Issue Report: Natural gas vehicles

Should NGVs be prioritized in plans to fight global warming? Pros and cons?

A Natural gas vehicle or NGV is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or, less commonly, liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a clean alternative to other automobile fuels. Worldwide, there are roughly 5 million NGVs as of 2006, with the largest number of NGVs in Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Pakistan and Thailand. In Europe they are popular in Germany and Italy. See Wikipedia’s article on natural gas vehicles for more background. The debate regarding natural gas vehicles surrounds whether they are a good replacement for gasoline vehicles, helping lower emissions, combat global warming, and transition away from gasoline. The following questions frame this debate: Are natural gas vehicles cleaner than gasoline vehicles? Will they significantly help combat global warming, or do they still emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Is this acceptable, when some 0-emission vehicles exist? Are natural gas vehicles economical compared to gasoline vehicles and the other various alternatives? Can natural gas vehicles scale economically? Is there an adequate infrastructure to support natural gas vehicles? Are natural gas vehicles safe? Do they perform well compared to the alternatives? Are they practical for consumers? How do natural gas vehicles compare, in all of the above regards, to the available alternative forms of transportation (electric, hydrogen fuel cell, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, etc.)? Do natural gas vehicles deserve greater attention and priority in any plans to combat global warming and improve energy security?

Global warming: Do natural gas vehicles help cut emissions, fight global warming?

Natural gas vehicles reduce emissions, fight global warming

U.S. Department of Energy. "Natural Gas"

“Serving alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), natural gas is clean burning and produces significantly fewer harmful emissions than reformulated gasoline.”

Natural gas burns more cleanly than gasoline in general

"The Natural Gas Alternative".

“CNG is much cleaner-burning than gasoline. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, CNG can reduce carbon-monoxide emissions by 90 to 97 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35 to 60 percent when compared with gasoline. CNG can also potentially reduce non-methane hydrocarbon emissions by 50 to 75 percent, while producing fewer carcinogenic pollutants and little or no particulate matter. When the 1998 Civic GX was introduced, the EPA cited it as having the cleanest internal combustion engine ever tested.”

Natural gas is the cleanest transportation fuel available

T Boone Pickens says, “Natural gas is the cleanest transportation fuel available today”. The important conclusion is that, if we want to immediately begin the process of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas can help now. Other alternatives cannot be pursued as quickly.

Existing gasoline vehicles can be converted to cleaner natural gas.

Gasoline vehicles can be converted to run on natural gas. This means that heavy-polluting vehicles can be transformed into much lower-emission vehicles. This is key, as the millions of gasoline vehicles on the road currently cannot be immediately removed from the road. They must be made cleaner. Converting them to burn on natural gas is a good way to achieve this.

Natural gas can help smooth the transition to renewable energy.

Natural gas is a good first step in cutting emissions, and can act as a bridge to cleaner alternatives. The supporters of the Broadwater LNG terminal in Long Island Sound make this case: “Natural gas play a vital role in providing a bridge from traditional fossil fuels to a renewable energy future”.

Emissions from natural gas can be filtered out

"New Membrane Strips Carbon Dioxide From Natural Gas Faster And Better". ScienceDaily. 14 Oct. 2007

“A modified plastic material greatly improves the ability to separate global warming-linked carbon dioxide from natural gas as the gas is prepared for use, according to engineers at The University of Texas at Austin who have analyzed the new plastic’s performance.”

NGV's may reduce emissions, but still contribute to global warmin

Natural gas vehicles run on natural gas, a fossil fuel, so emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, albeit smaller amounts than gasoline-fueled cars (roughly 30% less). If our goal is to aggressively fight global warming, does it make sense to invest in slightly cleaner technologies, or fully 0-emission ones? If we are serious about combating global warming, we should be focusing our energies and investments solely on 0-emission electric vehicles.

Natural gas hardly reduces emissions compared to petroleum

The Wall Street Journal quoted a California Energy Commission: “When natural gas replaces gasoline, greenhouse gases are reduced by just 20 to 30%. When natural gas is used instead of diesel in trucks, greenhouse gases are reduced just 10 to 20%. If diesel is almost comparable, then it makes more sense to fund that as a stop gap as that infrastructure is already in place.”[1]

0-emissions vehicles are a superior option to natural gas vehicles

Samantha Rose. "The questionable benefit of natural gas vehicles". TG Daily. 14 Aug 2008

“On the surface, natural gas cars seem alright, but the topic becomes a bit different when these cars are competing against “zero emission” alternatives such as electric cars that are powered utilizing a solar grid.”

More efficient gasoline cars and hybrids are better than NGVs

Samantha Rose. "The questionable benefit of natural gas vehicles". TG Daily. 14 Aug 2008

“the benefits to natural gas vehicles over gasoline vehicles have dropped in the past two decades as new combustion engines are being manufactured to be more efficient and cleaner.” Continuing to make gasoline engines more efficient, even by creating hybrid vehicles, will be easier and go just as far as attempting to move to natural gas vehicles.

