GARY | It may be difficult to imagine drivers waiting at the pump for 15 minutes to fill up a vehicle with gasoline.
But if the lengthier fill-up could save $12,500 annually and reduce nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants, as is the case for United States Steel Corp., it may be easier to wait.
U.S. Steel officials said the success from a natural gas vehicle fueling pilot program in Gary is helping justify an expansion of the program to other facilities.
Michael Williams, U.S. Steel senior vice president and head of North American flat-rolled operations, said retrofitting motor vehicles to run on natural gas fits into the company's goal of seeking technology to improve fuel and maintenance costs and contribute to the company's environmental objectives.
"Environmental stewardship is a core value of our company," Williams said. "We saw this as an opportunity to lower our greenhouse gas footprint. We operate a significant number of vehicles inside the plant. We see it as an opportunity to showcase to others it can be done. We think the shale natural gas availability is a game changer in terms of energy independence for this country."
Since December 2010, the company began operating a compressed natural gas fueling station and seven retrofitted vehicles – six cargo hauling pickup trucks and a passenger van – in Gary. The total project cost was $600,000, but about $490,000 went to build the fueling station near a maintenance facility on the west side of Gary Works, Williams said.
Nick Meyer, spokesman for NIPSCO, said NIPSCO pipelines deliver natural gas to U.S. Steel, but the steelmaker doesn't buy natural gas from the utility.
U.S. Steel also estimated the vehicle modifications yield a 23 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, 94 percent reduction in nonmethane hydrocarbons, 85 percent reduction in carbon monoxide and 6 million grams of ozone pollutants over the life of the seven vehicles.
Williams said the company used its own resources to fund the initiative but sought outside entities for technical expertise and to lead vehicle conversion efforts.
South Shore Clean Cities Inc. was one of the entities that worked with U.S. Steel, said Carl Lisek, co-director of the organization with his wife, Lorrie. Lisek, who co-owns Legacy Environmental Service Inc., said U.S. Steel is a leader with using this technology and he hopes the company's initiative will spawn other developments with region businesses.
"U.S. Steel is one of the largest users of diesel fuel in Northwest Indiana," Lisek said. "It's helping with air quality, (and) they've operated very well."
The company launched a second compressed natural gas pilot test at its Mon Valley Works complex outside Pittsburgh in June. The Mon Valley Works station fuels vehicles in about five to six minutes, but that station was built at a higher expense and serves emergency vehicles and a vehicle that hauls steel coils around the complex.
Following successful yearlong trials in Gary and near Pittsburgh, Williams said U.S. Steel could look at expanding the use of natural gas to other vehicles used at mills, including front-end loaders. He said the company also is studying how locomotives could be adapted to run on natural gas and expand the use of biodiesel fuel.