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The U.S. does not have an alternative fueling infrastructure

May 01, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • The driver of a Nissan Leaf tops off its battery in Central Point, Ore., at one of the charging stations along Interstate 5. The U.S. is in the early stages of building a cross-country system of alternative fueling and charging stations.
The driver of a Nissan Leaf tops off its battery in Central Point, Ore., at… (Jeff Barnard / Associated…)

To get a sense of how many alternative fueling stations the U.S. might need some day, consider the number of locations around the nation that have gasoline pumps. The Energy Department says that there are 160,000 gasoline stations around the U.S. but just 10,000 alternative fuel stations across the 48 contiguous states.

Moreover, those 10,000 stations generally offer only one of the following: biodiesel, CNG or compressed natural gas, LNG or liquefied natural gas, electric, ethanol (E85), hydrogen or propane. And, in some cases, many of those stations are private and not accessible to the public.

That's according to a new Energy Department report with the following understated title: "Access to Alternative Transportation Fuel Stations Varies Across the Lower 48 States."

In 1919, the U.S. Army conducted its first Transcontinental Motor Convoy to dramatize the need for a better national road system. The convoy left Washington for San Francisco on July 7 and finally arrived at its destination two months later.

Now, there are some experts who think the exercise ought to be re-created. One of them is Daniel Yergin, author of "The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World" and of the Pulitzer Prize winner "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power."

"Someone ought to do it, in an electric car, for example, to see how long it would take," Yergin said in a recent interview.

But according to the alternative fuel station maps released in the Energy Department report, it might not be possible to get there from here.

The biodiesel map seems to show that it might be possible to drive the length of the East and West coasts without running out of fuel, but an East-to-West trip looks impossible. A trip up the West Coast in an electric car might be possible as long as that one station on the Northern California coast wasn't malfunctioning.

CNG and LNG stations are far fewer in number than electric or biodiesel. Ethanol (E85) is heavily concentrated in the Midwest and north central states -- a major corn producing region -- but very spotty in the western U.S. Hydrogen stations were nearly too rare to map.

The Energy Department report and the maps can be found here.

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