The Real Benefits of Natural Gas Vehicles

When looking at the benefits of compressed natural gas (CNG) in vehicles, most articles stress the cost savings associated versus diesel or gasoline fuels but what about the environmental benefits? Are there any? While these cost savings can be significant, there are many more environmental benefits as the result of using more natural gas and less diesel or gasoline. This is not meant to minimize the cost savings as those savings are more likely to drive fleet operations to adapt to CNG than the environmental benefits.

Reduced Costs

There is an increase in initial capital cost associated with purchase of or conversion to CNG from diesel or gasoline engines, but there are also tax savings that can offset these costs. The amount of tax savings is dependent upon the state you or your business resides in.

Today with gasoline prices in Texas for example at roughly $3.49 per gallon and CNG prices at $2.15 per gasoline gallon equivalent, a vehicle achieving 8 to 10 miles per gallon (many delivery vehicles are in this range) can typically expect to save $4,000 to $5,000 per year in costs of fuel and maintenance. With a cost of conversion as high as $10,000 and incentives offsetting that by half, the conversion cost is paid for in the first year and the savings begin to accumulate in year two. For every increase in gasoline prices of $.10, the savings using natural gas will increase by nearly $500 per year.

The reason it may still not be cost-friendly to the public quite yet, and why we haven’t seen a large influx of CNG car options, is that some reports say it could take 9 years of driving before car owners break even on the purchase of higher priced CNG cars with saved gas costs.

Why Natural Gas?

Again, while these savings are great to incentivize businesses and individuals to convert natural gas, the environmental benefits against gasoline and diesel are really quite significant. From PGE.com:

Environmentally Friendly- Commercially available medium and heavy-duty natural gas engines have demonstrated over 90% reduction in particulate matter and more than 50 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) relative to commercial diesel engines. Natural gas engines also produce as much as 25% less greenhouse gases (CO2) that contribute to global warming,

Safety- Another benefit with natural gas is that in the event of a spill, natural gas dissipates in the environment while liquid fuels can contaminate our water sources and are very difficult to remediate. And in the event of a vehicle collision, this dissipation makes an a safer site than if flammable liquid fuel was involved.

Noise Reducing- A secondary byproduct which is less thought of is noise pollution; CNG engines run quieter than common diesel engines. So, while some of the benefits of CNG are quite obvious and others less so, it is easy to see why natural gas is of great benefit to all of us.

Less dependence- Since up to 90% of the U.S. natural gas that we consume is domestically produced, we rely less on importing energy sources and become less susceptible to oil-induced recessions.

The Future of CNG Cars

Will CNG car options become more available over the next 10 years? Maybe. The public may not be too eager to wager higher upfront costs for car payments with a hopeful return on cheaper gas. But David Friedman, deputy director of the Clean Vehicles Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass. says that an even bigger hurdle for CNG powered vehicles is that this type of power could become obsolete as soon as cleaner technologies develop.

And considering vehicle fuel accounts for less than 1% of natural gas use, it’s likely that the auto industry will pass on this energy supply altogether.