Natural-gas in place of gasoline? It’s still a poor and expensive choice compared to hybrid and battery powered cars

Green automobile initiatives are focused on electrics, hybrids, or ethanol.  Almost invisible is the Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) The natural gas Civic has been on sale in California for 7 years.  Honda recently upgraded its CNG offering based on the current Honda Civic. Let’s take a closer look at natural gas powered cars.

On the positive side: CNG burns cleaner, and will have similar mileage costs, performance, and drivability when compared with gasoline. Comparing equal thermal units of energy CNG costs is about 40% less than gasoline. The negative side the price of the CNG Civic is 8 thousand higher than the gasoline-powered Civic.

Natural gas has been used as a motor vehicle fuel since the 1930s. But with the increased costs associated with domestic electricity, subsidized ethanol fuels and Bio-fuels, CNG-powered cars have better footing for production numbers to increase in recent years.

CNG burns much cleaner than gasoline. Environmental Protection Agency data shows that CNG can reduce CO emissions by 90 to 97 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35 to 60 percent. CNG also reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 50 to 75 percent, fewer cancer causing Benzene pollutants and trace PM10 particulates. For the environmental score card.  CNG is win-win-win.

Why has Honda developed a CNG Civic? Because the Civics’ CNG fuel delivery system is very similar to what a hydrogen gas powered car 10 years from now would need. So the CNG development experience Honda is gaining now with the Civic will be directly applicable when hydrogen becomes a cost effective transportation fuel source.

CNG Civics’ are geographic sold only in those few locations where there are CNG refueling stations. California and New York currently have just a few hundred CNG fueling stations. Limitations are the extremely high cost for storage and dispensing equipment costing 100’s of thousand dollars and that gas and in usually dispensed at 3000 PSIg c units.

On the negative side: Off-setting the advantages are some very real extra costs and limiting considerations:

  1.  With a usable range of 160-180 miles, you’re going to feel range anxiety as soon as the low fuel light comes on
  2. The scarcity of public access CNG filling stations, that basically restricts your used to just 3 major population centers
  3. The majority of CNG refueling stations privately operated by company with CNG fleets not open to the public.
  4. CNG fueling procedures take getting used to, using a special fitting to seal to the vehicle and safety precautions
  5. For example, a Honda representative suggested owners take a 15-minute training session before using the pumps.
  6. Most pumps work on a card-reader system specific to the CNG supplier. Users are billed monthly, none take cash.
  7. Refueling time for a CNG vehicle take about twice as long to fill the CNG car as it would using a regular gas pump.
  8. Poor range with a larger gas tank. A CNG tank is larger than a gasoline tank, yet you will get fewer miles per tank.
  9. Trunk Space concerns , roughly half the trunk space houses the CNG tank, with little space left for your luggage
  10. Honda claims a 220+ mile range; a 2008 CNG Civic did not reach 130 miles before the low-fuel indicator came on.

Safety:  The department of Energy says vehicles powered by natural gas are as safe as conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles, and their pressurized tanks have been designed to withstand severe impact, temperature, and environmental exposure.

Don Wollum, ASE Senior Master Technician, owner of Tech Check: