By on March 8, 2012

A brief piece in the Wall Street Journal’s “Dealbook” discussed the potential of natural gas powered vehicles, largely as a way to stop falling prices for natural gas.

One hope for many natural gas producers reeling from collapsing prices is wider adoption of natural-gas-powered cars.

The biggest hurdle so far: lack of infrastructure to refuel them.

But Steven Mueller, CEO of Southwestern Energy, says if 10% of passenger cars were powered by natural gas, gasoline prices would fall by $1.60/gallon and gas producers would get 4 billion cubic feet/day in demand.

The global supply of natural gas is way up, thanks to shale deposits in the United States and other locales. Currently, the Honda Civic GX is the best-known CNG vehicle on sale currently. Buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles have been running on CNG for years, but Dodge is set to introduce a Ram Tradesman that can run on CNG – other work trucks have been converted to run on natural gas by their owners (at significant expense), but this looks to be one of the first OEM-engineered work trucks with this capability.

An NPR report (sponsored by a natural gas lobby group) touched on President Obama’s visit to a big rig factory, some of which were powered by natural gas. Obama proposed – you guessed it - tax incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, including natural gas. Natural gas vehicles aren’t that popular around the world, but have a certain following – Brazilian Fiat Siena taxicabs, LPG powered Volvos and the famous Panther platform Crown Vics and Town Cars that serve as taxi and livery cars in Toronto all exist, albeit in very small numbers.

Natural gas could potentially be a “black swan event” for the auto industry, a cheap, clean-burning fuel that could allow for both domestic energy independence and the continued hegemony of the internal combustion engine. Drivers wouldn’t have to worry about foreign oil, range anxiety or battery bricking.

The obvious problem is the lack of infrastructure. Natural gas filling stations are scant, to put it mildly. But there are rumblings (so far unsubstantiated – but keep watching TTAC for more info) that building filling stations, be it for hydrogen or other fuels, is easier and cheaper than trying to develop serious long-range, quick charging, sustainable and affordable battery technology. If this turns out to be true, then it suggests that electric cars will be forever relegated to “second car/commuter car” status.

A final note: Israel, home of Better Place and their battery swapping stations, is said to have enormous shale oil and gas deposits (so much for the joke about the Israelites wandering for 40 years and finding no oil). Aside from the obvious geopolitical implications, what kind of future would that leave for the Better Place program?

 

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105 Comments on “Will Natural Gas Prevent Us From Reaching A Better Place?...”


  • avatar
    Jimal

    This is the classic “chicken/egg” scenario. Manufacturers aren’t going to invest heavily in developing useable CNG cars (in terms of better integration of the CNG tank) until there is enough infrastructure to make CNG cars practical, but no one is going to invest in the infrastructure until there are enough vehicles out there to make CNG filling stations profitable.

    What to do?

    • 0 avatar
      highlandmiata

      What? you mean the market stifles innovation? If only there were some sort of entity that could help push one or both of these sides over the edge by helping them reach that profit…. Too bad those sorts of entities are so universally despised.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTheDriver

        I see what you did there ;-}

      • 0 avatar
        tmottser

        I would actually make the argument that some unidentified entity has allowed this supposed market to become overrun with monopolistic and oligopolistic monsters that stifled innovation and progress through inherent collusion triggered by their own ineptness. This so-called market, which has been festering in this state for several decades, grew exponentially more egregious and powerful over the last couple years through the actions of the unnamed entity.

      • 0 avatar
        TW4

        Innovation is only innovation if it can convince the market it is innovation. Otherwise, “innovation” is merely a clever way to reduce societal utility.

        Yes, if you threaten to lock human beings in cages, they generally follow government directives. Is this tactic supposed to impress me? Compared to mutually-beneficial private contract, government intervention is Draconian sadism.

        We already have anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws on the books. If the government would do its job, citizens would view government as necessary rather than evil.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I disagree completely about the infrastructure issue. Nearly every home built nowadays has natural gas running to it.

      • 0 avatar
        ronwagn

        Great point. Hydraulic home pumps are now available, or soon, for $5,000. Too steep for those who don’t drive a lot, but the average vehicle is now over $30,000. Many vehicles can be converted, for as low as $1,000 DIY. See youtube.com

  • avatar
    George B

    I seriously considered converting a car to CNG and buying a used commercial refueling compressor, but I could never make the numbers work even if the natural gas was free. It costs many thousands of dollars to safely store natural gas on a car at 3,600 psi and you give up a lot of trunk space in the process. For relatively small users of gasoline, a better bet would be to convert the natural gas to a liquid fuel like methanol or even synthetic gasoline.

