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34 comments

Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

Posted March 14, 2012 9:30 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Good old gasoline and diesel fuels have been the staple of transportation energy since the inception of the automobile. But some estimates predict that at current consumption rates, oil will become a scarcity before the next century. What do we look to as the next thing after oil?

Besides reverting back to the "stone age" before cars became a lifestyle, many are looking at natural gas vehicles (NGVs) as the next logical step.

(<-- Image Credit: The Honda Portal)

Some Background on NGVs

NGVs store and use natural gas fuels as either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). CNG is gas stored at high pressure, while LNG is natural gas fuel in an uncompressed liquid form. LNG has over twice the energy density of CNG, making it more practical for shipment or transport of the fuel, and sometimes for use in larger vehicles (trucks and some buses) that require more energy. But in most applications, CNG makes more sense because it costs less to store.

Currently, CNG systems are used most readily in buses and other mass t

ransportation systems that can more easily take advantage of this technology. The United States ranks 14th on the list of countries which own any notable number of CNG vehicles. Pakistan, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and India all have over a million of these vehicles in use today.

Honda Civic GX - (Image Credit: Japanesesportcars.com -->)

What NGVs Can Brag About

In addition to displacing petroleum fuels, natural gas vehicles look very attractive for a number of reasons:

  • Cleaner emissions - In comparison to gasoline in light-duty vehicles, CNG combustion emits ~80% less particulate matter, 20-40% less carbon monoxide, ~10% less VOCs, and an overall 20% decrease in greenhouse gases (source).
  • Less expensive fuel (for now) - Costs for natural gas on a per unit energy basis are presently well below those of oil. In the U.S., this is largely due to the domestic abundance of natural gas: a majority (around 87% by one source) of U.S. natural gas is domestically produced.
  • Proven technology - There are roughly 13.2 million NGVs in use today, worldwide. While only 112,000 of these (<1%) are in the U.S., the technology exists and can easily be implemented and developed if the conditions allow.
  • Convenient construction - The design of NGVs is much closer to that of gasoline powered cars than many other alternative-fuel vehicles, since it runs on an internal combustion engine. Processes exist to convert gasoline-only cars to bi-fuel cars which can run on gasoline or natural gas. If it comes to choosing an alternative, the transition to NGVs from gasoline vehicles may be more favorable for car companies than fuel cell or electric vehicles.
  • Safety - Because natural gas is lighter than air, it will dissipate into the air in the event of an accident or leak rather than spilling into a flammable pool on the ground. It has a higher auto-ignition temperature than gasoline (~842-1004°F vs. ~475-536°F) and narrower range of flammability. In addition, tanks for natural gas vehicles are said to be sturdier than gasoline tanks. LNG transportation is a separate issue that has some greater safety concerns.
  • Refueling perks - Home refueling appliances for NGVs make it possible to tap into domestic natural gas and electric lines to slowly refuel overnight, allowing some consumers the ability to be less dependent on refueling stations.

The Flipside

While NGVs may seem like the natural choice for the future, there are some important limitations to consider:

  • Less for more - While more reasonable than current electric cars, natural gas vehicles fall noticeably short of the range of comparable gas vehicles. This is due to the heavy CNG tanks and storage constraints for small cars. The old and new Honda Civic Natural Gas cars (the GX and Sedan respectively) have advertised fuel ranges between 170-250, as compared to their gasoline counterparts which are closer to 400 miles on a fuel tank. The extra $5K or more also buys you less power and less trunk space.

(Image Credit: Energyfool.com -->)

  • Infrastructure - Like all alternative fuels, natural gas vehicles require a huge amount of infrastructure development to become commercially viable. In addition to many refueling stations, more piping networks and LNG trucking would be needed for adequate distribution of the fuel.

CNG refueling station in Pakistan - (Image Credit: Qrbiz.com)

  • Fossil fuel - Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, which means that there still is only a limited supply. Some estimates say that if the U.S. fueled all its transportation by natural gas, domestic reserves would last somewhere between 20-40 years (source). Environmental controversies surrounding its extraction (hydraulic fracturing) would also likely blow up even more if natural gas became a substantial transportation fuel in the U.S.

