas station opens in Wichita

Wichita has a new source of energy.

Wichita has a new source of energy.

On Thursday, the public was welcomed to pull up to a brand-new compressed natural gas pump at 29th and Ohio, where a ribbon-cutting for CNG Services was attended by representatives of the station’s suppliers and well-wishers.

This is the first compressed natural gas station in Kansas open to the public, according Michael Batten, president of Midwest Energy Solutions, which designed the station.

There aren’t many stations around the country – yet. Batten said he expects the number to grow rapidly because of the inherent benefits of natural gas as a fuel: $1.90 per gallon compared to about $3.25 to $3.45 for gasoline and $3.65 to $3.85 for diesel.

The company, based in Kansas City, Kan., specializes in designing compressed natural gas stations. It has designed 18 to 20 of them around the country, Batten said.

He said he built the $1 million station in Wichita because some local investors saw an opportunity and contacted him. He is also invested in the station.

The natural gas comes from Black Hills Energy’s regular gas lines. A compressor at the station condenses the gas from 60 pounds per square inch to 3,600 pounds square inch and dispenses it from what looks like a gasoline pump.

Few vehicles run on natural gas at this point, but the number is increasing because of the price advantage, he said.

The cost of such vehicles can run from about $10,000 for a conversion kit for a passenger car, to $30,000 additional cost for a heavy truck built to run on natural gas instead of diesel. Much of the extra cost is for specially designed composite fuel tanks, he said.

Not only is natural gas cheaper, he said, but it provides a little higher mileage and less smell than diesel.

The natural market for the fuel, Batten said, are low-mileage, heavily-used vehicles such as beverage trucks, garbage trucks, buses and fleet vehicles of all kinds.

Batten said he and his backers are optimistic about the station’s prospects. And it’s attractiveness will only grow as more stations open up around the country.

He designed the Wichita site with extra pad space for a larger compressor.

“I really think natural gas is the way to go,” he said.

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