Natural Gas For Transportation? Yes, Via Electric Cars

Billionaire oil man turned energy independence activist T. Boone Pickens has lately been doing the cable news talk show rounds again, trying put a little wind back into the sails of his flagging Pickens Plan. The alternative energy scheme would seek to replace gasoline with compressed natural gas, which generates 30 percent less emissions and is readily abundant within the United States. Pickens spent what any non-billionaire would consider a fortune promoting and investing in this idea, with little or nothing to show for it as of yet.

According to a two-year study out of M.I.T. though, natural gas really is the future—just not of transportation. The report says it’s highly unlikely that natural gas will ever power more than 15 percent of vehicles in the United States, but predicts that by 2050, the fuel will replace coal as the leading source of electrical power in the United States. Simply by ramping up natural gas production and electrical generation, the study says that “CO2 emissions could be reduced by as much as 22 percent with no additional capital investment.”

So even if mainstream commuter cars will never carry CNG tanks, the electric vehicles of tomorrow are likely to indirectly get much of the juice they use to charge their batteries from natural gas.

Don’t Write Off CNG Vehicles Just Yet

M.I.T. found some realistic uses for natural gas vehicles: “There are two vehicle market segments likely to offer an attractive payback period in the near term: high-mileage, light-duty fleet vehicles (e.g., taxis, government vehicles) and high-mileage, non-long-haul, heavy-duty vehicles (e.g., urban buses, delivery trucks).”

And some carmakers do see still potential for growth in the market. The Honda Civic GX is the only mass-produced natural gas car available in the United States, though the company has been reluctant to expand production on the vehicle—which is only available in four states. Honda seems to be biding its time, waiting to see whether government incentives will lead to more natural gas pumps at filling stations and how the market will react to an inevitable uptick in oil prices. If there is a clamor for more natural gas Civics in the U.S., the Japanese automaker is capable of significantly ramping up production at its Greensburg, Ind. plant, which began manufacturing the GX last year.

Chrysler is reportedly weighing a much more aggressive move into CNG. According to a recent report by Edmunds, the company is likely to offer several vehicles with a CNG option in the coming years. FIAT, which took over Chrysler last year after it declared bankruptcy, already sells 130,000 natural gas vehicles per year in Europe. Just how many of these cars will be built and whether this will translate into a significant increase in the number of these vehicles on American roads though is anybody’s guess.


  • JamesDavis

    That is nice, but I think T. Boone Pickens has more money than brains. He needs to update himself on the path America is trying to creep down…clean energy, and natural gas is not clean energy. It causes destruction in every area where it is extracted, and it is almost as dirty as coal, and more dirty than nuclear – plus, is emits radioactive waste water when it is fracked. What happened on this “confused man’s” idea on geothermal, solar, and wind? He is confused and should not be taken seriously on anything.

    If his mind has not been lubed too much by WD40,he should place his dollars on geothermal or 4th generation nuclear where spent nuclear waste is used to power the plants. It wouldn’t hurt if he would also place about 20 billion in Telsa Motors who is working to develop a mega charge battery and a mega charge charging stations throughout America. He could make back his investments in less than ten years.

  • 9691

    I don’t know where you’re getting your info from, but natural gas is a clean energy. Saying that it’s as dirty as burning coal is quite a daring exaggeration.

  • JamesDavis

    “9691″, you need to improve your reading skills, comprehension, and read a little more about natural gas. All fossil fuels are dirty and dangerous and they emit a great amount of CO1 (carbon monoxide), CO2 (carbon dioxide) when they are burnt. How can you call that clean energy when coal and natural gas releases the same deadly pollutants into the air, and both are very destructive to the land and water?

    Since Pickens made his fortune from oil, it is too difficult for him to break that cycle of fossil addiction.

  • MS

    There is a large difference between LNG/CNG and Coal.

    Altought LNG/CNG is a fossil fuel, it is not used for termo centrals as oposite of Coal.
    By the other side, CNG may be used in BUS and other fleet veicles.

    Two different fossil fuels but I must agree that CNG is cleaner, by far, than coal.

  • DC

    NatGas is hardly “readily abundant” in the US. ~1/6 of your supply comes from Canada currently and virtually none of that powers CNG vehicles in the US. If the US had to rely stictly on domestric production, the price would either go through the roof or natgas would have to rationed. There is some question that Natgas production may allready have peaked in North America, makeing it highly unlikey(at best) that NG hybrids will be part of anyones future. NG suffers from the same problem as a lot of “alternate” fuel schemes that america pins there hopes on to maintain endless commuter sprawl. Hydrogen, Bio-fuels, ethanol etc, there is simply not enough of the resource to keep americans driveing to there strips malls so they can keep buying toxic plastic garbage from wall-mart.