    The economics might work better for converting cars to use natural gas liquids like propane. The low pressure tanks are much less expensive. Unfortunately propane is no where as inexpensive as dry natural gas, methane.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    When I worked for a state DOT garage the state used dual-fuel CNG Cavaliers for agency vehicles.

    Might be one area where the government can actually help out; instead of buying costly and high-maintenance hybrid vehicles (Our sate vehicles ran well into the few-hundred thousand mile range….. think of how many expensive hybrid batteries would have to be replaced in such life-cycles.)

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      None if the Prius taxi statistics are to be believed.

      If they buy Sonatas, the batteries are covered under a lifetime warranty anyways.

      Honda’s hybrids (Insight and Civic) have had some battery replacements (I have a 4 year old replacement battery in my 13 year old Insight), but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      The gas tank is a high maintenance item in a natural gas car. Mainly for checking but with such a dangerous apparatus completely justified

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    So people are complaining about oil prices. Natural gas prices are down and now someone is proposing that we raise the price of natural gas by implementing a policy that would be aimed at constructing new demands for natural gas? Can I assume that this was written by someone with a vested interest in natural gas stocks?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Better Place was created so that there would be something in the US with lower odds of success than the manual transmission diesel station wagon.

    The Aussies have had propane/gasoline dual fuel cars for years. I don’t think that they’ve been all that successful there, even though the propane is cheaper than gasoline.

    Natural gas is less dense than propane, so the tanks on a natural gas car have to be larger in order to have the same range. That means both shorter ranges and lost trunk space. Compare the range and trunk space of a Civic GX to see what some of the downsides are.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      I was backpacking in Australia during 2001 and got a ride in a 1960’s Bedford van that was converted to use Natural Gas. needed for this kind of The conversion had all the room needed under the floor and it was a molester cargo shag van. The conversion got me thinking. Leave the compact cars alone. The cost difference over a good MPG car cannot be returned and really makes very little sense. Similar to the way Hybrids fail real world financing. I always thought there was a business case to convert used cheap Tahoe / Expedition or Minivan and full size pickup trucks vehicles to natural gas use. That is the class that needs all the help. With an optional “take that Tree Hugger” sticker.

      • 0 avatar
        ronwagn

        I am planning on a CNG or CNG/gasoline minivan when my present one wears out, or we get stations in our area. We don’t drive enough to justify a purchase or conversion right now. I line in a desert for CNG pumps. That will be rectified though.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      Dual-fuel CNG/gasoline conversions make more sense in older light trucks and SUV’s, where you have plenty of dead space for the CNG equipment due to the frame-on-body construction.

      In my area, CNG filling stations are plentiful, and close enough that filling would never be a problem within an extremely useful range. I’d do a dual-fuel conversion in a heartbeat, if the cost of the conversion wasn’t double what my poor old 17 year old Nissan was worth.

    • 0 avatar
      Michal

      Australian LPG car owner here. I converted my Mitsubishi Lancer to LPG 3 years ago. It was only economical to do so as the federal government was willing to kick in $2k towards the $3.8k conversion process. Otherwise, it made no sense.

      LPG is quite popular here. Over 600k cars are converted and easy to spot on the road as they have a mandatory diamond ‘LPG’ red stick on the license plate. However the LPG industry is on the way down. Government subsidies are tapering off each year, and a 2.5c/L tax is being added to the fuel every year for the next 5 years. Previously LPG was fuel excise free (petrol has 38c/L).

      All taxis run on LPG although a few Prius taxis have appeared recently that run on petrol. They don’t need to sit at taxi stands idling their engines to keep the air conditioning going.

      The other problem is LPG is growing rapidly in price. Saudi Arabia sets the propane/butane contract price on the first of every month, and everyone else seems to follow. The local pump price goes up or down about the 8th of every month. 2.5 years ago I paid 45c/L, now I’m paying 90c/L. Quite a difference.

      LPG has been strongly supported here by the federal government ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s. Australia is a net exporter of LPG while we’re a big importer of oil.

      LPG was a problematic fuel once upon a time. Freezing liquid to gas converters, exhaust valve seat recession, cold startup problems, etc. These are mostly solved. In 3 years of driving the only issue I’ve had is trying to fill an almost empty tank: the filler valve freezes on the inside of the tank as the liquid flashes to gas. Solution: wait a few minutes, or don’t try to fill an empty tank.

