Pakistan lags behind the United States in many areas but it leads the world in using natural gas for transportation. America is far behind countries like Brazil, India, Argentina, Italy, Egypt and even Bangladesh when it come to using this economical fuel, even though we lead in natural gas production. About 17.5 million natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are on the road worldwide, but only about 66,000 of them are light-duty vehicles in the U.S.– cars, SUVs or pickup trucks.
According to Boulder-based Navigant research, NGVs will more than double worldwide by 2023, but will the US join the party? Diesels certainly caught on in the last few years. Former General Motors Chairman Dan Akerson pointed out last October, “Think about it. Go back 20 or 30 years ago. Diesel wasn’t very ubiquitous in this country. Forty percent of our gas stations today nationally have diesel in them. If 40 percent of them had a compressed natural gas (CNG) station, think of the impact that would have in our foreign currency deficits, our trade deficits … on our environment.”
Natural gas vehicles would get a boost from the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Development Act introduced in February by US Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Carl Levin, D-Mich. It would give alternative fuel vehicle producers regulatory incentives. It would increase the vehicles’ appeal to drivers with benefits like access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes. And it would require a federal study on financing options for natural gas fueling stations.
Fueling stations – or lack thereof – has hampered NGV vehicles’ appeal. Inhofe and Levin call it “a classic chicken-and-egg problem.” Without enough vehicles nobody wants to install fueling stations – and vice versa. There are about 1,500 fueling stations nationwide – 15 along Colorado’s Front Range. That means drivers must plan ahead. However, considering the average price per gallon for CNG is about $2.50 compared to about $3.65 per gallon for gasoline, it may be a trade-off worth considering. Home CNG fueling units also are available that use the same natural gas used for home heating and make it possible to fill up overnight.
Even without Congressional action and the fueling issue, the affordability of US natural gas makes it more attractive for automakers to manufacture CNG vehicles. Honda has offered the Civic CNG since 1998. General Motors sells the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana. Other manufacturers, including Audi, Fiat, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and VW make and sell CNG vehicles in other countries, and will sell them here if demand grows.
Sens. Inhofe and Levin identify bi-fuel vehicles as the “bridge to a more diverse and efficient transportation fuel mix.” Bi-fuel vehicles can switch between natural gas and gasoline or diesel, extending their driving range. Chevrolet is promising a 2015 Impala bi-fuel and the 2014 GMC Sierra is already available. Ford offers bi-fuel availability in F-150 through F-650 and Super Duty trucks and E150/250/350, Transit and Transit Connect vans. The Ram 2500 also comes as bi-fuel.
A frequently cited advantage of natural gas is that it’s better for the environment because it burns cleaner than gasoline with reduced hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gases. Gasoline use was reduced by about 400 million gallons in 2013 because of NGVs.
Natural gas vehicles will be part of the future of American transportation, helping us keep rolling while achieving energy independence. As consumers become more knowledgeable about NGVs’ benefits and the fueling infrastructure develops you may want to consider one. You can see several NGVs already available to consumers and small businesses at the upcoming Denver Auto Show, April 9-13 at the Colorado Convention Center. The NGV Pavilion is sponsored America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).
Meanwhile, learn more from the US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website at www.afdc.energy.gov.