Natural Gas Vehicles: Opportunity and Adoption
Here is a sad, but true, fact: there are more than 13 million natural gas powered cars and trucks in the world, and only 112,000 of those are in the United States. This is even more disturbing considering President Obama appealed to his audience in his 2012 State of the Union address that “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.”
The U.S. has over 100 years of natural gas within its borders thanks to shale gas development, most notably, the Barnett Shale in North Texas. Since natural gas burns significantly cleaner than gasoline or diesel fuel, it would be a win-win situation if more vehicles in the U.S. would burn natural gas.
There have been two problems with getting more natural gas powered cars and trucks on the road in the U.S. (1) Few choices from domestic auto and truck manufacturers; and (2) a lack of fueling stations – they currently number only about 400 in the entire U.S.
Until recently, the only manufacturer in the U.S. to offer a production-line natural gas vehicle was Honda, with their Civic GX. The Honda Civic GX has been named the “greenest car in America” for the last few years, beating out all hybrids and electric cars. However, this is changing quickly as domestic auto and truck makers have been announcing new cars and trucks to their production lines.
In The Wall Street Journal’s recent article, “Natural Gas to Power Pickups,” they revealed that Chrysler will announce plans to build the “first production-line pickup truck powered by natural gas.” Apparently, in June of this year, Chrysler is set to start building “at least 2,000 heavy-duty Ram bi-fuel trucks that run on a combination of compressed natural gas and gasoline.”
However, the steps for manufacturing production-line natural gas powered trucks in the U.S. will differ. As The Wall Street Journal article noted, GM will “build its pickups in Fort Wayne, Ind., and send them to Impco Automotive in Union City, Ind., for installation of the CNG delivery and storage system. The company will take orders in April and start production in the fourth quarter.” On the other hand, the article says “Ford Motor Co. has been offering CNG prep kits for about a half-dozen vehicles, including the Transit Connect, since 2009. It will expand the offering to its large Ford 650 pickup truck in the third quarter.” It is interesting to note that Peterbilt’s manufacturing facility in Denton, Texas, has been building natural gas powered trucks for a few years.
The heightened interest in manufacturing natural gas powered vehicles means there will ultimately be a larger demand for natural gas fueling stations. Since the U.S. currently has less than 500 stations, there is an opportunity for large growth in this area. It seems that Clean Energy heard the call.
Natural gas fueling stations got a big boost with the recent announcement by Clean Energy that they are building “America’s natural gas highway,” starting immediately. On their website’s homepage, they elaborate on their vision to have “LNG and CNG fueling stations at strategic locations along major trucking corridors to form the backbone of a national transportation fueling infrastructure.” This infrastructure of over 150 LNG (liquefied natural gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas) fueling stations will cover the entire United States, providing stations at least every 250 miles on every interstate highway in the U.S. Some of the first of these stations will be in Fort Worth and Dallas.
Clean Energy summarized why natural gas powered cars and trucks makes so much sense: “With the advent of new natural gas engines well-suited for heavy-duty, over-the-road vehicles, major regional and national trucking operators and shippers are moving to natural gas for their fleets. Why? To reduce fuel costs up to $1.50 per gallon or more, lower emissions and reduce dependence on imported oil.”
The recent developments in the production of natural gas powered vehicles among U.S. vehicle manufacturers, along with current additions of natural gas fueling stations, are promising steps forward in making natural gas powered vehicles a viable and mainstream alternative for the public.