      CNG vehicles are rare here. Mostly buses. Easy to spot as they have red round ‘CNG’ stickers on the license plates.

      On a trip to India I spotted many CNG vehicles. All the small 3 wheel taxis are CNG where available, of LPG where not. CNG is sold by the kilo at service stations.

  • avatar

    breakthroughs in the battery tech for cost-effective range and charging time are probably even more unpredictable than this shale boom was.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    1. The picture is wrong. Propane is LPG- Liquified Petroleum Gas. Totally different than CNG- Compressed Natural Gas.

    2. The form factor of CNG tanks make them unnecessarily bulky. These tanks are all round cylinders. They cannot just be made into arbitrary shapes like gasoline tanks. As a result, even dedicated CNG cars generally have a worse range than their gasoline counterparts.

    3. CNG tanks are heavy and expensive (does another energy storage device come to mind?). Composite ones are half the weight but maybe 2-3X the price!

    4. CNG tanks in most locales require regular (annual?) inspections, and they expire after 15-25 years.

    5. If you are fast filling, you cannot fill a CNG tank to its rated capacity because it heats up and expands. So a 10gge tank could only be filled to maybe 8.5gge if you are fast filling. If you are slow filling (like using your home CNG compressor) you could fill it to capacity.

    6. A home filling station is expensive, and has a limited life time (limited to a certain number of hours), after which it needs to go back to the factory for a complete rebuild.

    Other than that though, CNG is great.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Guy here has a natural gas/gasoline powered cavalier station wagon. About 600 mile cruising range according to him. Fills it at an RV station and pays about $45. Some trouble with fuel injection but the technology must exist.

    That equates to a batch of fuel economy.

    Burns cleaner, cheaper. We are the saudi arabia of natural gas. Technology has been here for years. Safety – we are running around with a very explosive liquid in a tank that can be split. Energy secretary wants to see gas at $6/gallon and there is no drilling in the gulf in you are a U.S. Company. Open to everyone.

    Politics anyone? Curious how that could be anything but a better place.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Can you further explain your description of gasoline as “a very explosive liquid”?

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Are you sure that it is natural gas and not propane? I’ve never seen natural gas at an RV place.

      See comments above regarding the differences between the two.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Gasoline is not an explosive liquid, it isn’t even very combustible as a liquid. It is an explosive vapor, and I’m willing to bet you that methane is explosive as well. Certainly no advantage to CNG there (even though gasoline vapor is more explosive, methane is explosive enough to ruin your day/life if you are in the exploding car).

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        Well, I’m sure you are right. That was propane the guy was filling at the RV place. I know it comes from a different source and I know that it has to be stored differently. The thing I can’t separate from my mind, however, is that both LPG and LNG can be used to power a vehicle. You can find examples from lawnmowers to tractors that use it and plans to convert one that burns gas.

        The biggest problem that I see with cars today is the fuel injection system. I think, if it can be used on diesel engines it could also be adapted to gas engines. I suppose no matter what you hear in this polarized country you can always hear a contrary notion. I keep hearing that we are the Saudi Arabia of Natural gas and someone on this site just said that it was a stopgap. If he is right it sure makes Boone Pickens look dumb and I doubt that he is.

        BTW propane and butane hug the ground as they are heavier than air. Natural gas floats away.

        Also, regarding fracking. I have seen statements that said it is a potential harm to drinking water and one california university IIRC that suggested no proof existed. One thing for sure is that we don’t know. However, judging from what I have seen today that won’t stop someone from giving us definitive proof in a comment. I had no clue just how bright (and nit picky) some of the best and brightest were.

        As for the burning liquid gas. IIRC you could douse a burning match into liquid gasoline and the gas would put it out. Only problem is that you wouldn’t be able to get the match through the cloud of gas vapors which would explode and the resultant heat would alter the state of the liquid which would also ignite. In any enclosed space this results in an explosion. It is my understanding that an even more solid state is essentially the gel that the military uses as nepalm. Add heat and state change becomes rather sudden and unalterable. Now I am sure that there are things I don’t know and haven’t covered, however, I just picked my last nit.

        It seems that this went from a discussion about a matter of some import to showing whose brain was biggest. I am not in the contest but enjoyed the article. Some of the comments reminded me of two 5 year old boys conducting a comparison of the relative size of a different organ. I am out.

      • 0 avatar
        Lumbergh21

        Well then don’t make silly statements implying how much safer CNG is than gasoline, and I won’t comment that a) you’re technically incorrect, and b) the distinction is pointless if you bring flame into close contact with a large quantity of either vapor, you’re not likely to live to tell about it.

