BRC FuelMaker Again Selling Phill Home CNG Fuel Station

By John O'Dell | on 03/07/2011 04:53 PM

Just in time for a renewed national push to use natural gas as a transportation fuel, the wall-mounted Phill home natural gas pump is back on the market, resurrected after an absence of nearly two years.

Although relatively few had been sold by its originator, the defunct Canadian company FuleMaker Corp., the Phill unit was promoted by Honda Motor Co., which offered it in conjunction with the compressed natural gas powered Honda Civic GX.

Honda eventually wound up owning a large share of FuelMaker and forced it into liquidation in early 2009 after the family trust that had controlled the company was unable to keep it running.

Fuel Systems Solutions, a major manufacturer of natural gas flex-fuel systems for cars and trucks, acquired the rights to the Phill and to FuelMaker's larger, commercial natural gas fuel compressors, and after a long hiatus last year quietly resumed manufacturing the home unit through an Italian subsidiary. BRC Gas Equipment.

Paula Hebert, who handles Phill sales in the U.S. through another Fuel Systems subsidiary, Impco Technologies, said the company hadn't advertised Phill's reinstatement because, frankly, with only Honda selling a factory-built CNG-fueled car and only selling in it a handful of states, mainly to fleet buyers, there wasn't that much of a market.

But the soaring price of gasoline, coupled with new studies showing that the U.S. has huge reserves of natural gas, has reignited interest in the fuel, which sells for considerably less than gasoline, even at retail pumps.

Several companies now offer CNG fuel system conversions for a number of Ford and General Motors cars and trucks, and Chrysler has voiced interest in adding CNG options to some of the vehicles in its lineup.

Depending on the price of natural gas delivered for home use, it can cost less than $1 per gasoline-gallon equivalent to make and dispense CNG with a home unit. (I've got one in my garage in Southern California and the natural gas and electricity to run the compressor and pump unit combined to make the cost about $1.30 per gallon equivalent.)

Adding to the potential market for a home natural gas fueling was Honda's announcement last month that beginning with the introduction of the redesigned 2012 Civic, the natural gas GX model would be available at select Honda dealerships to consumers in all 50 states.

Honda isn't forecasting a huge increase in GX sales, but the ability to home-fuel a car that is cleaner and cheaper to operate than the gasoline-only equivalent is likely to boost sales o the natural gas car past the 1,200-a-year mark the company's been experiencing.
Hebert said the U.S. price for the Phill is $4,500, plus installation. It is still eligible for a $1,000 federal income tax credit and Hebert said she is working with various natural gas utilities and regional air quality boards in hopes of reinstating some of the local incentives that were available when the device was on the market before 2009.

The Phill connects to the home natural gas meter and when in use compresses and pumps the gas into the GX or any other CNG-fueled vehicle at a rate of about .4 gallon-equivalent per hour.

For the Honda Civic GX's approximately 8-gallon tank a refill - if the car is run until empty between fill-ups - can take close to a full day. An overnight refill can supply enough fuel for 100-120 miles of travel and in some state retail CNG pumps are plentiful in urban areas.

BRC FuelMaker also manufacturers and markets larger and more expensive multi-vehicle CNG refueling stations - aimed at fleets but sold for home installation as well - with prices starting at close to $10,000.

Several other companies make CNG fuel stations for fleet or commercial use, but most are very large, heavy and expensive. BRC FuelMaker is the only one we know of with a small home unit.