  • zach

    I’m certainly not saying that CNG is a viable transportation fuel. But as far as the scarcity of natgas goes, there are plenty of “speculative finds” that have only recently become profitable thanks to new drilling techniques. Shale drilling for instance, begins to be profitable at a price of more than $4 per cubic foot.

    The MIT study was predicated on the idea that the price of coal derived electricity will increase as a result of Cap and Trade, making natural gas a much cheaper option. Of course, Cap and Trade is far from a certainty at this point, but even so, it trades in the $4.50 to $5.00 range, making many of the “speculative” finds profitable even now.

    Widespread CNG vehicle adoption is almost certainly not going to happen. But unless we make huge strides in renewables or decide to go nuclear, natural gas will most likely be where we get most of our electricity from soon.

  • AP

    9691 and MS, you both have very good reading skills indeed. Coal is mostly carbon, and so creates a lot of CO2 when burned. Natural gas is mainly CH4, so most of its energy comes from C-H bonds, which have more energy than C-C bonds. It creates the least amount of CO2 of any hydrocarbon by a long shot.

    Despite the relatively clean burn of natural gas, I think it’s a shame to use it for electricity: use it for heating homes cleanly and make more electricity with nuclear power, which you can’t use in your house!

    Also, “Cap and Trade” will most assuredly not happen; the consumer costs associated with it ($3100-$4100/year per person) make it more of a political suicide than a gas tax increase.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    While I definitely like it’s cleaner burning property, natural gas is still far from any ultimate solution or even an ideal short term solution by itself.
    - As a gas, it is hard to transfer and store.
    - it is not renewable so it’s going to run out eventually. If not this generation then the next one.
    - while cleaner to extract than oil, it is still a filthy process.
    - it has low Energy Density (Whr/liter),two the tanks take a lot of space (Civic GX and Ford CNG taxi conversions hardly have any trunkspace).
    - it’s Specific Energy (Whr/kg) is poor because of the strong tank walls required to keep it safe in an automobile crash.

    My preferred use of natural gas is as a near- term way to power solar-thermal electrical plants when the sun isn’t shining. It can share the same steam turbines as the solar, making it more affordable than some other energy storage methods.
    That electricity can then be used to power efficient Electric Vehicles

  • georgecook

    I wanted to start this new topic. I was wondering – how is that self luminous exit signs can run for up to 20 years without a battery? Is it possible to use this technology in a car battery?

  • Tony

    The Pickens plan is intended to solve a very specific problem with the integration of renewable energy into the economy. That problem is that renewable sources such as wind and solar typically are useful only for generating electricity, and electricity is not going to be viable for the bulk of the transportation fleet, which is where most of the oil is burned, any time soon.

    It also recognizes the fact that of the two most pressing issues in energy policy today – cleanliness and origin (IE foreign vs domestic) – the latter is by far the most important. This key fact seems to be lost on the loudest voices in the energy debate.

    Pickens made the simple and obviously true observation that, while you can’t run a car off of electricity without significant changes to infrastructure, significant increases in vehicle cost, and significant loss of performance (including but not limited to range) – you can run one off of natural gas with very little change to the design of the vehicle itself, and using pretty much existing infrastructure. And since gas generates more electricity than we’ll be able to replace with renewables for the foreseeable future, if you use renewables to replace gas in electricity generation and shift that gas to be used in the transportation infrastructure, you’ve effectively if indirectly replaced the oil that would otherwise have been used to power those vehicles with renewable electricity. The fact that the gas being used for transportation is cleaner than the oil is not really the point, because the gas isn’t what’s replacing the oil – the wind energy is replacing the oil.

    The whole idea of the Pickens plan is to make renewable electricity more attractive in the short term by making it’s benefits more realizable now. Displacing coal or gas as sources of electricity is compelling on its own only to the environmental special interests. Displacing oil, specifically foreign oil, by directly displacing gas-fired electricity and shifting the gas to transportation, should be no less compelling to environmentalists, but also appeals to the majority, including me, who are more concerned over the economic and national security aspects of our use of foreign oil than they are over the environmental effects of burning gas or coal.

    If Pickens made one mistake that was more significant than any other, it was in underestimating the left’s ability to oppose something that does far more to advance their own stated goals than any of their own proposals just because it wasn’t their idea.

  • Tony

    If I understand what you’re asking, these signs use tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. According to Wikipedia, tritium decay emits beta particles that strike a phosphor that gives off visible light.

    Such sources give off VERY low power. Consider how much less bright these signs are than even a low wattage fluorescent tube.

  • Collin Burnell

    AP, What are the ‘consumer costs’ in Cap and Trade? How is that number calculated?

  • Max Reid

    Already the latest European CNG cars have Type IV cylinder which gives the car a 400 mile (640 km) range. These cylinders are made of Fiberglass and is lighter as well.

