For more than a decade, proponents like billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens have advocated broader adoption of natural gas to fuel our cars and trucks. And President Obama recently proposed legislation that would offer alternative fuel incentives for consumers who purchase natural gas powered vehicles.
Natural gas (NG) is already used by some municipal mass transit buses and UPS and Federal Express are in the preliminary stages of converting their truck fleets to operate on natural gas.
Honda has been offering a compressed natural gas version of its popular Civic sedan in the U.S. since 1998. The Civic GX is basically a factory modified version of the Civic LX. In 2001, the Civic GX was named the cleanest-burning internal combustion powered vehicle in the world but the Environmental Protection Agency. The Civic GX has been named the “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for eight consecutive years.
According to the trade group Natural Gas Vehicle America, there are approximately 112,000 NG vehicles on U.S. highways. And by year’s end, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company and Chrysler Group LLC plan to launch NG models.
NG is significantly less expensive than gasoline and diesel and it burns cleaner than either of those alternatives. Modifying compression- and spark-ignition engines to run on NG is a fairly simple and affordable process. And the U.S. has abundant supplies of NG. Some experts estimate that, at current consumption levels, the U.S. has at least a 90 year supply of NG, and additional supplies are being found all the time.
With approximately 2.2 million miles of underground NG piping, the U.S. also has a good head start on building the infrastructure that would be needed for the conversion from gasoline to NG.
On the downside, NG is more combustible, and more difficult to transport than gasoline and diesel fuel. That’s one reason some early adopters, like UPS, have begun using liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of the more commonly used compressed natural gas (CNG).
Unlike electric vehicles, NG powered cars and trucks eliminate the need for heavy storage batteries which must be disposed of or recycled once they are depleted below useful levels. And NG combustion produces lower levels of greenhouse gases than gasoline and diesel.