A new gas station on Arlington Street in Akron is offering cheap fuel.
And yet there are no lines of cars.
That’s because the low-cost fuel is compressed natural gas, or CNG, an emerging energy source.
Freight hauler J. Rayl Transport of Akron, which now operates more than 70 trucks powered with compressed natural gas, built the station to jump on the abundant and inexpensive fuel supply.
“This is a strategic business decision,” said Jeremy Rayl, CEO of J. Rayl. “CNG costs less than diesel fuel, burns cleaner and reduces our fleet’s emissions.”
Compressed natural gas can cost 40 percent less than a diesel-equivalent gallon.
This month, J. Rayl signed off on a deal in which U.S. Oil, a national oil marketer headquartered in Wisconsin, has acquired the station. U.S. Oil will more aggressively market the compressed natural gas station to fleets of other trucking companies.
The oil company plans to brand the station a Gain Clean Fuel location. Soon, the station’s nondescript CNG pumps will boast the Gain Clean fuel logo.
In turn, J. Rayl will “share in the profitability of the station,” said Bill Renz, general manager of the Gain Clean Fuel division of U.S. Oil, with main offices in Appleton, Wis. Financial terms of the deal are not being revealed.
J. Rayl will, of course, continue to have a ready source of inexpensive fuel. It now has 76 trucks powered by compressed natural gas and 18 “dual-fuel” trucks that simultaneously run diesel and CNG.
The family-owned J. Rayl of Akron boasts a total of 250 trucks and offers long and short-haul service. The company was founded in 1987 by Jeremy’s father Tim Rayl and Jim St. John.
Jeremy Rayl noted that in addition to marketing the station, U.S. Oil will maintain the station’s costly equipment. This leaves those at J. Rayl, he said, “to focus on our core business.”
The company employs more than 200 in Akron, including drivers.
The CNG filling station, at 1201 S. Arlington, is next to J. Rayl’s headquarters and on the site of the old Rex Salvage store property.
With the U.S. Oil acquisition, the station now is part of Gain Clean Fuel’s plans for a national network of compressed natural gas stations focused on truck fleets, Renz said. He stressed that Gain Clean Fuel’s stations are open to the general public; the J. Rayl station was established as a public site.
“We’re covering the whole country. We have plans to have 100 sites in three years,” said Renz.
Gain is well on the way to that goal, with roughly 40 stations already operating or in the works.
Ohio boasts fewer than 20 public CNG stations run by various operators, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The station at J. Rayl’s headquarters is the only public station in the Akron area.
Smith Dairy in Orrville opened a compressed natural gas fueling island at its complex in 2012. The station — open to the public — is just off Main Street, near the dairy corporate headquarters in the Wayne County city.
The country, Renz said, has a lack of CNG sites geared toward truck fleets, and that’s helping to keep demand down for CNG-powered, heavy-duty vehicles.
“The vast majority” of CNG stations are too small to accommodate large fleets and do not have the “fast fill” compressors allowing for a “fill time” similar to gas or diesel, Renz said.
CNG stations, with expensive compressors, are costly, and the stations outfitted to accommodate commercial trucks can easily cost more than $1 million.
The Akron station was an attractive site, Renz said, because it’s big enough to accommodate tractor-trailers — also known as Class 8 trucks — and is not far from Interstate 76.
“We see growth being on that interstate … We see being able to grow interest,” among both regional and national fleets considering CNG vehicles, Renz said.
“We’re going after anyone considering making the transition to compressed natural gas vehicles.”
U.S. Oil is focusing on fleets, Renz said, because that segment has growth potential. Overall, the number of vehicles using natural gas is very small — as yet.
One reason: CNG-powered trucks and cars cost much more than their traditional counterparts.
A CNG semi truck costs roughly $60,000 more than a diesel-powered one, Renz said.
But J. Rayl and other transport companies note that big trucks using lots of fuel can make up the price difference relatively quickly with the low prices of compressed natural gas.
Still, Jeremy Rayl said, “There’s a lot of risk [with CNG].”
The trucks, he said, “are unproven … this is a new technology.” And, he noted, natural gas prices could rise.