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Updated: True to the recurring motto of green power investor T. Boone Pickens, the top five countries for natural gas vehicle sales do not currently include the United States. Instead the top five countries that buy cars powered by natural gas are Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, […]

naturalgasvehiclefuellingUpdated: True to the recurring motto of green power investor T. Boone Pickens, the top five countries for natural gas vehicle sales do not currently include the United States. Instead the top five countries that buy cars powered by natural gas are Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and India, according to a new research report from Pike Research. But all that’s supposed to change over the next five years thanks in part to U.S. government and corporate fleets (cue smiley face from Pickens).

Pike Research says that the natural gas vehicle sector “is poised for a new period of growth” over the next five years and the U.S. will be among the top three fastest-growing markets for NGV, along with Canada and India. The increased sales in these three countries will lead to a boom in natural gas vehicle sales with the size of the market growing globally from 9.7 million in 2008 to 17 million vehicles by 2015.

Updated: Still, natural gas vehicle sales in the U.S will still pale in comparison to sales in the leading countries. In 2015 there will only be an estimated 31,347 natural gas vehicles sold in the U.S., compared to 684,980 in India, 490,866 in Iran, 327,106 in China, 218,217 in Argentina, 215,397 in Pakistan, and 151,005 in Brazil. In 2015 there will be a total of 223,583 NGV on the roads in the U.S., while there will be 3,559,623 on the roads in Iran, 2,645,238 in Pakistan, and 2,377,724 in Argentina. The U.S. still has a lot of catching up to do.

The bulk of the sales in the U.S. will be driven by government and corporate fleets. If you’ve been watching this sector for awhile, the concentration of demand in those sectors is a no-brainer. There’s very few consumer natural gas vehicle options out there and natural gas home refueling options like FuelMaker’s Phil have stalled. At the same time companies like AT&T have decided to invest in natural gas vehicles ($350 million for 8,000 compressed natural gas vehicles) as part of a way to green fleets and potentially tap into federal incentives.

The U.S. government is also taking a slightly closer look at natural gas vehicles. In July Sens. Harry Reid (Majority Leader), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation called the Nat Gas Act aimed at encouraging the development and purchasing of natural gas vehicles. Their hope was to get amended into the climate bill that is currently under debate in the Senate, but to my knowledge that hasn’t happened yet. Natural gas has certainly become a buzz topic in political circles — at the National Clean Energy Summit in August, Al Gore, John Podesta, and Sen. Harry Reid all gave the cleaner fossil fuel lip service.

The biggest driver behind a push for natural gas vehicles in the U.S. could actually be the new finding that there is far more natural gas available in the U.S. than previously thought. In recent years, through better technology and recovery tools, geologists and the natural gas industry have discovered that there’s an untapped natural gas resource in the shale formations in many states, and the U.S. now has an estimated resource of over 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s — in a word — massive.

Image courtesy of Pike Research.

  1. Only AT-PZEV vehicle sold in the US today is the Honda GX, an NGV vehicle. NG (methane) is 3.2x denser than hydrogen energetically, so even if a fuel cell was 100% efficient (an impossibility) a fuel cell vehicle would still need more volume for fuel than an NGV.

    The main component of Natural Gas, methane can also be derived from biomass sources via anaerobic digestion. Methane can also be synthesized directly from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. This is done by electrolyzing water to produce hydrogen and then reacting hydrogen with CO2 (plenty of THAT around!) that can be extracted from the atmosphere. (4H2 + CO2 -> CH4 + 2H2O)

    Probably the best way to displace gasoline in transportation using totally renewable sources is to use renewable methane and electricity in a PHEV burning NG.

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  2. What are the downsides of using natural gas as a transition fuel off of petroleum?

    The upsides, as I see it, are:

    1) that we extract the gas “in country” and keep massive amounts of money in our economy rather than flowing overseas to countries that often don’t like us much.

    2) we avoid the problems of having to refine crude into usable forms.

    3) perhaps minor, but NG spills don’t run off into our waterways and soak into our aquifers.

    4) we can supplement the NG stream with biogas.

    I suppose there are the fracking issues….

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  3. Here are some downsides:

    There is a lack of companies making vehicles and a lack of infrastructure to refuel the cars, so right now its relatively expensive to buy and fuel these vehicles.

    Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so emits carbon. It has a total carbon footprint of corn based ethanol, so about 20% better than petroleum. It’s a bridge to a truly a carbon-free transportation system.

    Natural gas has a lower energy content compared to gas so natural gas vehicles have a shorter driving range.

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  4. When I was in Thailand last winter I noticed that a number of tuk-tuks (small three wheeled taxis) had been converted to NG. And I rode in at least one Toyota (Camry I think) that had been converted by putting the NG tank in the trunk. And I see the occasional fleet pickup around here with a NG tank in its bed.

    We could retrofit existing vehicles for NG. And it might be possible to design future ICE vehicles so that owners are given a NG/gas tank option.

    As for infrastructure and range, fleets. The company cars and service trucks that are used around town can fill up in the company yard and likely don’t need the lost trunk/bed space. It can start there and build out. Again in Thailand, some gas stations have added NG pumps.

    20% less is a bunch better than not 20% less. Neither are as good as renewable wind -> EV which is close to 100% better, but at this point in time, any improvement is helpful.

    Yes, all downsides. But not fatal downsides, IMO.

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  5. Toyota and GM have no trouble building demonstration fuel cell vehicles that have driving ranges of 300 or more. These require more tank volume than an NGV would to achieve 300 miles in range. So I don’t think this is a matter of technical concern, but of will.

    Perhaps NG vehicles are not favored because the fuel would be harder to tax? I’m not sure, but the same problem will come in spades as PHEVs become more common (and fuel efficiency in general improves). I realize the importance of taxes (at least in theory) but I don’t think that should be a reason to oppose technically sound solutions to our energy problems. (You can always tax the tires if you have to….)

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    1. RE: fuel cell cars. They can be built, but can they be built for an affordable price?

      RE: road tax. I image that we will move away from ‘pay at the pump’ to a ‘pay based on annual miles driven’ basis. It wouldn’t take long to drive through a check point once a year and let someone peer at your odometer. And it could be read by RF later on….

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  6. In Asia, Vehicles are converted to CNG. It is possible to do it here too. Right now the cost is very high. If we get it down to 1500$, I am sure everyone would like to do it. It only cost 1000$ in India to do it with parts, installation and warranty.

    All the car company can offer a choice to users, what they want and they can do it same price. We just need more car mechanic shops offering this service for conversion.

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  7. [...] Natural Gas Vehicles Finally Set to Grow In U.S. Over Next 5 Years – Earth2Tech – 10/19/09 [...]

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  8. Altech Eco has EPA certified CNG conversion kits for new Ford products. Either bi-fuel or dedicated. Check out the website: wwww.altecheco.com

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