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Photo by Kirsten Gallon

A. Lee Graham
lgraham@bizpress.net

Fracking has been kind to Ford Motor Co., whose latest innovation attracted quite a crowd at Texas Christian University.
Students, educators and auto enthusiasts alike peered inside a 2014 F-150 pickup powered by compressed natural gas this month, marveling not only at its spacious cabin but also at the virtual silence of the idling half-ton vehicle’s engine.
“This is the crown jewel of the Ford Motor Co.,” said Jon Coleman, fleet sustainability and technology manager for the automotive titan.
As guest speaker for the school’s inaugural Kenneth W. Davis Jr. “Leaders In Energy” Speaker Series on Oct. 22, Coleman explained how Ford has profited from the natural gas revolution.
“If you’re in Texas, energy is important,” Coleman said. “It makes sense that a university like TCU would have a focus on energy.”
The school’s leading energy authority agreed.
“This is going to change our road map in this country,” said Ken Morgan, director of the TCU Energy Institute, referring to the CNG-powered F-150. “We’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
Standing outside the Dee J. Kelly Alumni and Visitors Center, Morgan, Coleman and several onlookers admired the pickup, the eighth Ford vehicle built to run on clean-burning, inexpensive CNG.
But the pickup isn’t merely the latest F-150; it’s the first variation of the company’s most popular vehicle to run on compressed natural gas. It’s also a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, which has energy companies in overdrive breaking apart rock to reach previously unreachable natural gas deposits.
“It’s American, affordable, clean and safe,” Coleman told about 100 onlookers gathered to learn not only more about the truck model but also about the natural gas phenomenon that made it possible.
Abundant supplies have made prices cheap. Consumers pay an average $2.11 per gallon for CNG, with prices as low as $1 in some parts of the nation. Compared with $3.33 for the average gallon of regular unleaded gasoline as of Oct. 23, that’s a steal. And with CNG refueling stations multiplying every day, the market is growing.
That reality has Ford courting retail consumers as well as fleet managers, the primary customer for CNG or liquefied petroleum gas vehicles. For more than 10 years, Coleman has helped fleet managers make their vehicles more fuel-efficient while recommending other measures considered sustainable such as improving air quality, lessening dependence on foreign oil and using other economical and ecologically conscious approaches.
Though natural gas-fueled trucks are nothing new, Ford has sprinted ahead of the pack in offering the first natural gas variation of a half-ton pickup.
“And they pay for themselves,” said Coleman, promising retail buyers $2,651 in annual fuel savings, or 10 cents per mile, compared with traditional gasoline engines.
“The economics are undeniable,” Coleman said.
But offering comparable fuel savings for electric autos isn’t so easy, at least for pickups and similarly heavy vehicles.
That’s because smaller vehicles such as the Ford Focus need a battery occupying 23 liters of space. Coleman provided a college translation for that metric.
“That’s roughly four kegs of beer in size,” said Coleman. An F-150 battery would need to weigh much more, Coleman said.
But what’s sizable today could shrink thanks to future generations of researchers, many of whom may be TCU students today.
“Students at TCU will be the people, four, eight or 15 years from now, redefining what this industry means,” Coleman said.
 

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