Most discussions relating to green cars, diversification of fuel supplies and reduction of dependence on foreign oil look into the hazy distant future. Someday our cars may well run on hydrogen/fusion/sunshine/rainbows, consume no significant resources and create no significant pollution.
In the present, right now, we already have a fuel available that represents a substantial improvement over gasoline in terms of pollution, greenhouse gases, fuel diversity and domestic supplies. Oh, and its cheaper than gasoline. That fuel, favorite of Texas oil and gas businessman T. Boone Pickens’ advertising campaign, is natural gas. (www.boonepickens.com).
So, what are the strikes against natural gas? The need to build more natural gas filling stations to support cars that use the fuel, and the space occupied by the larger fuel tank such vehicles use. But these are insignificant hurdles when considered against the current shortcomings of electric, fuel cell and even hybrid electric cars today.
It makes no sense that the nation isn’t moving forward to build a natural gas fuel supply infrastructure and isn’t taking steps to encourage carmakers to offer natural gas models. It is a scandal that today only Honda offers a factory-built natural gas car in the U.S., the Civic GX. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has named the Civic GX the “Greenest Car in America” for five consecutive years.
Honda recently shifted production of the natural gas Civic from Ohio to a new zero-waste plant Indiana last year, making even its assembly as green as possible. Fortunately, Ford is expanding natural gas vehicle availability, sort of, with the introduction of dealer-installed conversion kits for its enormous E-series full-size vans and its compact Transit Connect minivans.
Ford expects that the natural gas option will especially appeal to the fleet operators who buy these vans because of their centralized refueling. But modern navigation systems and smart phones make it easier to locate natural gas fueling facilities while driving, making natural gas more practical for regular consumers, too.
Natural gas is cheaper at the pump than gasoline is currently. According to Ford, 87 percent of natural gas in the U.S. is domestically sourced, so it is insulated from currency fluctuations, trade embargoes or other factors that can cause gasoline prices to vary.
Natural gas vehicles produce virtually no smog-forming pollution and between 30 and 40 percent less carbon dioxide. “Another natural benefit for these fuels is they provide an overall lower emission of greenhouse gases compared to gasoline,” says Rob Stevens, Transit Connect chief engineer. “Additionally, operating on [natural gas] provides the operators lower fuel/operating costs for their fleet.”
At $25,340, the Honda Civic GX is more expensive than other Civic models, even the Civic hybrid. But it qualifies for a $4,000 federal tax credit, which effectively slices that amount off the purchase price to make it more affordable.
The tax credit should similarly offset the cost of Ford’s conversion kit for the Transit Connect. Unlike hybrid vehicles with their costly electrical components and batteries, or diesels with their platinum-coated pollution controls, there is nothing inherently expensive about natural gas vehicles, so if they were to go into true mass production, they shouldn’t be much, if any, more expensive than conventional gasoline cars.
This is why former CIA director James Woolsey editorializes in support of Pickens’ plan for increased use of natural gas in our cars. Woolsey also points out in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary that the fuel is ideal for commercial customers because of centralized fueling. There are no significant obstacles to all of us employing natural gas fuel rather than the more costly, dirty and geo-politically complicated gasoline we burn today. — Dan Carney, Motor Matters
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010