Gasoline vehicles converted for natural gas are inefficient.

Gasoline/petrol vehicles converted to run on natural gas suffer because of the low compression ratio of their engines, resulting in a cropping of delivered power while running on natural gas (10%-15%). This inefficiency is costly economically and in terms of global warming.

Natural gas will decrease price of oil and coal and increase consumption.

Natural gas will simply relieve demand pressures on coal and petroleum and, subsequently, decrease prices. This will only make it easier for people to buy and consume oil and coal. Natural gas will not, therefore, replace coal and petroleum. It will only add to the absolute amount of fossil fuels we are burning, and greenhouse gases we are emitting.

Methane in natural gas is a major contributor to global warming

Methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than C02. Methane is very prominent within “natural gas”. This is of concern because the drilling and transportation of natural gas will inevitably lead to leaks and large-scale “spills” that will release this highly harmful gas into the atmosphere and contribute substantially to global warming. These risks should not be taken.

Footprint: Is the environmental footprint of natural gas drilling tolerable?

Technology minimizes environmental "footprint" of natural gas

"Natural Gas - A Fossil Fuel". Energy Information Administration

“Exploring and drilling for natural gas will always have some impact on land and marine habitats. But new technologies have greatly reduced the number and size of areas disturbed by drilling, sometimes called “footprints.” Satellites, global positioning systems, remote sensing devices, and 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies, make it possible to discover natural gas reserves while drilling fewer wells. Plus, the use of horizontal and directional drilling make it possible for a single well to produce gas from much bigger areas than in the past.”

Natural gas drilling leaves a large environmental "footprint"

Any process of exploring for natural gas and drilling for it leaves a significant environmental “footprint”. This is in the infrastructure and utilities that must be laid down for natural gas as well as the act of drilling itself.

Waste from natural gas extraction jeopardizes water resources

Mr. Gennaro, chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee responding to the concept of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation by saying, “no” and “no.”…This is an activity that is completely and utterly inconsistent with a drinking water supply. This cannot happen. This would destroy the New York City watershed, and for what? For short-term gains on natural gas?”[2]

Natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel.

Nonrenewable fossil fuels are inherently primitive and destructive to the environment. They involve extracting a fuel source from the ground instead of extracting it from the various forms of the sun’s energy. This is unsustainable, and should be avoided.

Economics: What are the economical pros and cons of natural gas?

Natural gas can cost much less than gasoline per gallon

The cost of CNG can be as little as half that of a gallon of gas if you use a home refueling device. And at commercial stations, the cost is still less than gasoline. Some research pegs the fuel savings at about 30 percent less than gasoline on average. In Utah, in August of 2008, compressed natural gas was selling for roughly 87 cents a gallon compared to gasoline, according to the New York Times.[3]

Natural gas is abundant, cheap, and will last for centuries.

One 2007 study in the United States found that natural gas deposits are sufficient to supply 118 years of U.S. demand at 2007 levels. Natural gas is similarly abundant around the world. Essentially, it is as abundant as oil was 50 years ago, largely because it has not been exploited on a large scale yet. Such abundance means that it is likely to cost much less than oil.

With gasoline prices high, natural gas is relatively cheap

Natural gas vehicles are commercially viable now

"Natural Gas Vehicles - A 'Now Solution' to Reducing Global Warming". IANGV. 02 June 2003

“The world-wide organization says vehicles using compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) now total more than two million and are operating in more than 50 countries. “The natural gas vehicle industry is mature and commercially viable in many countries. More than 50 vehicle manufacturers are now producing factory-built natural gas vehicles,” says the organisation’s New Zealand-based Secretary-General, Dr Garth Harris.”

Natural gas vehicles have been around for decades

"Natural Gas Vehicles The Clean Way to Go with a Domestic Fuel". Washington Gas.

“Is using natural gas in engines a new idea? Not at all. The first natural gas engine was built in 1860, before the development of the gasoline engine. Natural gas vehicles have been used with much success in the United States since the 1960s and in Europe for nearly 50 years. In fact, there are currently more than 30,000 natural gas vehicles on U.S. roads and over 700,000 worldwide.”

Compressed natural gas vehicles cost more

"The Natural Gas Alternative".

“CNG-powered vehicles have generally cost more to purchase new than comparable gasoline models. Suggested retail for the Civic GX is $24,590 plus $635 for freight. A comparably equipped, gasoline-powered Civic LX lists for $17,760. Honda concedes GX resale values can also be $1,000 to $3,000 less than their gasoline counterparts. Add to that the cost of a Phill refueling unit at $3,400 plus the installation cost, upwards of $500, and the premium could easily top $10,000.”

Natural gas vehicles are not yet commercially viable.