One Part of the Solution

While natural gas seems like it could be a great resource as an alternative transportation fuel, it cannot be the only answer. Certainly natural gas could be a great stepping stone [bridge fuel] in the transition to more sustainable fuels, but a complete overhaul to natural gas doesn't seem sensible considering the resource, like oil, is transitory. NVGs will also require a cooperative investment in their technology and supporting infrastructure to become economically viable for the average consumer.

What are your thoughts on NGVs? How much of a role do you think CNG will play in the transportation sector in years to come?

DOE - Natural Gas Emissions

Natural Gas - Natural Gas in the Transportation Sector

NGVAmerica - About NGVs

The Oil Drum - How Much Natural Gas Do We Have to Replace Gasoline?

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#1

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/14/2012 10:10 AM

Well here is how the most common fuels we use today stack up against each other on a energy per liquid US gallon basis.

http://www.mainepublicservice.com/media/3467/fuel%20and%20energy.pdf

Liquid NG. 75,000 BTU/gallon

Propane. 91,600 BTU/gallon

Gasoline. 125,000 BTU/gallon

#2 Diesel. 138,000 BTU/gallon

#6 FO. 150,000 BTU/gallon

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#2
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/14/2012 2:30 PM

It may make some sense if the cost per mile is lower than gas and diesel.

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#16
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/26/2012 10:36 PM

Have you checked the CNG price map on cngnow.com? As low as 78 cents per GGE in Oklahoma.

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#17
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 7:27 AM

My understanding is there are some significant costs associated with engine maintenance over time, which are much higher than gasoline or diesel. If true, you need to factor those costs in as well.

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#18
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 7:48 AM

see post #7.

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#20
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 8:53 AM

The opposite is true, in my opinion. I will have to do more research and get back. Engine life is purportedly much longer. I would think that overall engine life would greatly outweigh any additional maintenance.

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#21
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 9:12 AM

we originally had a fleet of 60 1998 CNG Civics. Maintenance costs doubled the purchase price in 4 years. to date we have 3 left. of the 57 disposed of 52 had burnt out engines. As previously stated CNG has little to no lubricity and until that is remedied engine lifespan is drastically shortened. Anything will last longer if you can afford to outspend the value of the car with engine rebuilds and excessive maintenance.

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#22
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 10:26 AM

You are saying that you spent twice as much on maintenance as on the car price?

What did Honda do during the warranty period? Did they give you advice on how to solve the problems?

How much mileage did you put on the vehicles?

Where is the lubricity problem? I am no mechanic, and am not aware that gasoline supplies any lubricity.

Honda has been quite successful selling the Civic CNG and has now expanded their sale to all states. They must have have made some improvements. I will try to learn more about the subject, but I am not a mechanic or an engineer. I am a consumer and a person interested in lower cost fuel for everyone and everything including "gas guzzlers" of all kinds.

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#23
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 12:38 PM

You wrote, "and am not aware that gasoline supplies any lubricity."

Oh, yes it does. The blends are designed to do that (and more).

It was leaded gasoline a long time ago, but now they substitute other things in the mix.

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#24
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 1:07 PM

http://www.frihost.com/forums/vt-94027.html biggeek has a nice and somewhat comprehensive post on this blog. He is a former certified mechanic, and very knowledgable in liquid versus gaseous fuels. He does not report any untoward problems with gaseous fuels. I will continue to research, since I will be buying or converting a vehicle in the future anyway.

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#26
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 1:19 PM

Personally I've owned a gasoline/propane auto and found it to be a good alternative to "gas guzzling"

As a side note Propane is regulated as to allowable water contaminant limits NG is not(at least here)

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#27
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 1:36 PM

I am surprised that natural gas quality is not regulated. There are many Ford Flex and utility vans being sold as taxis and other fleet vehicles. What you say would indicate why the vehicle manufacturers are emphasizing fleet sales. Fleets of all kinds will soon be running CNG and LNG so I guess all this will be ironed out. I am sure the manufacturers have dealt with this long enough to have learned how to work out these problems. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I will be following the maintenance blogs.

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#25
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 1:08 PM

A majority of the expense is the regular maintenance items required(filters ((pick any CNG auto and price them out yourself)). There is a large difference in the NG supply nationwide as to what contaminants are in the gas (water and soluable contaminants primarily) This issue requires a higher level of service to maintain/operate CNG engines thus the higher cost. If you total your maintenance expenses on a gas/diesel engine it takes on average 9-14 years for the doubling point of cost(commercial autos are less). The CNG's in our fleet it was an average of only 4 years.

