Deja Fuel Multi-Gas Tech from the 80s Makes a Comeback in Chevy Impala
Those of us who were children of the 1980s and had a Midwestern experience at some point might remember multi-fuel-capable GM trucks. The one summer that I spent working a seasonal job in Colorado, there was another employee from Nebraska who had a Chevy pickup modified to run on gasoline and propane. The details of how the air-fuel mix was adjusted for switchover escape me, but the concept was to save money at the pump and extend overall range. In the Eighties, it was a long way between service stations in western Nebraska.
Fast-forward to 2014. Trash to fuel, the stuff of the 1980s sci-fi comedy movie trilogy “Back to the Future,” is a reality. The 2015 bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala—not a tricked-out DeLorean—really can run on leftovers, table scraps, and beer—well okay, grain for brewing beer. Forms of compressed natural gas (CNG) can be made from the aforementioned to complement the gasoline reservoir of the Impala.
Cleveland’s quasar energy group uses organic waste to produce a renewable energy source called biogas, which is converted into compressed natural gas (CNG), one of two fuels that power the 2015 bi-fuel Chevy Impala. CNG vehicles typically have 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline cars, according to the California Air Resources Board.
Biogas is the raw mixture of gasses from breaking down organic material kept in an anaerobic state. The resulting methane gas mixture is then processed, removing all carbon dioxide and impurities to make a renewable form of natural gas. When compressed, it can replace conventional CNG.
Because biogas can be made from most organic substances, quasar acquires raw materials—usually considered waste—from different businesses. For example, its Columbus, Ohio, Renewable Energy Facility processes up to 25,000 wet tons of biosolids from the Columbus Department of Public Utilities for wastewater.
Baseball and beer
Progressive Field, home to Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, contributes food waste for CNG production after it has been separated into its constituent parts in an industrial-size garbage disposal. And we cannot forget beer: Anheuser-Busch’s Columbus brewery provides an organic byproduct for conversion into methane.
Even with the recent decline of gasoline to a national average less than thee dollars per gallon, CNG still offers a bargain on a volume basis. “If you can buy renewable fuel at $1.95 per gallon while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, everybody wins,” says Mel Kurtz, president of quasar energy group. “The Columbus facility can produce 1.3 million gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE) of CNG each year.” That’s enough to fill the 163,000 bi-fuel Impalas.
Buddy, can you spare an infrastructure?
Though CNG fuel stations are ubiquitous in California and Oklahoma, infrastructure in others states is scarce. “To avoid feelings of range anxiety common in owners of CNG-only vehicles, we made the Impala bi-fuel (capable), allowing our customers to drive on CNG when available and on gasoline when it’s not,” says Nichole Kraatz, chief engineer of Chevrolet’s Impala.
Capacity of the CNG tank mounted in the Impala is equivalent to 7.8 GGE, which should offer a driving range of about 150 city miles, based on GM tests. Combining gasoline and CNG, GM tests project a range of 500 city miles (EPA estimates are not yet available).
Seamless in Detroit
Impala’s bi-fuel system seamlessly switches to gasoline when it runs out of CNG. Drivers who wish to change fuels while moving can do so by pushing a button. A light on the instrument panel indicates when CNG is being used, and there is no interruption in the vehicle’s performance.
GM builds the bi-fuel Impala on the Detroit factory line—not modifying it off-site with aftermarket kits—so its CNG system is covered by GM’s three-year/36,000-mile limited bumper-to-bumper warranty and five-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. The bi-fuel Impala is the only bi-fuel-capable sedan on the market covered by factory warranties, according to quasar. The bi-fuel Impala goes on sale late 2014, starting at $38,210. To find out if there’s a CNG station near you, visit cngnow.com
Derek Handova is a freelance journalist, content marketer and former auto enthusiast publication professional who has worked with many car experts over the years, including a lot of women. His last car feature was on a 1978 Mustang II King Cobra.