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Perspectives With Bill Higginbotham, President and CEO, ET Environmental

By Robin Skibicki, Marketing Coordinator, NGVi

ET Environmental, an independent design/build firm, focuses on design and construction of alternative fueling infrastructure and maintenance facilities, as well as all areas of the solid waste industry. They are comprised of in-house professional engineers and construction managers, with 14 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. NGVi recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill Higginbotham, President and CEO of ET Environmental, to learn more.

Can you provide a general background and company history about ET Environmental Corporation?

Founded in 1993, ET Environmental combines clean technologies and traditional engineering practices into innovative design and construction for the environmental and construction industries. We completed our first CNG project in 2004, when clean energy and clean domestic fuel initiatives were just starting to pick up speed.  Since then, we have completed energy-related assignments ranging from facility evaluations and economic feasibility studies to multi-million dollar new construction installations. ET is now a leading design/builder of CNG fueling infrastructure, fueling facilities and CNG vehicle maintenance facilities. ET has blended environmental expertise, construction knowledge, and management systems into an integrated design/build service model.

How did ET Environmental emerge into the natural gas fueling industry?

When the company was founded more than 20 years ago, ET’s primary markets were solid waste transfer stations, recycling centers, landfill gas, and other environmental types of projects.  In 2002, ET ENERGY, a division of ET Environmental, was formed to focus on alternative energy projects.  With both traditional and alternative fueling experience, ET was able to deliver when our largest client made the decision to convert their entire fleet of vehicles nationwide to CNG. We’ve now been in the CNG market for more than 10 years and are serving clients throughout the US and Canada.

Are you primarily a third-party provider, a design/build contractor, or a combination of both?

ET is a design/build contractor. We have
in-house engineering design staff and construction management professionals that take each project from the conceptual stage through final construction completion. Our clients find the single point of contact much easier and more efficient to work with versus hiring and overseeing separate design and construction firms.

What distinguishes ET Environmental’s CNG-related construction management services from its competitors?

ET has always been dedicated to providing the highest level of service to its clients and they truly appreciate it. Our construction management process includes significant opportunities for competitive construction buyout which drives competition in the market and results in better value for our clients. We treat each project as if it were our own. 

What challenges are unique to designing, building and retrofitting CNG fuel stations and vehicle maintenance and repair facilities?
The fact that each project is unique provides the opportunity to deliver a custom suited solution to each client. In addition, the building and fire authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) are usually new to the compliance requirements for CNG projects and will need some education to become more familiar with those requirements and encourage consistent enforcement. The fueling piece is normally a very custom solution specifically tailored to meet the client needs such as fuel demand, time available for fueling, system functionality, redundancy, and budget constraints, just to mention a few. Retrofits for buildings are highly dependent on the existing conditions and therefore are difficult to create a standard compliance solution.

What advice do you give a client planning to open a CNG fueling station or convert their fleet to CNG?

The first step in the process comes long before design begins. At ET, we approach every project with a Master Developer mindset. This involves intense evaluation about what the client is trying to accomplish. We help our clients think through the process in a way that they don’t always know how to do. Questions come up such as what types of trucks will comprise your fleet, where are they coming from, what will their daily routines be, when will the trucks be delivered? 

Once the initial investigation stage has been thoroughly evaluated, the next important step is making sure the CNG fueling facility is sized properly. Equipment needs to reliably meet a fleet’s fueling needs without compromising the ability of the vehicles to be on the road when they need to be. Proper sizing requires calculating how many vehicles need to be fueled, how much fuel is needed for each vehicle, and understanding the vehicle’s operating cycle.  

It’s also critical to understand the supply of natural gas in the area. Is there enough natural gas available through the local pipeline and at what pressure is this gas available? That will determine how much compression is needed. We often find municipal pipeline gas at pressure of between 20 and 100 psi (pounds per square inch). For fueling, natural gas needs to be compressed to 4,500 psi, before it is dispensed at 3,600 psi into vehicle’s on-board storage tanks. When you have lower pipeline pressure, more compression is required. Compression equipment can be a major cost when building CNG fueling facilities. Understanding the area’s gas supply and fleet’s fueling cycle is critical when designing and building a station. ET helps with all of the preliminary investigation and planning for each facility to make sure it is sized properly. The remainder of the design phase completes the client’s ultimate use intent and construction puts it all in place.

What changes and opportunities do you foresee associated with increasing demand for CNG fueling stations?

Compared with diesel fueling, there are still very few natural gas fueling stations around the country. As demand grows and municipalities and private fleets begin to add CNG fueling stations, we find that local officials may not be familiar with code compliance requirements. The learning curve can be a challenge as new stations are developed. Some states, such as California, have implemented a greater number of CNG fueling stations. There, the fire marshals and building officials are better educated on the unique facility requirements.

In other areas, particularly smaller towns that are building their first stations, local officials are sometimes not as well versed. When this is the case, we’ve found it extremely valuable to meet with compliance officials to explain how the technology works. Part of the education also involves addressing safety and providing tours of stations we’ve designed and built at other locations, whenever possible.

You say that more than 90% of your work comes from repeat customers. How does ET Environmental maintain their relationship with those customers?

The team we’ve assembled is the best in this field. We out-service our competition, solve problems quickly, and work as a partner with all of our clients. Technical knowledge and expertise coupled with personal touch customer service has always been the key to our success.