The most rewarding benefit of publishing an article in Townhall is the variety of informative responses that I receive from readers. My article on automobile fuel options prompted several readers to submit the suggestion that I was not appreciating the distinct advantages of compressed natural gas (CNG). I stand blissfully corrected.
An email from Steve Meyer of Larkspur, Colorado particularly piqued my interest. Steve wrote, “CNG does not require special training to fill an automotive tank, but rather the tanks must be so strong and large that range is limited. Also, it is possible to fill a CNG tank at home with the proper compressor although it might take several hours.”
No special training? Fill from home? I called on my brilliant energy engineer father, Harold Baisley, to bring me up to speed.
Indeed, the tanks required for holding CNG are shaped as cylinders with hemispherical ends for even distribution of the gas under pressure, like a propane tank. The typical CNG-converted vehicle is a pickup truck with the CNG tank in the bed, just behind the cab. But it appears that this retrofit cult following is about to become mainstream -- and I will be joining them.
As of today, there are less than 1,000 filling stations across the US that provide CNG. But two aspects of these stations intrigue me; (1) they receive their supply from the same network of pipes that provide gas to homes and (2) the current price is about 1/3 less than gasoline. And, customers can serve themselves (my mistake).
To my surprise, Honda has been manufacturing a CNG car since 1998, the Civic GX. It has been in limited retail distribution across just four US states, but gets nationwide availability for 2012. The Honda Civic GX is factory built exclusively in Indiana, USA.
So how environmentally friendly is Honda’s CNG car? The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (http://www.aceee.org) has awarded the Honda Civic GX its “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” for eight years running. The GX has maintained this top honor even compared to the newly introduced all-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, which placed second. The rankings account for the emission costs of producing the electricity, as pointed out to me last week by several well-informed TownHall readers.
Igniting CNG produces no unburnt carbon soot, no sulphur, no brown cloud. Just carbon dioxide and water (food for trees).
Perhaps the most attractive feature of migrating our automobiles to compressed natural gas would be transferring the investment of capital and jobs into the American economy, finally breaking our foreign oil dependence.
The more I look into CNG for vehicles, the better the news gets. There is no refining required, as is necessary with crude oil. And America has a phenomenal natural supply. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the United States ranks number six, with nearly as much natural gas as Saudi Arabia.
The CNG that gets delivered to homes for heating and cooking is the same gas that fuels a CNG vehicle. So, while the distribution system is already in place for at-home fill-ups, the pressure is not sufficient to top off your car directly. So far, just one company, BRC FuelMaker, offers a solution. For about $4,500 plus installation, you can buy their Phill Home CNG Fuel Station that slowly pumps CNG directly into your car at the necessary compression. Honda has invested heavily in BRC to keep this option available to American customers.
There is a lot to love about CNG fuel for vehicles. It is clean, abundant, and American. The remaining question is how to encourage the conversion without an unnatural, government-forced market intrusion.
God bless Honda for taking the lead on this one, privately funding the research & development and for taking the market risk. I hope that their investment pays off for all of us.
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