Are We Implementing the Right Automotive Strategy? Part III

Another alternative could be CNG. The Pickens plan received wide notice a year ago and prompted some action in Congress to support CNG vehicles. CNG, of course, doesn’t replace the ICE, but merely replaces gasoline with compressed natural gas.

Currently only a token number of CNG light vehicles are built in the United States, though it would be a simple matter for manufacturers to build large numbers of CNG vehicles in the U.S. For example, many manufacturers are currently building CNG vehicles in Europe.

Natural gas is abundant because of fracking, which has allowed the production of natural gas from shale. It would only require around 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to power all 238 million vehicles in the U.S. and this can probably be supplied without increasing the price of natural gas for home heating.

The main problem confronting the use of CNG vehicles is the lack of fueling stations.

There are only around 800 public compressed natural gas fueling stations in the entire United States, and most of these are in California and New York.

For reference, there are around 116,000 gasoline stations in the U.S.

By one estimate, it would cost around one million dollars to build a compressed natural gas fueling station capable of handling large numbers of vehicles. It may not be necessary to build 116,000 natural gas fueling stations, but the nation would have to be reasonably well blanketed if CNG vehicles are to become the norm.

The cost of building these natural gas fueling stations could easily be $100 billion, with more than one fueling station at each location. This is probably less than the total infrastructure cost, hidden and direct, of PHEVs and EVs

Like PHEVs and EVs there is the possibility of home fueling stations.

Home fueling stations are available, but they are expensive; and refueling, for a full tank, takes anywhere from ten hours for an $11,000 model to 24 hours for the smaller Phil model.

It’s not likely that most home owners would opt to spend $11,000, or be satisfied for refueling that takes 24 hours.

Another drawback to CNG vehicles is that their range is somewhat less than ICE vehicles, approximately 225 miles versus 350 miles for ICEs.

Fleet vehicles, such as city busses or delivery trucks, are excellent prospects for using compressed natural gas because they can be fueled at a centrally located fueling station. A business decision to use CNG for fleet vehicles could be based on the return on investment.

The first cost of CNG vehicles would be somewhat higher than ICE vehicles, but considerably less than PHEVs or EVs.

Once again, a strategy based on CNG vehicles requires a large outlay of money, but the outlay would be less than the total cost for PHEVs and EVs.

An important advantage to CNG vehicles is that they could largely eliminate the use of imported oil for gasoline and eliminate payments to foreign countries for their oil.

What about the fourth strategy listed in the second article? “Develop hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles using gasoline reformed on the vehicle to produce hydrogen.”

Parts 1 & 2 published January 3rd and 6th .

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