Honda has had success with the "feel-good" mentality of doing something good for the enviroment while downplaying what the true cost is to the end user.

There are other ways to lower fuel cost/efficiency but this isn't a viable cost effective one for the average consumer.

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#3

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/15/2012 1:28 PM

Like all things 'alternative' there is a place and time. I thought NG vehicles would be great. I had a neighbor that converted his truck to dual fuel (gasoline/NG). He loved it even though the fuel tank took up considerable bed space. But the real eye opener was when I spoke with some old timers in the gas patch with a company that had converted all the field trucks to NG. The limited range was still okay but if the roads got muddy (and often were) or they we hauling heavy loads the engines could not produce enough horsepower and they would have to switch to gasoline to get out. They ran like that for a few years and then dropped the whole project.

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#13
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/26/2012 12:25 PM

There are some limitations, but most would not need all the power that their engines are capable of with gasoline or diesel. Usually a larger engine can overcome the problem. Not all conversions have all the technology, that is possible, built in. I don't see the problem with just turning a switch and using gasoline or diesel when needed however. Maybe gasoline prices were less then, and natural gas was probably double what it is now. New tanks are also available that are lighter and smaller, yet stronger. They may not have been paying for fuel themselves either. That makes a big difference, and companies can write off fuel as expense.

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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/15/2012 10:47 PM

Engines that are properly converted to natural gas have close to the same performance as gasoline engines. Peterbilt and Cummins are building 20 liter engines for large trucks. They will start selling them next year. Modern electronics make it possible to attain closer to optimum performance. Natural gas technology is more widely accepted in the rest of the world. We are way behind. All the technology, parts, and equipment are readily available for conversions, pumps, tanks etc. The sooner we get going on CNG and LNG the better off we will be.LNG is expected to be used for long haul trucking. 3M has developed lighter and stronger tanks. The Honda Civic is the only American small car available with a CNG version. Pickup trucks, and vans benefit the most, since they burn the most fuel. CNG can help their owners continue to drive large vehicles. I will be looking for a CNG minivan or full size van for my next vehicle. I have a blog on WSJ's Community under natural gas vehicles. It lists all the most important web sites I could find relating to the subject. Natural gas also burns cleaner, and allows engines to last longer. There are lots of small natural gas companies, so it will be more difficult to rig the prices, than the gasoline producers do. In competing with gasoline, it will help moderate the price of gasoline eventually. New CNG vehicles carry a large premium in price, but most used vehicles can be converted to CNG/gasoline for as little as a thousand dollars. Four thousand is more realistic though. You tube has how to videos on the subject. Less expensive home compressors would help. Truck stops should be carrying CNG within a few years though. cngnow.com has a map that shows the location and prices of natural gas service station pumps.

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#5

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/15/2012 11:04 PM

we at Millennial Research have retrofitted and tested a car that went over 200 miles on a single charge,, using 10 group 24 lead acid batteries from Walmart , and the future is electric,,,

but not using the technology that is currently out there,

Motors that capture the energy that is currently lost as heat,, our electric motors run cool, and require no transmission , a new breed of system ,,,

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#6

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/15/2012 11:33 PM

I think whatever we do, we should start adapting to a fuel that we can turn to. I mean it seems gasoline's days are numbered or in jeopardy, and we may at least temporarily be depending on either natural gas or bio-fuel. Although I'm either for all hydrogen or straight electric.

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#9
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/16/2012 7:26 AM

Remember, there is no shortage of fuel on this planet right now.

The shortages we are experiencing are politically man-made and by design.

While I agree we should be working on better (cleaner) energy alternatives, these new resources are going to be just as tightly controlled and regulated as oil, gas, and electricity are now.

I'm all for cleaner fuels, but at a price we can afford and without all the political strings attached.

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#12
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/26/2012 12:15 PM

Natural gas is much more diversified in numbers of producers, and potential for small operations and sources to be set up. It is not very comparable to petrol. It requires some purification, but their are even engines designed to use impure natural gas. Methane is all around us and in us. There are people who are, and will overcome the impediments and benefit from using methane. Especially farmers. alcoholcanbeagas.com has lots of information, and books on how to manufacture small or large scale ethanol, and methane. It is also a permaculture site. It is not necessary for the individual to lie down for the big shots, be they government or corporate.

