Giant Eagle trucks rolling on compressed natural gas

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Giant Eagle's newest delivery truck came with a hefty price tag: $145,000. But it's the price of that truck's fuel -- about half the cost of gasoline -- that has the grocer planning on future profits.

The O'Hara-based business has a new fleet of trucks that run on compressed natural gas and on Thursday premiered two CNG fueling stations at a company distribution center in Crafton.

Ten Volvo 18-wheelers -- spit-shined and painted Giant-Eagle red -- were on hand Thursday for an unveiling of the stations.

A push toward greener technologies -- and the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation under Pennsylvania -- positions Giant Eagle as an early player in the potentially lucrative market of CNG-powered vehicles. The company has already enjoyed success in the gasoline market, with 162 GetGo fuel and convenience store locations throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

CNG is sold in gasoline gallon equivalents, which have the same energy content as a gallon of traditional gasoline. The compressed natural gas price at the station on Thursday was $1.849 per GGE, or almost half the average price of a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline sold in Pittsburgh last week.

The CNG market for consumer vehicles is still small. Only one option, manufactured by Honda, is on the market, but drivers can repurpose diesel vehicles to use the fuel.

Some CNG-fueled Port Authority buses will eventually use the facility, said Dan Onorato, Allegheny County executive.

The CNG trucks cost about $45,000 more than a diesel option, and the company is retiring 10 diesel trucks from its fleet as part of the push.

The initial fleet of 10 CNG vehicles is expected to displace 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel in their first year, and the company plans on buying 20 more trucks every year, said Bill Parry, Giant Eagle vice president of logistics.

Natural gas takes up more volume than traditional diesel, so a full tank in a CNG truck lasts for about 480 miles, while a diesel model can run for 700 miles.

The CNG vehicles are "50 percent quieter than diesel," said Mr. Parry.

Development for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale was referenced several times at the ribbon-cutting, with state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer calling the service stations a "big deal" for the state.

"Pennsylvania should be on the forefront" of the natural gas industry, he said. "We have a huge supply under our footprint."

When the truck pulled up for the inaugural fueling on Thursday, five executives and politicians stood around the pump and figured out the new technology together. There's a three-minute instructional video that plays on a small screen at the pumps to acquaint new CNG users.

Consumer looking to try the pump themselves will soon have other options in the Pittsburgh region.

Downtown-based energy firm EQT Corp. plans to open a CNG station in the Strip District next week, and Mr. Parry said Giant Eagle was scoping out possible neighborhoods for CNG additions at Pittsburgh-area GetGo locations.

Erich Schwartzel: or 412-263-1455.


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