    Ofcourse the car will be expensive, but will get the Return on Investment.

    Since Natgas (Methane) is the simplest hydrocarbon, its a generic fuel like Hydrogen.

    But before applying natgas in vehicles, we should replace the fuel oil with natgas in heating and electricity generation. Still 7% of American households use fuel oil for heating.

  • AP

    Colin, I’ve seen a range of numbers quoted for Cap and Trade, from different sources, but I’ve also calculated it from a few statements Obama’s made.

    He’s said that electric and heating utility rates would “necessarily skyrocket,” and has hinted they would double. For my family, that would be a rise from $300/month to $600/month, a $3600/year increase.

    But Obama has also said that not everyone could afford this increase, so they would get subsidies. You and I would pay theirs., meaning an increase in income tax of perhaps $1800 for my family (if 2/3 of the public pays for the 1/3 who can’t pay). Worse yet, he could just borrow or print the money.

    That would make my family’s total increase $5400/year. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford that, especially since soon I’ll have an income tax increase, paying taxes on my employer-provided health-care (of course that probably means my employer will soon stop providing coverage and I’ll be on government health care – reducing the revenue for the government and increasing the expenditure – an ingenious government plan for higher deficits).

    These are just two examples of our president breaking promises not to raise your taxes unless you make over $250,000/year (I’m far from that). “Change you can believe in.” Indeed.

  • JRL

    Whatever hybrid fuel source we choose, the future of the hybrid vehicle will come down to the quality, efficiency and economic viability of the battery system.
    There are two major game changers out there right now regarding battery technology. Mainstream media won’t cover the developments ( at least I can’t find anything).
    I’ve read in eetimes about two projects, one headed by prof. Cui at Stanford and the other at MIT headed by prof. Belcher. Both methods rely on advancements made in the fields of nano and bio-technologies. Belcher is also heading an MIT team working on hydrogen extraction.
    President Obama was given a demonstration of the “green, printable battery” technology, being developed for the military at MIT. So it’s no secret. Both Cui and Belcher have stressed that their technologies are commercially feasible and that the batteries are far lighter and more durable than current battery technology allows.
    I hope there’s someone out there who knows more about these two projects and can share their information with us.

  • JRL

    Whatever hybrid fuel source we choose, the future of the hybrid vehicle will come down to the quality, efficiency and economic viability of the battery system.
    There are two major game changers out there right now regarding battery technology. Mainstream media won’t cover the developments ( at least I can’t find anything).
    I’ve read in eetimes about two projects, one headed by prof. Cui at Stanford and the other at MIT headed by prof. Belcher. Both methods rely on advancements made in the fields of nano and bio-technologies. Belcher is also heading an MIT team working on hydrogen extraction.
    President Obama was given a demonstration of the “green, printable battery” technology, being developed for the military at MIT. So it’s no secret. Both Cui and Belcher have stressed that their technologies are commercially feasible and that the batteries are far lighter and more durable than current battery technology allows.
    I hope there’s someone out there who knows more about these two projects and can share their information with us.

  • ACAgal

    In CA, we have CNG taxis. I rode in one last week, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I could smell the gas and it gave me a headache. Driving my behind a CNG gives me a headache.

    Since I don’t usually get headaches, the possibility of my over sensitive sniffer reacting under exposure to natural gas, bothers me. Natural gas is common in CA. I grew up in an old house with unvented gas heaters, and had asthma as a child. I maybe hypersensitive to that fuel.

    Since I’ve had the opportunity to alter my environment, I mostly cook (induction electric top) and heat (mini-splits) with electricity. No more gas webs, the house is easier to clean, no asthma, and I feel better. I won’t argue science, on this subject. I am just reporting my experiences.

  • Anonymous

    Natural Gas is not “clean energy” – The harvesting of natural gas involves pumping “fracking fluid” underground which contaminates underground water tables used by people, animals and the environment. No one knows what’s entirely in fracking fluid because, not surprisingly, the natural gas industry doesn’t want to reveal that information.

    Put bluntly… Would you like “Fracking fluid” contaminating your drinking water? I didn’t think so.

  • Anonymous

    Natural Gas is not “clean energy” – The harvesting of natural gas involves pumping “fracking fluid” underground which contaminates underground water tables used by people, animals and the environment. No one knows what’s entirely in fr-ac-king fluid because, not surprisingly, the natural gas industry doesn’t want to reveal that information.

    Put bluntly… Would you like “Fr-ac-king fluid” contaminating your drinking water? I didn’t think so.

    EDIT: Apparently, the filters don’t like the word F-R-A-C-K for some reason. Why is that?