      • 0 avatar
        ronwagn

        The advantage of natural gas is that a leak will go straight up if not contained. Gasoline will puddle if there is a leak. Propane is heavier than air.

  • avatar
    Slab

    The gge (gasoline gallon equivalent) in my area is about $2.50, or about $1.25 cheaper than gasoline. Assuming I could buy a Civic GX (not sold in my state) for sticker price ($5650 more than an EX), it would take 140,120 miles (at 31 miles/gge) to recoup the difference. Considering that I’d probably get the EX for less than sticker, the payback is even longer.

  • avatar
    priapism

    I’m very interested in the CNG Ram. In the US it will be CNG + an 8 gallon gas tank, but I hear in Canada you’ll be able to fit the full 32-gallon fuel tank? That’s the only way it would be usable for me since I have to tow long distances several times a year. I hope it’s retro-fittable to US models.

  • avatar
    rem83

    Not to mention that CNG requires virtually no emissions equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      You may not believe this, but when I worked at a construction equipment company that used dual-fuel (gasoline and LP) Kubota engines, I read the manufacturer-supplied emissions test data. Either HC or CO emissions (can’t remember which) were actually HIGHER when the engine was running on LP! I couldn’t believe it myself.

      • 0 avatar
        highlandmiata

        As stated in comments above, LP does not equal CNG. Propane is considerably dirtier burning, to my recollection.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Propane is considerably dirtier burning, to my recollection.”

        According to this, the factory-produced propane motors are cleaner than both gasoline engines and the aftermarket propane conversions. Whether this applies to factory-built dual fuel motors, I don’t know.

        http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/vehicles/emissions_propane.html

      • 0 avatar
        Lumbergh21

        Doesn’t surprise me that you would have higher HC emissions. See injector problems above. A control system designed for injection of gasoline won’t be optimized for the injection of methane and could have some problems with unburnt fuel.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        “Doesn’t surprise me that you would have higher HC emissions. See injector problems above. A control system designed for injection of gasoline won’t be optimized for the injection of methane and could have some problems with unburnt fuel.”

        Although related through electronics, do you realize that the LPG or CNG injection system is actually different than the petrol one? I mean, you don’t think that the actual gasoline injectors inject the gaseous fuel, right?

        In any case, the engine can be calibrated to work with its emission controls system (or if it’s dedicated with its own) and actually produce less emissions.

      • 0 avatar
        Lumbergh21

        I don’t doubt that dedicated CNG vehicles burn extremely clean. That would make perfect sense. I’m saying that I’m not surprised that a vehicle mapped to run on gasoline vapor has higher emissions of unburnt fuel when running on CNG.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      CNG vehicles have all the same emissions equipment of a gasoline burning ICE except evaporative controls. There is basically no difference in the engine itself. CA requires the same emissions tests, minus the gas cap.

      No one seems to be talking about this for the US/Canada, but the only practical use of natural gas (mostly methane) as a transportation fuel is to build GTL (Gas-to-Liquids) refineries. Shell is just bringing one online in Quatar. The output is distillates (diesel, jet, heating oil) wax, and synthetic motor oil. The chemical reaction is simple, known since the 1920′s, but the devil is always in the details.

  • avatar

    If I had some ham, I could make a ham sandwich, if I had some bread.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Most of Israel’s energy comes from foreign coal and natural gas, which is converted to electricity. If Israel was able to obtain a bonanza of natural gas, it would be converted to electricity, which is what the “Better Place” autos use, which would put a “Better Place” in a very good place indeed (ICE’s in Israel, not so much).

  • avatar
    dts187

    Full disclosure: I currently work in the oil and gas industry!

    That being said, CNG makes sense but there are a few caveats. Although a lot of infrastructure exists for heating use, it would have to be upgraded to supply the amount of filling stations required to make CNG convenient for the every-man. Also, until there is a good network of filling stations, vehicles would have to be capable of running on CNG and gasoline which increases cost, engineering efforts, etc. The price is low now (1.75-ish for GGE) but if demand increases it would easily double. Also, gasoline contains more energy per unit that CNG. So if you’re getting 40mpg on gasoline you’ll likely see 32-35mpgge with CNG.

    For fleets, CNG is a great thing right now. We’re talking fleets of larger vehicles that can easily accommodate tanks for CNG and gasoline. It’s cheap, easy to setup a few filling stations at different locations, and a fantastic way to economically power large vehicles.

