More and more consumers are looking for an alternative to gasoline and diesel. Whether to help our country wean itself from foreign oil, improve local air quality, combat climate change, or simply save on fuel costs, making the switch to clean, abundant, and inexpensive natural gas is the right choice.
Here are the important things to consider when buying a natural gas vehicle.
Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) cost more than gasoline or diesel vehicles, whether factory made or converted after market. However, the price of natural gas is $1.50–$2.00 less per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE). The substantial savings on fuel costs, which depend on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle and the number of miles driven, can repay the initial investment in a fraction of the vehicle's life.
Domestically produced natural gas is abundant and secure. This means it is not subject to shortages and price spikes due to the political instability of foreign countries.
Click here for the federal government’s latest cost comparisons of natural gas, gasoline, and diesel.
There are now a number of options for consumers when it comes to choosing a natural gas vehicle. Major automakers are adding NGVs to their production lines, and there are a number of conversion options for most light- or medium-duty vehicles.
The compressed natural gas (CNG) powered Honda Civic Natural Gas has been in production since 1998 and remains the only production sedan to run on natural gas. Manufactured in Indiana, the Honda Civic Natural Gas has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the cleanest commercially available internal-combustion vehicle on earth. Click here to see if there is an authorized dealer in your area.
In 2012, both Chrysler and General Motors announced they will be offering bi-fuel versions of their Ram, Chevrolet Silverado, and GMC Sierra trucks. These trucks roll off the production line with two fuel tanks to run on either natural gas or gasoline. Although they primarily run on CNG, an on-board computer system can seamlessly switch fuels for optimal power, fuel efficiency, and maximum range.
There are also many companies that specialize in converting cars, vans, and pickup trucks to run on CNG. These “small volume manufacturers” work with qualified installers in locations around the country. Here are a couple important things to keep in mind when considering converting your vehicle.
Both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) require proof that conversion systems meet emissions and on-board vehicle diagnostics interface requirements. To meet these requirements, look only to certified manufacturers when choosing a conversion system
Conversion kits must be installed by trained professionals. If not done correctly, installing high-pressure tanks and their components can potentially damage a vehicle and lead to serious injury. Make sure installers are qualified, experienced, and willing to provide a warranty for their work.
There are two options for fueling your NGV. There is a growing number of fueling stations open to the public in urban areas and along high-traffic trade routes. If there isn't a public fueling station in your area, home refueling units that tap into your home's natural gas supply are also available.
Public refueling stations
A growing number of fleets—including ATT, Verizon, UPS, Frito-Lay, and Federal Express—are switching to natural gas, and that is helping to raise the number of natural gas fueling stations available to consumers. California currently leads the way with 238 stations, and there are nearly 1,000 nationwide, about half of which are open to the public. Locations that aren't open to the public are owned by businesses, municipalities, or school districts where public access isn’t feasible.
While some natural gas fueling stations will look like a traditional service station, others may be a single pump and credit card reader. In some cases, stations will be open only to authorized users, requiring prior arrangements with the fuel supplier. All of these stations offer fast refueling, which typically takes about five minutes.
First time users should get a lesson in how to use the pump, since refueling with compressed natural gas is slightly different than refueling with liquid fuel—the connector uses a tight, closed connection that is secured prior to fueling.
There are several websites, including the U.S. Department of Energy, that locate service stations in your area. You can also download station locators to your smart-phone to find a station on the go.
Many consumers enjoy the convenience of refueling at home and not having to go out of their way to refuel at a station. If your home is heated with natural gas, you can buy a home refueling system designed to fill your vehicle overnight. These appliances compress and fill your vehicle's tanks with gas from the same line that feeds your house. One home refueling kit is Phill made by BRC FuelMaker. With growing interest in natural gas as a transportation fuel, more manufacturers are expected to enter the market with home refueling options.
There are a number of state incentives to help offset the higher upfront cost of purchasing a natural gas vehicle. Click here to find specific information about your state.
Natural gas is the cleanest burning alternative transportation fuel commercially available today. As a transportation fuel, natural gas can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%–30% when compared with diesel and gasoline, according to studies by CARB and other organizations.
The exhaust emissions of natural gas vehicles, when compared to those of gasoline and diesel vehicles, offer these reductions of common urban pollutants:
• Carbon monoxide (CO) by 70%–90%
• Non-methane organic gas (NMOG) by 50%–75%
• Nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 75%–95%
• Carbon dioxide (CO2) by 20%–30%
Click here for a complete discussion of emissions reductions from natural gas vehicles.