NGV RD&D Appropriations

Increased use of natural gas vehicles (NGVs) would simultaneously help (1) reduce America’s use of foreign oil, (2) improve the air quality in our urban areas, (3) reduce the production of greenhouse gases, and (4) pave the way for the more rapid introduction of hydrogen transportation technologies. To achieve all this in a timely fashion, more NGV RD&D is urgently needed. The NGV industry’s RD&D efforts are directed at bringing to market advanced NGV technology that will extend NGV use into more applications and lower the cost of purchasing and operating NGVs in all markets. Significant NGV RD&D is needed to (1) improve engine efficiency, (2) further reduce engine emissions, (3) reduce the cost and improve the reliability of fueling infrastructure and (4) demonstrate alternative fuel systems in new applications — including natural gas/hybrid electric applications.

History of NGV RD&D:
Prior to 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) NGV RD&D requests were based on a five-year plan that the DOE and the NGV industry jointly developed based on the public private-partnership concept. In that year, the DOE approached the industry and requested the development of a new five-year plan for NGVs. A new plan was developed. Unfortunately, the DOE abandoned the plan that the DOE and the Industry jointly developed, and over the last years has significantly reduced its funding request for this program. In fact, for FY2005-2007, DOE did not request any funds for the NGV RD&D. Fortunately, up until FY2005, Congress approved more funds than DOE had requested. For FY2006, Congress did not approve any funds for NGV RD&D.

Despite President Bush’s recognition in his 2006 State of the Union Address that America is “addicted to oil” and the important impact that NGVs can make in reducing that addiction, the Administration did not request any funds in its FY2007 budget for NGVRD&D. The House and Senate Energy and Water Appropriation Subcommittees have oversight over the NGV RD&D program. Neither of these Subcommittees added any funding for NGV RD&D for FY2007, either.  So it appears that the federal government will not be supporting any NGV RD&D activities in FY2007.  To follow, the status and contents of the House (HR 5427 and H. Rpt. 109-474) and the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bills for FY ’07, click here.

NGV RD&D Needs:
Codes and Standards Support: The highest priority for the NGV industry is to continue to ensure that NGVs are safe. Despite millions of miles driven in NGVs, there never has been a fatality in the U.S. associated with the failure of an NGV system. Maintaining that enviable record requires constant monitoring and enhancement of NGV and natural gas fueling safety standards and codes and ongoing coordination with local/regional fire, safety, and code officials.

Industry Coordination: DOE has been the primary sponsor of several outreach efforts that bring together officials from government and the private sector. The NGV Technology Forum, for example, works to maintain a current, national, consensus public/private sector NGV RD&D plan. It also brings together other RD&D co-funders (e.g., SCAQMD, NYSERDA, TERP and private sector companies) to help leverage DOE’s investment dollars. Other outreach efforts, like the Transit Users Group (TUG), periodically bring together fleet users to share problems and solutions, and thereby cost-effectively help resolve technical problems. Similar User Groups would be valuable for airports and refuse truck fleets.

Complete Existing Projects: The Next Generation Natural Gas Vehicle Program (NGNGV) has in place a comprehensive plan to (1) develop new, cleaner, more efficient medium and heavy-duty natural gas engines, (2) certify those engines, (3) integrate those engines into truck and bus chassis, and (4) field test (demonstrate) those vehicles to ensure that the integration was done correctly (or to identify what needs to be improved). Several projects with John Deere, Cummins and others already are well underway to develop engines/vehicles that meet the EPA 2007 emission standards. These products are targeted to the school bus, medium-duty truck and transit markets. Without continued federal funding, these projects would prematurely terminate before products could be commercialized and the investment DOE already has made would be lost.

Work on Refueling Infrastructure: One of the primary barriers to faster growth in NGV use is the embryonic state of the NGV fueling infrastructure. The NGV industry has identified a long list of RD&D projects that are needed to improve the reliability, safety and cost-effectiveness of NGV refueling technology for compressed, liquefied and liquid-to-compressed fueling stations. In general, NGV fueling equipment companies are relatively small businesses. Despite that, they are willing to provide co-funding (along with interested state and local government agencies). Federal funding and coordination, however, is essential.

New Projects to Serve Additional Markets/ Meet New Standards: The EPA engine emission standards that go into effect in 2010 are extremely tight and are technologically difficult to achieve. However, natural gas engines will be able to meet them — if adequate RD&D funding is available. Every NGV engine manufacturer either will need to meet these standards or cease competing in the market. Therefore, projects have been identified with Mack Truck, Clean Air Partners and Westport Innovations as well as John Deere, Cummins and others to make products for large class 8 trucks, trash trucks, transit buses, school buses and medium-duty trucks. These companies along with several state and local government agencies/programs (e.g., California – SCAQMD, New York – NYSERDA, Texas – TERP) are ready to contribute to this objective, but they are looking to the federal government for co-funding and national project coordination.

NGV Hybrids: Hybrid-electric vehicles can make a huge contribution to reducing emissions and petroleum use. In addition, fuel cell vehicles cannot be developed without successful commercialization of hybrid technologies. Natural gas hybrids would be the cleanest hybrid option (short of hydrogen vehicles) and would displace the most petroleum. In addition, natural gas hybrids would be the next step in the development of fuel cell vehicles since those vehicles will require both hybrid and gaseous fuel technology. Currently, most medium and heavy-duty hybrid vehicles under development are gasoline or diesel hybrids. Federal funding is needed to encourage a manufacturer or manufacturers to invest in natural gas hybrid platforms.