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#14
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/26/2012 8:16 PM

But unless this technology becomes main stream, it will remain prohibitively expensive. And then there's the EPA guidelines.

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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/26/2012 10:33 PM

It is possible to convert most vehicles to CNG/gasoline yourself for about $1,000 and up. You can check out several youtube.com videos that show how to do it. EPA certified technicians charge about 10 times that, but may add extra features to the engine. It is already mainstream for mid size trucks and buses. It will soon be mainstream for long haul trucks, but with LNG for the larger ones. A lot of investors and natural gas companies are working at it. Other countries already have all the technology, as do our Big Three. CNG vehicles are commonplace all over the world, and many are switchable to gasoline. I doubt big brother would catch up with you unless you live in an area that requires certification. CNG is cleaner anyway. The Honda Civic CNG was picked as the greenest car last year.

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#19
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 7:51 AM

Here in Western NY The utilities(gas/electric) had a LNG/CNG fleet but scrapped them due to excessive maintenance costs and poor performance in the winter.

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#7

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/16/2012 6:44 AM

I have to take exception to RONWAGN saying NG/CNG engines last longer. I have been directly involved in the maintenance and repair of a CNG fleet. both pick-ups and cars. The maintenance is extremely costly.The filters are a high $ amt. and if you have a high moisture content in your fuel you can expect to be changing filters on a weekly basis($350-$500 in parts alone). The lack of lubricity in NG/CNG also wreaks havok the engines. Replacing cyl. heads for valve burn-out(among other problems) on average every 45,000-55,000 miles regardless of engine model.

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#8

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/16/2012 7:04 AM

As an alternative I do not think it best to spend the resources on another fuel source that has limited supply.

As a fuel I have seen the after math of an explosion. Leaky tank in a closed environment set off by space heater. Not the safest fuel to have to use. Anyone want to park one in their garage?

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#10

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/16/2012 11:05 AM

I wouldn't mind a system for limited trips that could be refueled at home during the night using a high pressure, low volume pump. Longer trips would still use petrol, but for short round town, CNG seems like a good alternative. This would keep the CNG bottle smaller and you would just pay your local utility for the gas that you pump into the bottle (and the electricity to compress it).

(I would however prefer the refueling be done in the driveway, not the garage. )

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#11
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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/17/2012 4:36 PM

You are right about the garage. The long trip problem will be very short lived though. See cngnow.com for the map of service stations selling CNG. The home pumps are slow, so I am wondering if you could fill a small extra tank, and switch out one or more as needed. The CNG makes most sense for larger vehicles such as minivans and larger.

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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 7:11 PM
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#29

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/27/2012 8:46 PM

https://younkincng.wordpress.com/jims-cng-install-manual/ This is a free CNG installation mini manual. It is also a link to a great site for all related CNG subjects. This guy is a true leader in the field, and has a lot to say about the EPA.

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#30

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/28/2012 9:10 PM

http://gasandoilnews.com/fiat-focuses-on-natural-gas-engines/ Article on Fiat/Chrysler plans for American natural gas vehicles.

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#31

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/29/2012 8:51 PM

http://www.ngvglobal.com/boeing-delivers-lng-fuelled-aircraft-concept-to-nasa-0322#more-20163 Boeing proposes LNG aircraft to NASA. http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90778/7660612.html LNG proposed as ship fuel. Ship "bunker" fuel is often of the lowest grade, and highly polluting, at present.http://www.energyconversions.com/loco2.htm LNG locomotive fuel.Sorry for so many posts, I just keep coming across more stories.

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#32

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

03/31/2012 1:52 PM

http://seekingalpha.com/article/222723-what-s-next-for-natural-gas LNG for Russian attack helicopters and Middle East jets.

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#33

Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

04/09/2012 7:42 PM

cnbc.com has posted a video with Rick Santelli explaining, start to finish, how to quickly convert a pickup truck to CNG/gasoline. http://www.cnbc.com/ 4/9/2012

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Re: Are NGVs the Natural Transportation Alternative?

04/14/2012 3:35 PM
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