COURIER POST – A high-traffic South Jersey Wawa is the convenience chain’s test site for compressed natural gas.
With its partner South Jersey Gas, Wawa unveiled Thursday its pilot CNG pumping station on Berkley Road at the Interstate 295 interchange.
Wawa’s first CNG station is among 900 such filling stations in the state. South Jersey Gas operates two — one in Millville and another in Glassboro — that are meant to fuel its fleet but are open to the public.
The sale and conversion of vehicles from gasoline fuel to compressed natural gas is growing, according to Brian Schaller, Wawa’s vice president of fuel.
Natural gas is cheaper than gasoline and produces 75 percent less carbon monoxide emissions while reducing tailpipe emissions by 95 percent, according to the gas company.
Through the pilot program, Schaller will analyze South Jersey’s demand for the fuel, a gasoline alternative produced in the United States and Canada.
“In the market, we’re still learning,” Schaller told the Courier Post, standing in the shadow of the pumping station.
Just 15,000 U.S. cars run on the fuel, he said.
Wawa’s first gasoline fuel station opened in 1996. This year, it hit 500 fuel stores and the sale of its 20 billionth gallon of gasoline.
The CNG station will “guide us into the future,” Schaller said.
Wawa aims to sell 1,000 to 2,000 gasoline-equivalent gallons of CNG per week, he said.
“As Americans we tend to become complacent,” said state Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Paulsboro’s former mayor.
“When it was approaching $4 a gallon, everybody was screaming, ‘Where are the alternatives?’ Then the prices go down, and we forget about it.”
The CNG station is “a bold step,” he added.
With so few cars running on the fuel, the station won’t be a profit center — yet, the assemblyman said.
“Natural gas right now is plentiful. We should take advantage of it,” Burzichelli said.
South Jersey Gas is the anchor customer and partner on the project.
The gas company has converted 100 of its own vehicles to run on CNG, lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by 700 tons a year, company President Jeff Dubois reported.
South Jersey Gas intends to convert its entire fleet.
“We’re trying to raise the visibility of CNG vehicles,” Dubois said.
The gas company was one of several factors in deciding to locate the test site in Paulsboro, Schaller said.
Wawa also accounted for the available land surrounding the store and the already busy commercial vehicle traffic at I-295 and industrial sites in the borough and surrounding towns, he added.
“It shows the faith Wawa has in Paulsboro,” borough Mayor Gary Stevenson said.
And in a borough that faces several toxic issues, including a train derailment in 2012, Stevenson said it’s important that firefighters are trained for compressed natural gas emergencies.
Wawa and South Jersey Gas have provided a “commitment to my firefighters that they’ll be properly trained,” he explained.