Pickens Meet Phill: Clean Energy Fuels Buys Natural Gas Vehicle Device Maker

In case you were wondering how T. Boone Pickens was going to break the home distribution bottleneck in his plan to get the U.S. to power its vehicles with natural gas, here’s one possible answer: Natural gas vehicle distribution company Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE), of which Pickens is a founder, said this morning that it plans to acquire FuelMaker from American Honda Corp. and the FuelMaker Trust for $17 million in cash. Founded in 1989 and based in Toronto, FuelMaker makes natural gas refueling appliances for industrial fleets, as well as a home consumer product called the Phill (seriously, it’s called the Phill).

The Phill, which was unveiled by Honda and FuelMaker in 2002, compresses natural gas from home gas lines, takes about four hours to fill an empty tank after a 50-mile drive, uses 800 watts, and weighs about 100 lbs. The biggest barrier to consumers buying the Phill is its price tag — we called the customer service line and the representative said we could get the Phill for between $5,500 and $6,000, including installation ($1,500) and shipping ($200). The representative said we were also eligible for a tax rebate of $1,000, or 30 percent of the cost.

In European countries like France, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as in China, consumers can get the Phill through utility gas providers. In the U.S., you can buy the Phill directly in certain states. The device is meant to be installed in a garage or outside and in an installer needs to come to your house to pre-approve that your gas and electrical system is compatible.

Perhaps with Clean Energy Fuels, and Picken’s publicity, behind the wheel of the Phill, the device can get more distribution and awareness. We can’t imagine that many have been sold-to-date, given there’s still few natural gas vehicles on road. But then again former owner Honda has bigger pockets, and one of the most well known consumer natural gas cars out there — the Honda Civic GX, which costs $24,590, is sold in California and New York and has a 170-mile fuel range.

Clean Energy Fuels, despite a lack of profits, has taken an acquisition strategy to its growth. Last month the company said it had purchased Dallas Clean Energy (DCE) for $19.1 million. DCE is the owner of the McCommas Bluff landfill gas processing plant, which the firms claim is the third largest landfill gas operation in the U.S. Then earlier in August, Clean Energy Fuels, said it had joined with the investment group Perseus, and T. Boone Pickens to support the creation of a natural gas vehicle to the tune of $160 million. Clean Energy Fuels and Pickens plan to each commit $10 million, and Perseus is led the investment; the Vehicle Production Group will build the vehicle.