    Like an electric vehicle, it won’t fit everyone’s situation. But it does provide a (relatively) clean and viable source of propulsion.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1. CNG makes sense for fleets.

      But getting mass consumers to buy an NG vehicle will be tough. Maybe after several years of very low natural gas prices they’ll be justification for a manufacturer to take the plunge. Gasoline is just too good and dense of a fuel.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It wouldn’t be difficult if the infrastructure existed in the US to refuel CNG vehicles. There are none in my area.

        I owned a CNG/gasoline Opel while stationed in Europe during the seventies and every Esso and Total gas station dispensed two different grades of gasoline, one grade of diesel (winter or summer), CNG, and LPG.

        The CNG was dirt cheap when I was there but didn’t give me the range of gasoline, nor was it subsidized by the military coupon system.

        The difference in power between CNG and gasoline was noticeable.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        Ideally to deal the the power loss from CNG (and the infrastructure exists accross the entire country, I mean I imagine very few states don’t have extensive NG pipelines running, just a matter of installing compressors for storage on site at each station or distributed within regions), would be use of eco-boost (or whatever other automakers call equuivelent) technology, additionally would be to switch to CNG/Butinol combination (butinol, an alcohol) is chemically very similar to petrol (with higher octane, so higher boost) in that it can be used in same pipelines, etc. (+) and this will never happen, large quantities can be produced from hemp (think it’s 3 to 1 in comparison to corn), plus the stocks produce 5 to 1 as much pulp as wood for paper and the seeds, I beleive, are 7 to 1 in comparison to using soy or other food products to produce bio-deisel. Other pluses A.) it grows like a weed requiring no irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides (the same reason to brazil can use sugar cane, it growns like a weed). In comparison to corn which is a man made crop requires huge quantities of the above and would die off in several generations without man’s intervention. Now lets see congress, (i.e. the petrol, agri and paper special interest lobbies) are going to let this happen.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Kudzu. Plenty of places here in the south where they’d like to have you harvest it.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Government can be a leader in this by requiring a switch of government fleets to natural gas – busses, police cars, etc. and by establishing publicly accessible filling stations paid for by the government ( privatized later). Then require business fleets to switch – FedEx, ups, taxis etc. Then go for the consumer fleet – require trucks and cans at first to have the nat gas option then cars later. It might take 15-20 years, but it could be done.

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      You’re right. The federal government could really lead the way on this. I’ve seen many local governments switching their garbage trucks etc to CNG and providing the public access to the filling station. I think it’s a great model that would work on a federal level.

      Also, many companies heavily invested in natural gas are making great efforts to further the cause of CNG (for their own gain, of course). Many companies are giving hefty grants to purchase CNG vehicles and a couple have even opened up their filling stations to public. Go to the strip district in downtown Pittsburgh and you can fill up your CNG vehicle for cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      You know, eating meat has been shown to be detrimental to human health. The government should start by removing meat from government employee comissaries and kitchens (Senate and House exempt of course). Then they could prohibit the use of meat in all public kitchens, eventually removing meat from the shelves of stores. Finally, the could outlaw the private consumption of meat. Utopia acheived.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Another option is LNG (cooled and liquified) natural gas that allows for more fuel storage (greater energy density) but the fueling is more complicated and the equipment more expensive. It is difficult to carry enough compressed natural gas for a commercial application, but LNG allows for much more fuel to be carried.

    Commercial trucks are starting to use this in applications where the truck returns to the same place with a fueling station at the end of every shift. Over the road trucks will not switch until fueling stations are more common, but when it happens it will allow for stable fuel costs and lower maintenance expenses. Eventually LNG may be a better fuel for cars as well.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Why the complaints? Here are geologists, engineers, chemists, university and business labs all over the world giving us choices and some seem to be afraid of changes.

    Who knows if batteries or methane from the cows we eat will power our cars tomorrow, sit back and enjoy the adventure and be thankful that so many people are trying to keep us on the road in our independent vehicles.

    Some of the changes may even allow you to continue making annoying noises with your diesel powered pickups.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for making common sense so humorous. My best laugh of the day so far. If I had a diesel pickup I’d go out and make some noises right now.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      So has anyone made a definitive declaration that fracking is dangerous to ground water – or not…

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        Seriously?
        Fracking done right is not dangerous. Fracking done wrong is. Like everything else.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        The most recent data I’ve seen showed that the fracking process pollutes not because of the actual fracking, but because of sloppy containment/disposal of their process water at the ground surface.

