The white 2011 Chevrolet S.U.V. may not look like an unmarked police car on the outside. It's not supposed to. It's unmarked. What makes this East Pikeland Police vehicle unique in Chester County is what's tucked away behind the backseats.
It's a tank for compressed natural gas (CNG). East Pikeland Police Chief James Franciscus says this is the only CNG-powered police vehicle in Chester County. It looks like many standard police cars on the inside with radios, computers and a partition between the front and rear seats. Behind the fold down rear seat backs in a big tank for liquid compressed natural gas.
Chief Franciscus says there are a lot of advantages to using CNG. "It's a clean-burning fuel, it burns 100% clean. The cost of the fuel is signficiantly less than (gasoline)." The only fueling station in the area is at the Exelon facility in Phoenixville, just a few short minutes from the East Pikeland Police station. CNG at the pump was listed at $2.05 per gallon Thursday afternoon.
Franciscus says the Township Board of Supervisor's gave the green light to converting a police vehicle after a representatives from Exelon (whch owns PECO) made a presentation on the benefits of burning CNG.
The Chief says the township looked for a "factory" CNG vehicle but could not find one suitable for the department's needs. That's why an existing vehicle in the department's fleet was converted. This SUV can also still run on gasoline if the CNG tank runs low far from the fueling station.
CNG is not new and is actually fairly common for some kinds of vehicles. Fransiscus says "they've been using it for trash trucks, they use it for those jitney busses that run you back and forth at the airport parking lots, they've been using it for school buses (in some places). It's pretty readily-available but usually only in pumping stations for those kinds of (fleet) vehicles."
He says having the Exelon fueling station so close by is what makes using CNG possible for East Pikeland.
He says the vehicle, which is one of five in his department's fleet, drives pretty much like a normal vehicle. He says the officers who drive it have "been pretty pleasantly surprised."
Unlike a gasoline tank, the CNG tank actually sits inside the vehicle and poses no explosive danger, according to Chief Fransiscus.