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Feb 18, 201308:24 AMTransportation Matters

with Debby Jackson

The end of the world

The end of the world

(page 1 of 3)

R.E.M. initially released its single “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” in 1987. The refrain line has since become part of our nomenclature for describing various seismic shifts in our world. When it comes to transportation, this expression is extremely apropos in 2013, thanks to a lot of innovators – some from Wisconsin.

Take a look at a couple of the exciting things Wisconsin-based companies are doing and the tremendous impact they will have on the transportation world.

Kwik Trip began as a small corner gas station in Eau Claire in 1965. By 1986, the company had 100 stores; in 1990, it had 200 stores; and now it has more than 400. It has not grown like this by standing still, and it certainly isn’t in a defensive posture today. Kwik Trip has vertically integrated – producing or handling 80% of the items sold in its stores. And now? It is moving full steam ahead with a natural gas program.

Kwik Trip has committed to developing functional natural gas infrastructure in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Here are the locations of its current and planned natural gas retail fueling stations:

Open now:

Spring 2013

La Crosse, Wis

Eagan, Minn.

Sturtevant, Wis.

Mauston, Wis.

Oshkosh, Wis.

Albert Lea, Minn.

Rochester, Minn.

Janesville, Wis.

Minnesota City, Minn.

Appleton, Wis.

Owatonna, Minn.

Eau Claire, Wis.

Pewaukee, Wis.

Cedar Falls, Iowa

I am not going to get into the differences between compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG) in this blog (I am not Bill Nye the Science Guy). Suffice it to say, Kwik Trip is involved in both. You can find out more about the difference here.

So while we hear a lot of talk about cleaner-burning alternative fuels, Kwik Trip is putting its money where its mouth is. As far as the environmental impacts, the argument is compelling. Natural gas can result in up to a 90% reduction of emissions and 27% less greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to our dependence on foreign oil, the argument becomes even stronger. According to Kwik Trip, we have a 100-plus-year supply of natural gas right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Ninety-eight percent of the natural gas used in the U.S. is domestically produced. At the same time, we import more than 47% of the oil that we use.

But is it practical? Kwik Trip sure thinks so. According to Chad Hollett, Kwik Trip’s director of transportation and distribution, "We not only supply the fuel, we use the fuel. We have 400 vehicles ranging from cars to Class 8 trucks, and we're making the move toward natural gas in our own fleet. Today we have 20 natural gas vehicles in operation with more coming."

"We have a vast supply of natural gas and it's well documented," Hollett says. "Since oil is a global commodity and price and availability is influenced by world conditions, prices will always be in flux, but on the whole, will only go higher. Compare that to our own supply of domestically produced natural gas and we have control over our own destiny. To us, that makes sense, and it's why we think of LNG and CNG as the fuel of the future."

And while the gas we are used to putting in our cars – petroleum-based – has been fluctuating between $3 and $4 a gallon, natural gas has remained pretty constant around $1.60 a gallon.

Now that doesn’t mean that you and I are going to be pulling into a station and filling our cars up with natural gas in the near future, but for fleets that have a repetitive route or return to base operations, the return on investment to switch their vehicles can be substantial.

Then there is Johnson Controls, the world’s leading supplier of lead-acid batteries. Johnson Controls, Inc. was started in 1885 in Milwaukee by Warren Johnson, inventor of the first electric room thermostat. Today, it has more than 1,300 locations worldwide. Johnson Controls is introducing a new battery system that combines lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries to boost gas mileage and reduce CO2 emissions. The 48-volt micro hybrid demonstration module was presented during the recent North American Auto Show. This technology has the potential to increase fuel economy upwards of 15%-20%, and the company believes it can price it at a level that car buyers can afford. Once again, I am not Bill Nye, so if you want to find out more, go here .

Because of this and other innovations, the Obama administration and the 13 large automakers reached an agreement in July of 2011 to increase the federally mandated average fuel economy standard (commonly referred to as the CAFE standard) to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025.

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About This Blog

 Debby Jackson assumed the role of executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin after more than 15 years with the organization. In addition to her vast experience in association management and transportation advocacy, Jackson has a background in business. She leverages the breadth and depth of her professional experience, along with her knowledge of the membership and mission of TDA, to be a strong voice for robust transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin. Jackson started her career as a staff auditor with Price Waterhouse, which led to a series of accounting and corporate management positions with a major national retailer.

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