      • 0 avatar
        dts187

        Fracking is very much a risk/reward scenario. Building on what Truckducken said, fracking has inherent risks but they can be mitigated. Wells drilled by reputable outfits are cased in multiple layers of steel and concrete. This prevents methane and chemicals used in the fracking process from escaping.

        You will hear a lot of talk about methane seeping into water wells, etc. While I’m sure there are cases of this being caused by fracking, ground water in methane rich areas is always going to have high methane content compared to other sources. This is naturally occurring. There have been 3 EPA confirmed cases of water contamination caused by fracking since 2007. These were due to the company involved using only sub-standard concrete as a casing. Considering the amount of active wells that is a very low figure.

        The biggest risk of the fracking process is actually the storage and treatment of the liquid used to fracture the rock. The liquid used is typically a mix of water (usually around 95%), sand, and the rest a combination of toxic and non-toxic chemicals. After being used the liquid is pumped to the surface, collected, and shipped to disposal facilities. This is where the accidental spills usually happen.

        There is a lot of information out there. The anti-fracking side sensationalizes the risks and the oil and gas groups make it sound like companies are out there feeding squirrels and planting trees. Per usual, the truth lies in the middle. There are risks. There have been accidents and there will be more. However, most every major company spends an obscene amount of time and money on minimizing their environmental impact. It was different in the past. Companies would drill however and wherever they wanted. They would dispose of waste in rivers and lakes with reckless abandon because it was more profitable that way. Times have changed. Environmental cleanup is very expensive and companies make more profit when they don’t have to fork out dollars to clean up a spill or accident so they do everything they can to get it right.

  • avatar
    TireIrony

    I don’t see how any new transportation energy source that doesn’t leverage existing delivery infrastructure will ever gain critical mass over gasoline and diesel. Not without government incentive an order of magnitude more than we’ve seen thus far.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      It will when gasoline/deisel become costly enough to drive the widespread use of an alternative fuel. Fuel for ICE’s was difficult to get, especially in rural areas in the early 1900′s, but hay and oats for a horse and stables were quite easy to find.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Most people have natural gas piped into their house. So the infrastructure is mostly there already.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Piped NG comes in at around 5psi to homes. It would take hours if not days to run an 110volt ELECTRIC NG compressor to get it to 3600psi in a storage tank at home. Where is the economy in that?

  • avatar
    carguy

    Why is this even a question? We have plenty of natural gas and should be converting from oil to gas as much as we can. Making cars run on CNG is much easier and cheaper than making electric cars. If we had a government with an energy policy we would be spending our resources facilitating this transition instead subsidizing electric cars.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Making cars run on CNG is much easier and cheaper than making electric cars.”

      Would it be?

      We already have an ubiquitous commercial distribution system for electricity; we don’t really have that for CNG. And electric cars really aren’t the difficult or expensive: batteries are, but that’s improving (slooooowly).

      Also, both have lower energy density than gasoline, both require significant in-vehicle changes, while electricity has the advantage of being abstracted from the root energy source (coal, gas, nuclear, solar—doesn’t matter) nor doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.

      CNG kind of punts the sustainability problem down the road (as do electric cars, but not quite so dramatically). It’s a useful tool, especially to replace oil and coal, but it’s not a panacaea.

      I think we’ll see hybrid power become ubiquitous before CNG.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      CNG is still a greenhouse gas just like any and all fossil fuels. There is no one easy answer unfortunately. But I pin my hopes on stalk/ farm waste based bio-diesel and bio-ethanol.

  • avatar
    mzr

    The US only has 23 years of natural gas supply at current consumption rates. Natural gas is another stop gap solution. Natural gas production from shale is right up there with tar sands in the amount of resources and damage done.

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      I don’t know where you got your numbers but they don’t line up at all with EIA figures for proved natural gas reserves in relation to annual consumption. Average US annual consumption is around 22Tcf and as of 2010 we have a recoverable supply of close to 2170TcF. In addition, within the last two years there has been a lot more discovery and Marcellus Shale production has beat all forecasts. So expect that 2170Tcf to increase. Keep in mind these figures only represent the US. There’s a lot of natural gas out there in the world. You can verify these numbers at eia.gov

    • 0 avatar
      dts187

      I should also add that you are correct, it is a temporary solution. But until we find a way to create unlimited energy, we should utilize what temporary solutions we have at our disposal. I just wanted to point out that our supply is not as dire as you made it out to be.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        They’ve been using CNG vehicles in Europe for decades and it has not displaced gasoline or diesel. I owned a CNG Opel during the seventies.