  • Jordan T

    What the MIT study does not consider in depth are the economics of natgas. Natural gas as a car fuel is mostly domestically produced. And it replaces oil which is mostly imported from the Middle East. It’s imported at a rate of over $600 billion per year. If you replace coal with natural gas, you are just replacing one group of American workers (coalminers) with another group of American workers (gas drillers). Little net benefit to the economy. But if you replace diesel trucks with natural gas trucks, you are replacing imported oil with a domestic fuel. You are adding hundreds of thousands of jobs; boosting tax revenues which can be used to reduce the deficit or cut other taxes; you are reducing pollution and most importantly you become less reliant on foreign oil.

    And to all those who criticize this is not the ideal solution, the world can’t wait for you to come up with the ideal solution.

  • tomdotstar

    Couple of items.

    1. The perfect is not the enemy of the good.

    If we can move 5% or 10% or 25% of our transportation demands to NG, that is better than giving it to people who hate us. NG is not a perfect clean fuel, but it is MUCH cleaner than the gasoline, diesel, and ethanol that we currently use. And on the topic of supply, we have so much gas that there is real concern about our capacity to store the additional gas that is coming on line each month.

    2. You can’t repeal the laws of physics.

    I have a laptop that has very expensive lithium batteries. The laptop moves some electrons around and makes pretty lights on the display. And the battery runs down in 2-3 hours.

    Compare this minuscule demand for power compared to what it takes to move an 18 wheeler down the road at 60 miles per hour. We won’t see over the road trucks powered by windmills anytime soon.

  • hk

    Hybrid Kinetic Motors will build CNG engine hybrid cars in Alabama with the helps from natural gas organizations. If this project gets through in a proper way, the dependence in foreign oil will be greatly reduced.

  • calvin

    I think you mean “very slightly reduced”. A single startup car company is not going to suddenly replace the hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road today.

    Building natural gas vehicles is a nice minor stop-gap measure until EVs take hold, but unless the major auto makers get behind it, it won’t make the slightest dent in our dependence on foreign oil. And frankly, it’s better if major auto makers just focus on getting EVs into mass production. We can always power EVs using NG, but we can’t power CNG vehicles using solar/geothermal/nuclear/wind/hydro.

  • A Siegel

    On what basis do you write “flagging Pickens Plan. The alternative energy scheme would seek to replace gasoline with compressed natural gas, which generates 30 percent less emissions and is readily abundant within the United States. Pickens spent what any non-billionaire would consider a fortune promoting and investing in this idea, with little or nothing to show for it as of yet.”

    While stalled, subsidies for natural gas in trucking has (sadly) massive support in the Congress.

  • Arizonan

    I’d buy a honda Civic NGV vehicle in a heartbeat!! We drove them at a municipality and they perform like a “gasoline engine”. Clean emissions, powerful and we have enough natural gas to run this country for hundreds of years. What are we waiting for? World war 3?
    Battery cars! They may be good for Intercity driving, but for long distances solely are batteries, forget it!

  • Steve007

    I don’t know where hes getting his info from. We have plenty of natural gas and it won’t run out anytime soon. we have new transportation technology for LNG. And its not dirty. He should read how dirty it is to mine the rare earths for all the “clean” tech. Its cheap. we aren’t burning gasoline for electricity. also, if America does run out in the next 50 years of natural gas, there is always the mideast. Right now we have a lot of capped ng wells, just sitting around. We have too much to use ourselves.

  • Shad

    Natural Gas is our best short term solution to reduce dependancy on foreign oil and create jobs locally and lower emissions. When combined with hybrid electic and the fact combustion engines can run on more than one type of fuel adds to the solution. Hands down I feel designing a vehicle that can run on gasoline and nat gas, and is an electric hybrid will be the next car of the future. Replaced only when fuel cell techology becomes competitive. Forget about all electric. Won’t happen.

  • Rayson

    Natural Gas is a good source of energy. The shift in the trend is due to the availability, less processing cost and it is highly portable. Used of natural gas in the automobiles can reduce emission. If distribution is done well it can reduce our dependency on oil imports.http://www.automobilecontacts.com/autoblog/bush-hog-atvs.html

  • Rayson

    Natural Gas is a good source of energy. The shift in the trend is due to the availability, less processing cost and it is highly portable. Used of natural gas in the automobiles can reduce emission. If distribution is done well it can reduce our dependency on oil imports. Thanks for the post.http://www.automobilecontacts.com/autoblog/bush-hog-atvs.html

  • vannessa

    i dont like the idea i find it stupid

  • BlogMagog

    The global warming from carbon fuel hoax was created with the specific intent of screwing us out of our money.

    Follow the money trail and it runs all the way to our politicians pockets… Al Gore anyone?

    Get it now? The entire world is controlled via oil. You don’t overturn that power without conflict. Look at all the wars, money and lives being wasted. BUT people are getting rich. You won’t end their gravy train without a fight.