Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) - Gas that's Cheaper and Cleaner than Gasoline

Henry Caroselli
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Eddie Guy

Because interest in CNG vehicles is increasing, Honda will nearly double the production of its Civic GX for 2009. And at November's Los Angeles auto show, Toyota is unveiling a CNG/hybrid Camry concept, although the company has not confirmed production. The natural gas vehicle industry estimates that there could be 65 million natural gas vehicles on the road by 2020, provided carmakers offer more of them and the government provides incentives for purchase and to expand the refueling infrastructure. Pushing the Feds in that direction is a core tenet of oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens's proposal - supported by a $58 million ad campaign - for reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil. His plan is to convert electric-generating plants to run on solar and/or wind energy and expand the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel (see pickensplan.com).

Certainly, a lack of natural gas refueling stations is a major factor impeding a widespread move to CNG vehicles. Nationwide, there are fewer than 800 refueling stations open to the public. California is the only state with more than 100 locations, while New York, Utah, and Oklahoma each have between fifty and 100. The remaining states have fewer than fifty locations each, and five states have none at all.

One solution is to refuel at home. Currently, one manufacturer, Fuelmaker Corporation, sells a natural-gas in-home refueling device, called Phill. Not much bigger than a pay phone (remember those?), it can fill up a CNG car's tank overnight using a standard residential gas line. Available in thirteen states, Phill costs roughly $4000 plus installation, but tax incentives can help reduce that total. And the cost of natural gas itself averages about one-third less than gasoline.

While at-home refueling is convenient, it obviously works best for a car that doesn't travel too far each day. The Civic GX has an EPA-estimated range of between 225 and 250 miles. But that's greater than the range of most electric vehicles, and it's far more than the average car travels in a day.

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