        The Europeans have taken the shotgun approach to alternative fuel engines and options and/or conversions are available for CNG, LNG and LPG to augment gasoline or diesel ICE.

        Even so, gasoline and diesel remain their biggest sellers.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      We’re always 25 or so years from running out of all sorts of natural resources. In private industry, accounting principles discourage speculation about how new supplies streams can come on line. For Government, hysterical promotion of future crises is an excellent way to pimp for votes to ‘fix’ things.

      Whether it comes from the middle east, tar sands, shale rock, or processed baby seals, there will be oil based fuels well into the next century.

      • 0 avatar
        protomech

        We’ll never run *out* of oil. It’ll just become exorbitantly priced to the point where society as a whole transitions away from it for transportation purposes.

        Look at the military. They pay some three-figure sum per gallon because of the supply train; their interest in hybrid and EV operations are more to reduce supply requirements and provide additional operational capabilities than to reduce emissions and cost.

        Gas could go up to $20/gallon and they’d still buy at the same rate as present.

  • avatar
    V572625694

    Boone Pickens’ now-forgotten energy initiative included the idea of converting long-haul trucks to CNG, and building refueling stations along the big highways. The big trucks (necessarily) use a lot of energy to move heavy loads, and have more room for large tanks than passenger cars.

    • 0 avatar
      tritip

      Pickens owns about 30% of Clean Energy Fuels which builds natural gas fueling stations for fleets (UPS for one example) and is I believe attempting to build a system of coast to coast nat gas stations along the interstate. These stations would be for long haul truckers. Nat has burns 25% cleaner and costs about $2 a gallon less than deisel. This kind of cost saving will be great incentive for trucking companies to convert to nat gas as long as the infrastructure is there.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I liked Picken’s idea when he proposed it.

      The big thing is diversification. Not having all your eggs in one basket makes the overall system more robust. Leverage the benefits of each type of fuel; there’s no need for a one-size-fits-all solution.

      It seems obvious, but even in the critiques of CNG you see plenty of people who think that using CNG for transportation means that everyone will use it and it will overwhelm the infrastructure. I don’t believe that will happen because the market has a great way of finding stable points. When you hit a natural limit of supply, costs rise and reduce growth in demand.

      Let’s promote CNG to be used in delivery trucks, garbage trucks, & other large vehicles used in cities (and can refill at dedicated stations at their company site). Let’s promote EVs for people who have short commutes (and get them to charge at night to level demand on the electric grid). Let’s get the options out there, promote the unique benefits of each instead of the negative stigmas, and let the market do its thing.

  • avatar

    There are a lot of coal and oil-fired power plants that could be converted to natural gas, and in the northeast, oil is a major residential heating fuel.

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Just to throw something out there. Natural gas is pretty much Methane with some stinky stuff mixed in. We have a whole solar system chock full of methane, so in a hypothetical sort of B.S. Star Trek way, it would be virtually impossible to ever run out of it.

    Given, it’s not exactly accessible. . .

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      True – but doing that would severely alter the atmosphere’s composition.

      If we pursue scifi options, I would support massive solar arrays in space and then send the electricity down to earth.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    anybody out there seen the documentary ‘gasland’?

  • avatar
    asapuntz

    So if US passenger vehicle consumption goes down by 10%, the price will go down by $1.60/gal? Someone tell Rep. Allen West, I’m sure he’ll jump right onto the vehicle efficiency and alternative transportation bandwagon.

  • avatar
    motorrad

    Most of the taxis in Seoul are LPG or LNG powered. Seems to work fine.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    Ford and GM already make LPG-only cars in Oz. They have progressed from Dual fuel vehicles that have been around for decades. They use direct injection (The Ford anyway) and produce more power than the petrol version.
    There are over 600,000 LPG powered cars here. It costs 1/2 the price of petrol and is available at almost any gas station.

    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autogas
    Ford Falcon http://www.ford.com.au/cars/new-falcon/ecolpi
    Holden Commodore http://www.holden.com.au/vehicles/commodore/efficiency#/LPG

  • avatar
    Majda

    Anyone see information concerning financial support of the NPR story in the link? Perhaps I missed it.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a natural gas group sponsored the story. Last year, there was a series of stories on health care reform paid for by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    ““Propane is considerably dirtier burning, to my recollection.”

