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Day 12, Thursday 13 August 1998

Well, this is it: the eastern terminus of "Clean Across America And Back". This morning I drove up the coast to the northeasternmost Clean City, Portland, ME. From this afternoon on, it's back westward for me.

entering New Hampshireentering Maine

The Clean Cities Coalition in Portland, ME has put a lot of work into vehicles that run on propane, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), because there's already a wide distribution system in place there for home heating (I understand they are also out in front of the pack with electric buses). However, a natural-gas pipeline is being finished, and natural gas will become increasingly available for all purposes, including vehicular use. So I stopped at Northern Utilities, who are the ones putting it all together. I was met by Bill Howard, Jill Duson, Scott Carpenter, Lynne Coluccio, Pat Dyer, and Jacqueline Ouellette of Northern Utilities; unfortunately, I missed Steven Linnell, the Clean Cities Coordinator, who had set up this visit, as he was on vacation. They have had a large number of items made up with their logo, and they presented me with a sackful of them; some of them, like the nonspillable drink container and the folding pliers, were immediately put into service... Thanks for the mementos!

slow-fill station in Portland, ME

They haven't had time yet to put in a public refueling station; I made this a "spur" trip from Boston and back for refueling purposes. However, they have some compressed natural gas vehicles already, which they refuel using a "slow-fill" compressor as shown in the picture above. The boxy white appliance behind the two red posts, connected to my van's filling port by the coiled hose (just for the photo--we didn't start it up because I wasn't there very long) is a FuelMaker refueling device. A fast-fill station, like all the other ones I have visited on this journey, has banks of large high-pressure cylinders, which are kept filled by a large compressor that runs as needed; the vehicles are refilled in a matter of minutes from the storage cylinders rather than directly from the compressor. On the other hand, for vehicles that park in the same place every night, like those in the fleet of just about any company, you can refill the vehicle's tanks directly from the compressor without investing in the big "buffer" tanks, since you can leave it in place overnight and "a matter of minutes" is faster than necessary. FuelMaker was, I think, the first commercially available slow-fill refueling appliance; if I lived in a house instead of an apartment, I'd probably have one installed in my garage! As with an electric vehicle, this would give me the convenience of refueling while I sleep, so that I would seldom have to go to a public station.

The journey back down I-95 to Boston marks the first and last time I am retracing my steps on most of a day's travel; I'll be heading back west by a route different from the one I followed east, so as to visit a different set of Clean Cities on the return trip. So it won't be a case of "been there, done that"--stay tuned for the Great Lakes, the Great Plains, the Rockies...

lever CNG fitting

Before I leave Boston, though, I wanted to show one really useful thing they have done at the Shell station in Waltham where I refueled yesterday and today. Ignore this if you don't already use CNG--it's just a neat design that they use for the nozzle, that I'd like to see emulated elsewhere... If you look at the picture on the right on the home page of this website, you'll see the kind of refueling nozzle I use in most of Southern California, with a short lever to attach it to the vehicle's refueling port; some others I have encountered have a push-pull design, where you pull back a collar while simultaneously pushing the whole nozzle onto the vehicle port. Both of these can be kind of awkward to attach, especially if you've parked a bit too close to the dispenser and are fighting those stiff hoses to get the nozzle aligned with the vehicle port. The photo above shows the design used at the Waltham Shell station; there's a nice long lever (lots of leverage) which you squeeze (no push-pulling) in order to lock it onto the vehicle port. This seems to me like a bit of nice "human-factors" engineering, which certainly is an important part of making this whole business consumer-friendly as it expands into the mainstream. Sorry--just a "tech note" for the folks who install stations!

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new 13 August 1998, revised 14 August 1998