UNTIL this year, filling a natural gas car was a hit-or-miss proposition. Pumps were hard to find, and many were available only to fleets operated by municipalities, utilities and other companies. Now a home-fueling appliance called the Phill lets owners tap the gas lines that feed their homes. Here are questions and answers about home fueling:
Q. How do you fill up at home?
A. The Phill delivers natural gas from your line and compresses it (from a quarter-pound per square inch to about 3,600 p.s.i.) into the tank of your natural gas car. The Phil mounts to a wall - it is about three feet high and a foot wide, and is made by Fuelmaker of Toronto. It takes about eight hours to fill the tank of a Honda Civic GX.
Q. What's does the appliance cost?
A. A Phill is $3,400, plus $500 to $1,000 for installation, but in Southern California the South Coast Air Quality Management District provides a $2,000 rebate. Honda also leases the unit for $34 to $79 a month. The federal government provides a $2,000 tax deduction for natural gas cars (as well as for hybrids), with a more generous tax credit to take effect next year. Also, some states and municipalities offer their own incentives. New York State recently extended a credit for up to half of the cost of installing any alternative-energy refueling station.
Q. Does natural gas save you money?
A. The equivalent of a gallon of gasoline is now $1.27 in Southern California, and the electricity to operate a Phill for eight hours is about 50 cents in Orange County, where regular gas is nearly $3 a gallon. Home fueling is now exempt from federal and state highway taxes, though that may change.
Q. Is natural gas dangerous?
A. Phill does not store gas, so fueling is quite safe. Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found the system to be no more dangerous than any household appliance that uses natural gas.
Q. If I'm not at home, can I find a station?
A. There are natural gas pumps in many urban areas, though access to some is restricted. For instance, there are 61 within 100 miles of New York City, and about half can be used by the public. Lists and maps of stations are at www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/. More information about the Phill is at www.fuelmaker.com.