    According to this, the factory-produced propane motors are cleaner than both gasoline engines and the aftermarket propane conversions. Whether this applies to factory-built dual fuel motors, I don’t know.

    http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/vehicles/emissions_propane.html”
    I agree. My father-in-law was a propane dealer, and he converted his vehicles to to run on propane (just the same vehicle that anybody else would buy). For fact, on sixties and seventies American cars (most always Ford), the engines were like new at 150,000 miles (at a time when often 100,000 miles was cause for a rebuild or a junkyard). People (including myself) were happy to get a used vehicle from him as they knew that the engines would be the last part to cause any problem.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    By the way- for people who are thinking of converting their existing cars- keep in mind the intake valves will wear faster in a CNG motor. As it turns out the little droplets of gasoline are cushioning the valves and valve seats from the regular pounding. CNG is a gas, so there are no droplets and no cushioning effect. Factory CNG motors generally have specially hardened valves and valve seats.

    In theory direct injection motors may also have the same problem. We’ll know in a few years.

  • avatar
    TW4

    Between 1999 and 2008, what happened to the price of gasoline? What happened to the quantity demanded?

    Automobile purchases are culturally motivated, and price elasticity is not easy to model. Plug-ins can be the next SUVs. CNG can be the next boom. Ethanol can be the new black. The market is motivated by product development and advertising.

    I wish people would stop claiming that the price of oil has a major impact on demand. Model the price elasticity of oil. The results will be confusing. Plummeting prices from the mid-80s to 2000 were accompanied by negative per-capita consumption in the US. Increases in oil price between 2000-2008 saw a small uptick in per capita consumption.

    Consumers are either happy with oil or they are mad at oil. That’s how demand works. The price of oil and various substitutes is not nearly as important as public sentiment.

  • avatar
    ffinder

    Drivers should go for:
    Autogas (Liquefied Petroleum Gas LPG or Propane)

    -> Autogas is available right now.
    -> Cheaper than gasoline at the pump.
    -> Autogas stations are almost everywhere.
    -> Cleaner than gasoline and diesel.
    -> Cleaner-burning resulting in less engine wear,
    so engine life is actually extended.
    -> Does not consist of any edible substances,
    so no influence on the price of food.
    -> 90% domestically produced here in the US.
    -> Almost any car can be converted to become
    Autogas/gasoline hybrid at a price as low as $3,000.

    More info:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autogas

    http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/

    ff

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    Toronto experience: those CNG cabs and livery cars are useless if you have luggage–the tanks take up most of the trunk. Oh, and also: CNG blows up real good. Like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZmRvEEM3DQ&feature=related

    My windows vibrated. From 6 km away.
    You want to park a CNG car in your attached garage? I’d sooner park the Hindenburg in mine. Home compression filling stations? What a wonderful idea. Right next to the hot-and-cold running nitroglycerin.

    • 0 avatar
      ronwagn

      Gasoline is more dangerous than CNG. CNG rises up in the air if it escapes. Gasoline pools on the ground. Garages with gasoline or CNG should have ventilation.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Saw this morning an article about Japan abandoning nuclear power in favor of using Canadian natural gas to produce electricity.

    If we all jump on the natural gas bandwagon what are prices going to do? Same as the oil prices. Climb.

    Another headline – China and India possibly beginning a defensive arms race. Again what do we expect fossil fuels to do as a country with $1.5B and another country with $1.3B people try to enter first world status with all the same consumption patterns as we have enjoyed for 60 years?

    Diversification is the best route. So is getting as many updates done now while the price of fuel and technology is affordable. If the dollar drops as we slide to second fiddle status in the global economy, if the cost of fuel and raw materials increases sharply – those upgrades and efforts at diversification will be vastly more expensive.

    A transition to a diversified list of energy sources is the only way and cheaper that the wars our gov’t keeps investing in. I’m surprised we Americans can’t see the the value in keeping all your eggs out of one basket by now. We’ve seen what happens in the real estate markets, investment markets, gold markets, car business, etc. etc. I do recognize that the eggs in one basket makes somebody alot of money each time we have another economic bubble though. And still more money as those left with enough money start to buy up all the failed pieces of that bubble. Seems to me that there is a motivation for some to encourage bubbles and then get out just in time and then come back to buy up the pieces and reap more profits.

    • 0 avatar
      ronwagn

      Oil companies will have to sell their natural gas. There are a lot of small suppliers that will sell it. It does not have to be refined like gasoline and diesel. We need to use all the energy we can find, but nuclear and coal are the most dangerous and dirtiest.


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