Discover: 'Phill' your car's gas at home

February 4, 2008 9:12:36 AM PST
While hybrid cars are getting all the attention these days, another alternative vehicle has quietly been making advances in economy and environment. This one runs on natural gas.

Hal Mellegard is one of a growing number of us who have installed Phill stations -- home appliances that fill your car with the same natural gas that fuels your kitchen.

Hal says, "I pull it in the garage, I hook the hose up to it, I normally go in and go to bed, and I wake up in the morning to a full tank of gas."

He's so impressed, he helped convert a fourth of the Yellow Cab fleet he manages in San Francisco.

3 advances contribute to the growth of the technology: First, the new high-pressure filling nozzle (yellow one), means more gas per tank, for more than 200 miles.

Second, a greater variety of vehicles are going natural. Pickups, vans, and school buses, even big rigs, like these used by Pacific Gas & Electric. New dual fuel engines use 5% diesel, and 95% Liquid Natural Gas. The liquid kind must be chilled, so it's not for consumers.

Finally, a new variety of home pumps are here, and the number of filling stations has almost doubled. PG&E has even installed mini-pumps in parking slots.

"Somebody has to take that first step," says Dave Meisel, PG&E Director of Transportation.

"Right now, that is a green commitment from us. In the future, as the technology matures, it becomes cheaper."

In fact, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is already 25-50 percent cheaper per gasoline gallon equivalent. Then, there's that commute lane sticker.

"CNG cars are allowed in the car pool lane. And that saves me maybe 30 minutes a day," says David Greene, who drives a CNG Honda to and from San Francisco.

Mellengard adds, "The time I'd save on the commute reduced from 2 ours to maybe 40 minutes."

Chris Harmon, who also drives a Honda, says he got the car, "One, to get in the carpool lane alone, but, 2, because it was entirely clean."

"Emissions out of the tailpipe is basically water," according to Meisel.

"It's very, very low. It's near zero."

The downside? You lose trunk space to the larger tank, you need to carry a greater variety of payment cards, and, the home fuelers are expensive, so...

"You have to know where the fuel stations are. If you run out of gas, there's no pushing it a block to the nearest gas station," according to Harmon.

But look at the green side. Greene likes to say, "It's a great way to make a Honda Civic look cool."

------- Links -------

What: PG&E owns and operates a number of publicly-accessible natural gas fueling stations in Northern and Central California. Both businesses and residents can set up a natural gas fueling account. PG&E Natural Gas Website:

What: FuelMaker develops and manufacturers natural gas and hydrogen fueling systems. Phill is one appliance for refueling a natural gas vehicle. It can be installed for either business or residential use. Website:

What: A national trade association representing natural gas companies, equipment manufacturers and service providers, and government entities interested in the promotion of natural gas vehicles. Website:

Considering a surcharge on the taxicab gate cap for clean air vehicles. Meeting Agenda: