While the natural gas vehicle market is still in its infancy compared to the total number of vehicles in the United States, all signs are pointing to sector growth over the coming decade. Today, nearly 40% of new garbage trucks and 25% of new buses in America can run on natural gas – as local governments and municipalities recognize the potential for cost savings and environmental impact.
Advantages of Natural Gas Powered Vehicles
Natural gas vehicles offer a trio of advantages over traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles:
- Environmentally friendly: Natural gas vehicles burn cleaner than conventional vehicles, producing significantly less pollution including reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
- Domestic fuel source: Natural gas is produced in the United States, lowering the need to import oil from overseas for gasoline production.
- Cheaper to operate: Fueling a fleet with natural gas can offer tremendous savings in energy consumption.
Types of Vehicles
Natural gas vehicles can be built or converted to be dedicated (operate only on natural gas), bi-fuel (two separate fuel systems to run either on natural gas or gasoline), or dual-fuel (used in large trucks, dual-fuel systems run primarily on natural gas with a diesel-assisted ignition system.)
Light duty, medium duty and heavy duty vehicles can all be equipped to run on CNG or LNG. Typically, vehicles that travel longer distances between fueling stations will run on LNG, due to its higher energy density.
Most of the 175,000 natural gas powered vehicles in the United States are government or privately owned fleets. Fleet vehicles are well-suited for natural gas as they typically operate within a set distance from a central fueling station. At present, usage of CNG or LNG for cross-country long-haul routes is challenging due to sparse fuel availability.
How it Works
Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles operate roughly the same as gasoline vehicles with spark-ignited internal combustion engines and a fuel tank located towards the back of the vehicle. Unlike a gasoline-powered vehicle that injects fuel into the cylinder for combustion, natural gas leaves the tank under high-pressure and is then regulated prior to the combustion chamber down to the correct pressure. LNG vehicles are similar, with the exception that LNG is stored in liquid form and converted back to gas after leaving the tank.
Figure 1. Dedicated Natural Gas Vehicle Diagram from the US Dept. of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center. Retrieved July 17, 2021, from https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/how-do-natural-gas-cars-work
The Future of Natural Gas Vehicles
India-based research firm The Insight Partners expects the natural gas vehicle industry to grow globally at a CAGR of 6.9% through 2027. There are currently 23 million natural gas vehicles on the road worldwide.