Trash to gas - and saving cash in DeKalb

DeKalb County’s bragging rights for being green gets a boost this week when the county opens a different kind of gas station.

The station on Clevemont Road will pump compressed natural gas — the same sort of gas that heats homes and lights up stoves — from methane captured and processed at the county-owned landfill.

The green isn’t just environmental bluster. DeKalb projects it will make $1 million a year selling the gas, known as CNG.

And for people able to fuel up their Honda Civics or Dodge Rams that run on CNG, there will be some bragging, too. The price for a gallon of the fuel at DeKalb’s station: $2.10.

“You tie the environmental savings and financial savings together and it’s hard to come up with a reason not to do it,” said County Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who has pushed for DeKalb to be a leader in environmental sustainability. “I think demand will rise as more people see this is out there.”

That was the goal when DeKalb won $9 million in federal stimulus dollars to build the county’s new facility and station. The largest impediment to getting more CNG vehicles on the road is having access to stations when needed, and DeKalb, alone in owning its landfill, had easy access to the necessary methane.

Metro Atlanta has six public CNG stations, three of them in DeKalb, said Rahim Charania, the CEO of American Fueling Systems. The county’s will be the seventh when it launches Wednesday.

The American Fueling System station on Buford Highway in DeKalb will be the eighth when it opens Thursday. But last week, as crews put up signs with the $2.34 price, Charania said drivers were already stopping in.

“We counted. It was 498 drivers come on site, ask what CNG was and how they could get it,” he said. “People have to know if they get in a CNG car, there is a place to get fuel. And everybody wants to pay $2.34 over $3.70.”

DeKalb residents who don’t have properly outfitted cars will still benefit from the new station, officials said. The county’s heavy garbage trucks will be the primary user of the fuel — basically running on the very trash they haul.

Already, 40 of the 306 trucks in the department run on CNG. (The rest use diesel.) Over time, the county plans to have at least 70 CNG-run trucks. That will save $3 million on fuel over the eight-year life of the trucks, said Billy Malone, the county’s assistant sanitation director.

“Our trucks only get 2 miles per gallon because they make 1,000 stops a day,” Malone said. “Having CNG won’t change the performance, but it saves us money.”

DeKalb must put the savings into its sanitation fund, a separate account funded by fees that residents and businesses pay each year in addition to property taxes.

Adding to the account will help keep the fee low, even if it is raised next year for the first time since 2007, Malone said.

Those kinds of long-term savings have drawn interest from the corporate world as well. Coca-Cola, UPS and the Parking Spot have all partnered with DeKalb and the city of Atlanta to study and increase the use of alternative fuels.

For its part, Coca-Cola has deployed 30 hybrid electric trucks in the Atlanta area, said Steve Saltzgiver, the company’s fleet operations director.

Of the 720 other vehicles the company runs on alternative fuels, the only CNG-fueled ones are in California — for now.

“We are regularly evaluating new locations and new technologies,” Saltzgiver said.

Malone said DeKalb is ready to gas — or vapor — up any trucks that make the switch. Even if every county garbage truck ran on CNG, the station would have a half million gallons for sale, every year.

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