What’s the Status of Natural Gas Vehicles?
In years past, a number of auto manufacturers offered cars and light trucks that could operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). All automakers exceptHonda have left this market in the U.S., although companies like BAF Technologies do modify select existing models to run on gaseous fuels. This lack of CNG vehicles should change for the better since natural gas has so much going for it, especially in this age of rising gasoline and diesel prices and a growing dependence on imported oil. Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels, it’s found in abundance in the U.S., and it’s also significantly less expensive than gasoline.
Safe and Reliable
CNG is actually a safer fuel than gasoline. After all, natural gas is used in virtually every home. Unlike gasoline that can pool on the ground in the event of an accident or leak, CNG dissipates harmlessly into the air. With a very narrow range of flammability to be combustible and nearly twice the ignition temperature of gasoline, it’s also less likely to cause a fire. Because natural gas is such a clean burning fuel, carbon deposits in an engine are nil, reducing cylinder and ring wear so engine life can be much greater than when running on gasoline. Oil change and tune up intervals can also be extended.
Natural Gas is Growing in Popularity
Natural gas vehicles are growing in popularity. This has been driven in recent years by the medium- to-heavy duty market. Natural gas is now widely used in transit buses, school buses, refuse trucks, package delivery trucks, and vehicles used in ports. One thing these all have in common is that they can be refueled at a central location. This is not the case with cars and light trucks that travel where natural gas might be difficult to find. This could have contributed to the lack of interest in natural gas vehicles by general consumers in the past. In recent years, companies like Clean Energy have successfully driven natural gas vehicle use by building fueling stations and supplying natural gas under multi-year contracts to fleets at costs significantly less than the per-gallon cost of gasoline or diesel. Fleet use should lead to greater consumer use in the future.
Convenient At-Home Refueling
At present there are about 800 natural gas stations available nationwide, compared to 175,000 stations dispensing gasoline. Refueling at a fast-fill CNG station takes no longer than tanking up with gasoline. As the fueling infrastructure builds for CNG, the inconvenience of limited public fueling opportunities is softened by the availability of filling up at home. That’s because Honda offers the Phill home refueling appliance, which was developed in conjunction with its Canadian technology partner Fuelmaker and is now manufactured by that company. Phill can be installed in a garage or outside a home to allow refueling using a home’s natural gas supply. The refueling appliance does require as much as 16 hours to fill an almost empty tank, although it’s likely that a natural gas vehicle refueled at home will rarely have an empty tank, and an overnight top-off will usually be sufficient for the daily commute. In many cases, vehicles fueled up at favorable natural gas home rates can operate as cheaply as the equivalent of $1.25 to $1.50 per gallon.
Honda’s Civic GX
Unlike bi-fuel vehicles previously offered by other automakers that could run alternatively on natural gas or gasoline, Honda’s “dedicated” natural gas Civic GX – the industry’s cleanest internal combustion production vehicle – has an engine that’s optimized to run only on this alternative fuel. The Civic GX comes only as a four door sedan that looks identical to gasoline Civics. Its 113 horsepower four-cylinder engine produces about 27 hp less than the standard Civic engine but you really can’t feel the difference during normal driving. The equivalent of 8 gallons of natural gas fuel is stored in a 3600 psi pressurized fuel cylinder located at the forward part of the trunk. This tank, which is hidden behind a carpeted liner, does consume some trunk space but leaves quite adequate room for carrying groceries, gear, and luggage. The Civic GX has an EPA estimated 24 mpg city/36 mpg highway fuel rating, about the same as the gasoline Civic. Its real-world driving range is approximately 200 miles between fill-ups. At $25,225, the GX costs about $7,000 more than the gasoline powered LX model but presently qualifies for substantial federal tax credits and other incentives. At this time in California you can even obtain a decal that allows driving a Civic GX in HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle, or “carpool”) lanes even with only one person in the car. This is the same benefit enjoyed by qualified hybrid cars that were issued decals in the state, although no new hybrid decals are available since the maximum allocation of hybrid HOV decals has been reached.
Source : Greencar.com