Fueling the future: Local groups getting jump on CNG

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Forget the wait-and-see approach; Zane State College’s Paul LaPrise wants to lead the charge into new types of energy and fuel.

LaPrise is a career specialist with the Energize Appalachian Ohio grant, and he wants his students ready to snatch up — or even create — new energy jobs, he said.

This past week, LaPrise led a group of 13 students through Zane State’s first compressed natural gas certification course. The students spent the first day in the classroom. Then on Friday, they visited quasar energy group on Maysville Pike to see firsthand quasar’s natural gas compressor and distribution pump.

When they’re done, the students will have a CNG certification from Zane State and one each from the two businesses running the training, LaPrise said. The plan is to eventually grow the program at Zane State through partnerships with local businesses, so students can learn how to design and install CNG stations, how to run and maintain them and how to convert vehicles to run on natural gas.

“We want to create jobs. We want to be on the forward-thinking edge,” LaPrise said, “so that when (Zane State students) go out into the field, they can say, ‘Look, not only am I a hard worker, not only do I have education, but I also have certifications in this, this and this.’

“We hope to be generating not only jobs, but trained people to take those jobs.”
Newfound interest Zane State’s CNG certification has been available for a while, but until recently, no one seemed to care, LaPrise said.

Lately, however, the rising cost of gas has been drumming up a new interest in alternative fuels, he said. Then in the spring, quasar installed a public CNG pump at its Maysville Pike facility. The pump is one of only 500 public CNG pumps in the U.S., according to Natural Gas Vehicles for America.

Quasar uses a process called anaerobic digestion to convert things such as food waste, sewage and manure into energy for electricity, heating and fuel. The company has been using CNG to power its own vehicles for a few years now, said Mel Kurtz, president, but it just installed the public pump this spring.

Right now, quasar is pumping in natural gas from offsite to its fuel pump, but within a few months, quasar should be able to produce its own natural gas using the anaerobic digester.

To Kurtz, the benefits of CNG are simple: It’s cheaper, cleaner and safer. Methane is less flammable than unleaded or diesel fuel, and it’s also lighter than air, so it doesn’t pool on the ground after a spill.

Plus, the new fuel type could help create jobs, Kurtz said. CNG fuel is a new industry, he said, “meaning we’re going to need a lot of technicians, a lot of installers, a lot of mechanics, a lot of open-minded decision-makers to take advantage of it.”

Quasar, which is based in Cleveland and has several plants across Ohio, runs 22 of its own trucks on CNG. That saves the company about $11 per truck per hour, Kurtz said.

This year, he expects to save $175,000 by using CNG rather than diesel, he said.

Milling around quasar’s CNG compressor and pump Friday, Tanner Wilson was one of the 13 now-certified CNG students. To Wilson, it seems alternative energy is just starting to take hold in the U.S., and he wants to get in on the ground floor, he said.

Wilson, 21, earned an associate’s degree in electrical engineering technology from Zane State in the spring. Eventually, he wants to start his own energy company, using infrared technology to help companies with preventative maintenance, he said.

For him, the CNG course showed other potential business opportunities. If nothing else, it was nice to familiarize himself with another aspect of energy — and to finally satisfy his curiosity about what goes on at quasar, he said.

“Energy is such a big deal with everything,” Wilson said. “It’s such a high priority now.”
Kurt McMillen is a second-year student in Zane State’s alternate energy program. McMillen’s career goal is to work with companies on becoming more energy efficient, whether that be through solar, wind, CNG or another avenue, he said.

For McMillen, it was nice to be exposed to CNG. It’s another skill he can add to his résumé.

“We’re getting a good introductory base of components and how the systems work,” he said. “I think it’s a very interesting avenue to pursue.”

No one can say exactly what will come of CNG as an alternative fuel, but LaPrise is excited about the future.

And he’s excited that Zane Sate and quasar are jumping into the game early, he said. He thinks the rest of Zanesville should be, too.​

This article was first published by Zanesville Time Recorder.


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