Chesapeake Energy Corp. said it is working with General Electric Co. and Whirlpool Corp. to develop a $500 appliance that will allow natural-gas powered cars to be refueled at their owners’ homes.
The effort would be Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake’s latest push to promote compressed natural gas as a mainstream fuel and boost its own sales. It is the first attempt at overcoming one of the biggest challenges in putting natural-gas powered cars on the road—convenient refueling.
Chesapeake and other natural gas producers have felt a cash crunch as a technology-led increase in natural gas production has led to a supply glut and brought prices to a decade-low in April. U.S. natural gas stockpiles were 3.929 trillion cubic feet last week, the highest level on record, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration
About 112,000 natural-gas powered vehicles are now on U.S. roads, mostly delivery trucks and other vehicles driving a set circuitous route with easy access to refueling stations. Auto makers have been slower to offer compressed natural gas-fueled passenger cars and trucks, in part because not enough refueling stations exist to service them on long trips. About 540 stations are open to the public, according to the U.S. Department of Energy
The appliance that Chesapeake, GE And Whirlpool are developing will fit in a home garage, hook into a natural gas line and dispense compressed natural gas into vehicles designed to use the fuel, Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said on Tuesday during an investors’ conference.
GE confirmed its development effort; Whirlpool wasn’t available for immediate comment. Chesapeake said it couldn’t say when the two would make the appliance available.
Chesapeake says that once drivers can refill CNG cars at home, General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and other auto makers will boost production of the vehicles. “When GM and Toyota see that, you’ll see the cars flying out,” Mr. McClendon said.
A $500 appliance that allows vehicle owners to refuel their CNG cars at home “is just smart thinking,” said GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel. “Providing a refueling infrastructure is exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen to expand the use of alternative fuels,” she said.
In October, GE and Chesapeake, the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer after Exxon Mobil Corp., announced a modular CNG refueling system advertised as being easy to install at existing gasoline service stations.
Exxon doesn’t share Chesapeake’s enthusiasm. The car market is “an area to watch,” but the cost to convert vehicles and infrastructure today outweighs the benefit, said William Colton, Exxon’s vice president of corporate strategic planning. “The math looks marginal at best,” Mr. Colton said, speaking at a conference in Houston.