Apopka will soon become the first city in Central Florida — and one of just a handful across the state — to convert some of its vehicles to run on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel fuel.
The technology is touted as clean, green and cheap, with compressed natural gas typically costing half as much per mile as gasoline. With a $153,000 federal grant, Apopka plans to build its own fueling station and convert about 15 city cars — most of them police vehicles.
The money, which is part of the federal stimulus package, can be used only for helping cities run vehicles with technology that produces little or no pollution.
“It’s a proven technology, and without too much reconfiguring, you could turn a regular car into one that runs on natural gas,” said Stephen Reich, a director at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The engines operate the same as a regular automobile, but equipment is added to allow the use of compressed natural gas. The fuel has almost none of the carbon emissions associated with air pollution and global climate change, Reich said. And, he said, the conversion makes almost no difference in the vehicle’s power. ”The downside is that you need to find a place to refuel,” he said.
Apopka will build its station at the corner of Highland Avenue and Eighth Street. Mayor John Land said that Apopka is trying to be on the cutting edge of technology that is better for the environment. Apopka, which is converting about a third of its total fleet, was the only Central Florida city to get the natural-gas grant.
“We think that if we start making these changes, in the long run it will inspire others to do the same,” Land said. “Even though it won’t change the world overnight, we hope in the long run we’ll make a difference.”