As gasoline prices continue to rise, drivers and government officials are beginning to find natural gas vehicles more appealing than ever.
In fact, some government officials are calling on Detroit carmakers to offer up a CNG passenger vehicle. More than 20 state governors on board in support of development of a CNG sedan. The officials claim they could buy thousands of the CNG vehicles to replace their current gasoline powered fleets. But, those cars aren’t readily available. Only one, the CNG Honda Civic, is a passenger car. Detroit currently offers no natural gas-fueled passenger cars.
A Step Forward
Chrysler has responded to the requests of private companies with big truck fleets to offer an alternative to the heavy-duty gasoline powered trucks.
The 2500 Ram heavy-duty truck runs on CNG but has a backup gasoline tank (in case drivers can’t find a natural gas pump). The version also has two natural gas tanks in the truck bed.
Right now, these CNG-fueled vehicles are quite expensive because of the tanks. The 2500 Ram costs $10,000 more than the gasoline version. The CNG Civic costs $4,000 more than the gasoline model.
With enough demand, however, the costs could go down.
Plenty of Natural Gas
New hydraulic fracturing techniques have made an abundance of natural gas available. Industry experts are seeing supplies unheard of before the new advances in fracking. Now the industry knows how much natural gas may be available—enough to last for a century, according to some analysts.
Government officials who support a transition to CNG vehicles site the environmental and economical benefits.
The largest study of alternative fuel options for on-road transportation in the United States has concluded that natural gas is a promising fuel from both an economic and technology perspective.
Released August 1 , the National Petroleum Council’s Report “Advancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future” is the result of two years of work examining the potential for a variety of fuels and technologies for both light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. More than 300 participants representing industry, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations contributed their knowledge and time to the analysis, economic modeling, and development of findings.
“There are competing priorities in the pursuit of new fuel and vehicle technologies that are reliable, affordable and environmentally advanced and natural gas is well-positioned within the study,” said Karen Hamberg, Vice President of Sustainable Energy Futures at Westport Innovations Inc. “The potential for a long-term and low-cost domestic supply of natural gas driven by economically recoverable, unconventional resources provides the economic driver for the increased use of natural gas for transportation.”
In addition to natural gas, the study analyzed four other fuel pathways, including hydrocarbon liquids, biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen, as well as the fuel-vehicle systems that may develop over the next several decades.
“The study identified few technological barriers to the deployment of natural gas fueled vehicles,” said Gallagher. “While infrastructure hurdles were identified as a barrier to the adoption of natural gas fueled vehicles, the study identifies solutions such as the enhancement of current infrastructure, the creation of natural gas corridors and vehicles that can run on more than one fuel.”
To read the Advancing Technology for America’s Transportation Future Report: http://www.npc.org/FTF-report-080112/FTF_Report_Summary-080112.pdf
Filling up a natural gas car’s fuel tank is simple, if you live in the right place. Ann Arbor, Mich., for example, has two natural gas pumps. But that kind of infrastructure is unusual in the vast majority of U.S. cities.
In Western Pennsylvania, the options are truly limited. According to CNGprices.com there are only a handful of CNG stations in Western PA.
One of those few stations is O-Ring CNG Fuel Systems in Punxsutawney. It has been operating its compressed natural gas station for a year and has about 85 customers. Compressed natural gas is currently $2 a gallon at that station. O-Ring also has stations in Coolspring and Rimbersburg. Another station is slated to open near Interstate 80 in Clarion County.
A new paper: The Arithmetic of Shale published by Yale University concludes that even a small shift to natural gas could save consumers a lot of money. According to the authors, replacing just 7 percent of the oil used in the U.S. each year with natural gas would save consumers $25.6 billion a year or $130.61 per licensed driver every year. If 50 percent of the current amount of oil used was replaced with natural gas, you’re looking at $182.9 billion a year, or nearly $1,000 per year per driver.
If You Build It, Will They Come?
Car companies are hesitant to start new car programs unless they are sure that demand will be there.
No car companies have disclosed if they plan to bid on the governors’ proposal. Honda and Chrysler could have an edge if they do because of their already existing vehicles.
The governors extended a request for proposals to car manufacturers to develop the cars in late July. Participating states are expected to encourage their cities, universities, and private companies to CNG vehicles.
Early efforts to market CNG cars to U.S. consumers failed, and one of North America’s largest natural gas producers, Encana, announced a huge loss, because gas supply is now far outstripping demand.