Natural gas vehicles are in the early stages of development. The technology behind CNG and LNG vehicles is very uncertain. In addition, the infrastructure for natural gas vehicles is not yet established. Natural gas vehicles, therefore, are not yet commercially viable on a large scale.

Most nations must import natural gas from abroad

Katie Fehrenbacher. "10 Things You Should Know About Natural Gas Vehicles". Earth2Tech

“4). Natural gas is still a fossil fuel: Natural gas might be cleaner-burning than oil but it’s still a hydrocarbon that has to be taken out of wells and is in limited supply. The California Energy Commission says that with the rising demand for natural gas (accompanied by high oil prices) more than 15 percent of our natural gas will be imported from countries other than Canada and Mexico by 2025.”

Infrastructure: Is a natural gas vehicle infrastructure feasible?

NGV's can be refueled anywhere from existing natural gas lines.

NGV’s can be refueled anywhere from existing natural gas lines. This makes home refueling stations that tap into such lines possible. It is not true that an entirely new infrastructure would have to be created for refueling natural gas vehicles. Modifying existing infrastructures will work.

Natural gas stations are unavailable in some places

Natural gas pumps are rare. In the United States, for instance, only 1% of all gas stations have natural gas pumps. This relates to the fact that the natural gas industry is young, and natural gas pipelines do not extend to all places where natural gas stations are needed. This severely limits the growth of natural gas vehicles, as people will not buy the vehicles unless they know that a robust refilling infrastructure exists to support them.

Safety: Are natural gas vehicles safe?

Natural gas vehicle fuel tanks are very strong and safe

"Natural Gas Vehicles The Clean Way to Go with a Domestic Fuel". Washington Gas.

“Is using natural gas in a vehicle safe?…Yes. First, the natural gas storage cylinders are very sturdy, a half-inch thick compared to an eighth or sixteenth of an inch for gasoline tanks. Second, natural gas is lighter than air, so even if a leak develops, the gas dissipates into the air instead of forming a spreading pool or vapor cloud on the ground, as other fuels do. Third, the combustion temperature of natural gas, 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, is higher than that of gasoline, 600 degrees Fahrenheit. An American Gas Association study reported no injuries or fatalities after more than a half billion miles driven with natural gas vehicles.”

Natural gas leaks dissipate quickly; pose little risk

"Natural Gas Vehicles The Clean Way to Go with a Domestic Fuel". Washington gas

“natural gas has a proven safety record. Because natural gas is lighter than air, any leaking fuel will not pool like liquids, but will dissipate into the air.”

Natural gas is less flammable and explosive than other fuels

Natural gas is a safer fuel than gasoline and diesel fuels. This is related to the fact that it has a limited range of flammability; it requires the correct mixture of air and fuel to burn—somewhere in the 5 to 15 percent range, and an ignition temperature of approximately 1100 degrees F. This compares favorably to gasoline and diesel fuels which both have lower concentrations of flammability and lower temperatures of ignition.[4]

Natural gas utilities have a long record of safety

Natural gas already has a long history of extraction, transport, and use in homes and utilities. In that history, there are very few instances of safety issues, leaks, fires, or explosions. The safety record of the industry is very solid, and should be expected to remain so into the future.

Natural gas safety regulations are very strong

Natural gas is already heavily regulated in terms of safety. These regulations have worked very well to virtually eliminate any major risks associated with the fuel. Sensors, for example, can be added to cars and utilities to detect leaks. Any problems in regards to the safety of natural gas, however, can and should be addressed through further regulation.

Natural gas leaks are a fire and explosion risk

"Cleveland: Natural Gas Boom Has Hidden Danger". 2 May 2008

“Our affiliate in Cleveland, Ohio is reporting on the hidden dangers of natural gas wells being drilled in residential neighborhoods…NewsChannel5 Chief Investigator Duane Pohlman interviews an elderly couple who lost their home after a massive natural gas explosion, which was traced to a new well located just down the road from their home.”

Odorless natural gas can escape detection risking fire/explosion.

Odorless natural gas can escape detection by smell, which means that a house, factory, pipes or other natural gas utilities can release and be filled with natural gas. A spark or flame can, subsequently, cause a major fire or explosion.

Unregulated natural gas car conversions can be dangerous

Brandon Loomis. "Mileage vs. safety? Number of natural gas car conversions explodes". The Salt Lake Tribune. 26 August 2008

“Many of the [natural gas] vehicles [in Utah] – including the nearly 700 that earned one-time tax breaks last year – are professionally equipped, safe and certified by the Environmental Protection Agency…Others are backyard jobs with worn tanks and faulty exhaust systems, endangering both motorists and the Wasatch Front’s air, Clean Cities Director Robin Erickson said. Those who buy old tanks or don’t install kits properly are creating car bombs…”They could cause a serious explosion,” Erickson warned.”

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