Natural gas: Coming transportation fuel

T. Boone Pickens and others have for some time been pushing vigorously for using natural gas to fuel trucks and cars. While Pickens has apparently lost a bundle investing in wind farms, he is definitely onto something here, particulerly since natural gas is now even much less expensive than when he started advocating it. Information offered by DOE shows that natural gas, even in 2009, had a substantial economic advantage over gasoline in the California market.

Gasoline, Diesel and CNG Retail Price Comparison

There are two issues standing in the way of opting to buy a car fueled by natural gas. The big one is the need for a nationwide infrastructure of filling stations dispensing compressed natural gas (CNG). The other issue is the initial higher cost for the car. Dealing with that one first, CNG-fueled vehicles cost from         $ 2000 to  $ 10,000 more than gasoline- fueled cars. (Today you can buy a Honda Civic fueled by natural gas for about $ 26,000.) The payback period for the extra investment to use natural gas as a fuel is 4-5 years, depending on your projection of future natural gas and crude prices.

The key issue is to have enough natural gas-based filling stations to make it possible to drive around the country without worrying about running out of gas (Yes, that gas). Obviously, trucks and buses can have their own fleet filling stations, certainly locally and around the country if desired. To address the problem of trucks, Pickens and other investors created the Clean Energy Fuels Corporation with a partner, the Pilot Flying J, which is allegedly the largest truck stop operator in North America. Natural gas fuel is or will be available at these truck stops. Clean Energy is also committed to build 150 natural gas truck filling stations around the country.

A trade organization (NYTimes, April 10th, 2012, “Natural Gas signals a ‘Manufacturing Renaissance’) says that 40 percent of new garbage trucks and 25 percent of new transit busus can run on natural gas. Also, Ford, GM and Chrysler have introduced “bifuel” trucks that can run on either gasoline or natural gas.

As for cars, the situation is precarious. A map showing CNG filling stations can be accessed on the web. I looked at a drive from New York City to Miami Beach and found 19 filling stations, many far apart (Example below). Driving around the NYC Metropolitan area would be less stressful.

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2 Responses to Natural gas: Coming transportation fuel

  1. Joe Pilaro says:

    Natural gas in the US is already the most available hydrocarbon fuel, at more sites than gasoline and diesel combined. I would propose a “distributed” filling system for natural gas for passenger vehicles. Each home/garage that has access to natural gas for heating would have a pipeline-connected compressor available to fill the gas tank when the car sits idle. A second distributed gas filling arrangement would have to be made available along the Interstate Highway System, say at truck stops, as proposede by Pickens. There would be no need for providing Natgas at existing gasoline service stations.

  2. Cassilda says:

    thanks for the link, it was a good help to me.

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