Coming Soon to a Pump Near You: Natural Gas

For the last hundred or so years Americans, as well as the rest of the civilized world, have relied on gas powered vehicles to get around. Although there are a number of biofuel programs attempting to lower our gasoline consumption, the fact is that the United States is still overwhelmingly dependent on gasoline.

Several companies however are developing new vehicles that run on natural gas. Called NGVs, they will help Americans to use a type of fuel that is less costly, leaves a smaller environmental footprint and has more energy content than gasoline.

The driving force behind using natural gas is, most obviously, price. A 1 gallon equivalent, meaning enough natural gas to have the same energy as 1 gallon of gasoline, is just about two dollars per gallon, making it the second cheapest fuel source besides electricity. That puts it well below biodiesel, ethanol and diesel and gives it a price that you have to go back over 10 years to match.

Price is a key reason that many commercial trucking fleets are turning to compressed natural gas (CNG) in droves, and, while there is certainly plenty of work that needs to be done before NGVs represent a larger share of the United States commercial transportation fleet, it represents an opportunity to greatly lower the cost of shipping goods across the country.

Nearly one in every five transit buses in service today around the country already runs on natural gas and 2000 are already being used in Los Angeles County, saving over 300 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every single day and over 600,000 per year. This has also reduced particulate matter by nearly 80% in comparison to buses that run on diesel fuel

Another reason that compressed natural gas is such an excellent alternative is that it has a much higher energy content than gasoline. For example, while “premium” gasoline usually has an octane rating of 91, CNG is usually around 130, which is rather impressive if you think about it. It also gets better fuel economy than gasoline even though the technology hasn’t even been perfected yet.

Lastly and, for lovers of the “green movement”, possibly most importantly, is the fact that compressed natural gas leaves a much smaller environmental footprint than gasoline. When compared to other petroleum-based fuels, natural gas;

  • Lowers particulate matter by nearly 77%
  • Reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by almost 94%
  • Has 55% less volatile organic compound emissions
  • Reduces carbon monoxide emissions by almost 90%
  • Has 29% less greenhouse gas emissions

All of these factors make natural gas vehicles a natural, if incomplete, remedy for the problems caused by gasoline powered vehicles. It will take a number of years until they really take over the market but, when you consider the efforts being made to change the infrastructure of the chain from natural gas drillers to suppliers and automakers, that day is fast approaching.

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