Home - Clean & Back - Day 19

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Day 19, Thursday 20 August 1998

entering Colorado

Today I departed the midwest, heading toward the Rockies (and left the Central Time Zone behind for the Mountain). The fine print at the bottom of the sign in this photo says "Mountains and Much More!" As you can see, entering Colorado from Kansas along I-70, you're in the "much more" part of the state: the terrain was as flat as any I had encountered in Kansas. I departed I-70 for US Highway 385 to Wray, CO, and returned to I-70 close to Denver on US Highway 36; along this route I did encounter some ups and downs, and I must have done more upping than downing because I climbed to 3500 feet in Wray and 5280 feet by the time I reached Denver, the Mile-High City.

The Q-West CNG Marketing station in Wray is an oasis about sixty miles off I-70; with a compressed natural gas vehicle that has a range between refuelings comparable to mine, you have to take that detour because Denver is too far from Hays, KS to make the trip without refueling, and there's nothing along the direct route. Bill Fairbairn stopped here while driving Cleanest Across America, and had to wait for the folks at Natural Fuels in Denver to send him an adapter to hook their Hansen refueling nozzles to the NGV-1 port on his Honda Civic GX, as I discussed yesterday; they have acquired an adapter since his visit, but I ended up using the one that he had used, which he lent me for this trip. Thanks again, Bill!

As I noted yesterday, the stations that have not had at least some of their nozzles converted over to the NGV-1 refueling connector standard tend to be those that mostly refuel vehicles from a single fleet; this is the case in Wray, where J-W Operating Company (who run the station) have about 25 trucks (with Hansen fittings) that use CNG. They have also had buses coming through from the Goshen company in Indiana, being driven (and sometimes towed) to their buyers out west, but they bring their own adapters. Thanks to Bob Kraus of J-W, who set up my visit, and Bill Steele also of J-W, who met me and filled me up.

As I was driving in the vicinity of Wray, I noticed a lot of fields of sunflowers that appeared dejected: they had shed their yellow petals, and had their faces toward the ground instead of up to the sun. Eventually I guessed that this meant their seed-bearing centers were heavy and ready to be harvested; the growing season must be different from that in Kansas, where they all still looked cheerful.

Natural Fuels Corp. HQ

When I got to Denver, I stopped at the headquarters of Natural Fuels Corporation; that pale blue dot is going to be an eagerly-sought sign for me tomorrow as I head up another mile in altitude over the Vail Pass on I-70 and then down into Utah. I was going to pick up a fuel card from them here, but as I noted yesterday, they had already sent it to me at my hotel in Des Moines, IA so I could use it yesterday in Hastings, NE (once I decided to go that way rather than through Kansas City, MO). I stopped anyway to see if they had been able to interest any local news media folks in doing a story on this journey; they hadn't--in fact, Kim McKenzie, who arranged the fuelcard and met me there, said that the Denver news folks are "bored" by alternative fuels. I guess it's like the space shuttle: a long string of successes means that it's routine, and no longer news! If you have to have a PR problem, I'd say that's a good one to have. Thanks anyway, and thanks also to Deborah Kielian, the Coordinator of the Denver Clean Cities program, for putting me in contact with Natural.

And they have had a long string of successes in Denver: around 200 (!) fleets use natural-gas vehicles, with a total of about 2800 such vehicles in the state. Natural Fuels has 37 public-access stations, mostly along the I-70 and I-25 corridors (the latter extending into Wyoming), so it's got to be just about as easy for Denver residents to run CNG as it is for me in Southern California! Natural is a multi-talented company, dedicated to natural gas as a vehicle fuel (as opposed to, say, a utility company that does natural gas vehicles as a sideline): they build and install refueling stations, of which I've encountered several already across the country, and they convert and maintain natural-gas vehicles, in addition to running a network of refueling stations.

Natural Fuels Corp. compressor

Here's a photo of a brand-new refueling station compressor, ready to be shipped to heaven knows where and installed; at their shop they also have a maintenance area for their 37 refueling stations, and a vehicle conversion barn. They have recently received a large amount of business from the new international airport: all the service vehicles going into the airport, whether baggage tugs or food-concession suppliers, have to go through a tunnel, and during the permitting process it was determined that the air in that tunnel would violate environmental standards unless only electric or natural-gas vehicles were allowed in it! So I saw several baggage tugs and a rental-car-lot shuttle bus in their shop being converted to burn natural gas, as well as a Postal Service truck (again!). In the front parking lot were also several natural-gas vehicles: some were factory like a Honda Civic GX, several were conversions; some were company vehicles, and some (like the 1965 Mustang) were obviously private property. They evidently "put their money where their mouth is" when they talk about the advantages of natural-gas vehicles!


On my way to my hotel in Golden, CO, a little farther down I-70, I stopped at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the Department of Energy; they were closed by the time I got there, but they let me wander around the site a bit anyway. This photo shows the Solar Energy Research Facility; you can see in its rather dramatic architecture both passive and active use of the sun: passive in that the windows are set so as to receive sunlight in the winter but to be shaded in the summer, and active in that there are several large photovoltaic panels (solar cells) to provide part of the power used in the building.

The NREL undertakes studies of solar, wind, and biomass-derived energy, with a focus on bringing new techniques (solar cells with record-breaking efficiency, for example, or high-yield generation of fuel ethanol from plants or even garbage) to the point of commercialization. They also maintain data archives on all manner of energy-related topics; of immediate interest to me has been the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), which among other things supplied me with the information I used to figure out where I could refuel across the country. I couldn't have planned "Clean Across America And Back" without the AFDC.

Well, tomorrow I'll be "over the hump" and headed downhill into Los Angeles! I don't think I've ever been as high up as I will be tomorrow in the Vail Pass, even when I visited Teotihuacan; I know my van hasn't ever been even as high as Denver, but she's running fine.

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new 20 August 1998, revised 21 August 1998