UH Engineer Named President of Houston Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance

Alliance Works to Promote Awareness of Natural Gas as Transportation Fuel

William Epling, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at the University of Houston, has been named president of the Greater Houston Natural Gas Vehicle Alliance.

The group was formed in 2009, a partnership of four energy companies and the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy. Hobby Center Director Jim Granato served as the founding president.

Epling said the alliance’s goal is to promote awareness of natural gas as a transportation fuel. The idea has gained popularity as the U.S. shale boom proves its abundance in North America.

“I think we’re becoming more and more confident that natural gas is here to stay,” he said. “We’ve had well-established low natural gas costs. This isn’t a pulse. It isn’t a wave. Natural gas can compete.”

The alliance began with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Apache Corporation, Southwestern Energy and CenterPoint Energy, working with the Hobby Center for Public Policy. Epling said it has grown to include more than 350 members.

Natural gas isn’t regulated as a transportation fuel by the Environmental Protection Agency. And because it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, it is generally favored as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for causing global warming.

But methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, and Epling said that as the number of natural-gas powered cars and trucks grows, it will become more likely that natural gas will be regulated as a transportation fuel.

There are now approximately 112,000 natural gas-powered vehicles in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of the growth has been in heavy-duty trucks and fleet vehicles.

Granato said the Hobby Center will remain involved with the alliance. Initially, the key issue for the alliance was where to locate refueling stations, he said.

But Granato said alliance members now are concerned with more technical questions.

Epling, associate chair and undergraduate program director in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering, focuses on understanding and engineering the reaction process on and along a catalyst surface. His current research projects include looking at ways to reduce emissions from diesel engines, as well as ways to reduce methane emissions from natural gas engines.

The alliance can provide expert advice for people facing decisions about switching to natural gas vehicles, Epling said.

Most alliance members come from commercial companies, but Epling said the University is  neutral partner, there to provide answers.

“The goal is not to promote natural gas,” he said. “The goal is to increase awareness of natural gas.”