90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science

High Fuel Prices Drive Up Demand For Natural Gas Cars

Honda Civic Natural Gas badge. (Honda)

Honda Civic Natural Gas badge. (Honda)

More drivers are turning to natural gas vehicles because the fuel is half as expensive as gasoline is at the pumps right now.

There aren’t too many natural gas models out there and there are only about 500 public fueling stations around the country. But drivers can convert their existing cars to take natural gas fuel and they can set up fueling stations at home.

What are these cars like to drive and own?

Would you consider buying a natural gas-powered car – or converting your current car? Tell us on Facebook or in the comments.

Guests:

  • Bradley Olson, energy reporter for Bloomberg News. He tweets @bradnews.
  • Irma Vargas, Los Angeles realtor who drives a natural gas car and provides them for her employees.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Bcburton

    Why aren’t we talking more about expanding diesel passenger cars? The logistics are SO much simpler and these cars are huge everywhere except the US. The europeans sell great diesel cars here but not the big 3.

  • Ce Williams

    I agree with the previous comment; in fact, I drive a diesel fuel VW Golf. In Europe about 40% of all cars sold are diesels; and GM and Ford sell diesel versions of some of the gasoline only cars sold here–for example, GM sells a diesel Cruze (including a hatchback!). The higher cost of diesel in the US is offset by mileage. And, importantly, diesels are far more fun to drive than any hybrid.

    • Christian

      I drove a Mercedes diesel for years and loved it. I was sad when it died but it had gone 450, 000 miles!! Much of the price difference is due to the federal govt. taxing diesel at a higher rate than gasoline. That should be corrected asap.

    • Alex R

      Clean diesels have their place (although I’m not sure they have much of an edge in the CO2 per mile metric, vs. a good hybrid), but what happens to the price if these were adopted in the U.S. with as much enthusiasm as in Europe? As I understand it, at least conventional refining yields more gasoline from a barrel of oil than diesel. So there is the question of supply. Something similar may also apply to natural gas. With widespread adoption, new fracking technologies could soon show us any production rate limitations.

      Ultimately, all the options must be coupled with maximized efficiency (that is, ‘combined’ fuel economy, not the automaker’s highlight) in order to realize much relief. World demand is still growing, even in a relatively tepid economic environment. And the higher the demand the more problematic waste becomes.

  • http://twitter.com/felixhoenikker9 Felix Hoenikker

    I was a cleantech VC for many years, and did a number of investigations into natural gas vehicles (NGVs). The first issues is that, well to wheel, natural gas is in fact not cleaner and is often dirtier in cumulative carbon dioxide than gasoline primarily because of the emissions from compression. Space on vehicles is a premium and the tanks on NGVs are large which ruins the value proposition for larger cargo type vehicles. The vehicles cost more and there is no precedent for natural gas staying cheap. And this whole idea that we have so many years of cheap natural gas is a 100% manufacturer lie from the industry. And lastly ITS STILL COMBUSTION!!! ITS THE SAME OLD PROCESS THEY USED 100 YEARS AGO!!! NGVs wont happen because natural gas is now about as cheap is it will ever get and if its not wide spread now, and natural gas prices rise then again value prop is ruined. Lastly there is almost no return on natural gas fueling infrastructure.  Just check out the losses T.Boons absorbed to keep his Clean Energy Fuels alive. Mind you that T.Boon actually just closed the doors of his failed natural gas vehicle startup company Vehicle Production Group or VPG, same company that received $50mm DOE loan money but I’m sure you won’t hear a peep out of conservatives on this failed DOE loan . Its still dangerous and environmentally devastating to drill for. I’m still under 30 and could figure this out with excel, google, and a little genuine curiosity. Why the heck do we still let these snake oil sales men come around? 

    • OSUgraduate

      I’m afraid you have a few facts incorrect in your statements.  Boone Pickens, Clean Energy, is still developing CNG/LNG systems, through BAF, in Dallas, TX.  One of the largest conversion companies in the country, with well over 10,000 conversions.  VPG, also backed (but not owned) by Pickens, is a loss to many, as they produced one of the finest handicap accessible vehicles available, including a version on CNG.  Again, proving speciatly vehicles are hard to produce.  However, BAF and many other CNG conversion companies continue to have robust business lines.  To your points on Wells to Wheels, you’re not using very current data to form your comments.  Flaring is a waste of perfectly good gas, but is very efficent in reducing environmental impact of the gas.  We all wish pipeline was available to capture and ship the gas, but economics of the wells and pipelines do not allow for 100% capture.  However, flaring is the safest and “greenest” method available in most circumstances.  Current research has shown producers “lose” very little methane during the life of a well and that CNG is greener than any other form of economic travel, especiallly when considering more than half of electricity is produced on coal, in the US.

       I’m afraid your biggest failing though is the abundance of gas in the US.  New methods of gas extraction from shale deposits have been proven economic, safe and extremely abundant.  In fact, the abundance is probably being significantly under reported.  Not all gas is economically viable to produce, at $4/mmbtu, but at $6-$8/mmbtu, America could completely cut it’s dependence on foriegn oil and foreign conflicts to protect that oil.  The same technology used to produce shale gas is now being used to produce shale oil and the picture looks very good for America!  The best part is that, as gas is increased to $6-$8/mmbtu, those economics are barely a blip on the radar, compared to increasing the price of oil/barrel to $150-$200/barrel!  This isn’t snake oil.  It’s science.  Remember, not believing in something, doesn’t make it untrue.

      • http://twitter.com/felixhoenikker9 Felix Hoenikker

        vpg is a separate company, backed means owned, and i dont think i need to refer to non-economical gas.  fracking is not even relatively safe. just because its legal doesn’t make it good or safe. My numbers are current and from the eia. we already know how to make clean energy at competitive costs to ng and electrical infrastructure is established. im guessing you graduated from oklahoma and not oregon?

      • http://twitter.com/felixhoenikker9 Felix Hoenikker
  • homebuilding

    a couple of developments not mentioned in the radio piece:
    –VW has a microdiesel driving a generator/hybrid that already exceeds 200 mpg.
    –CNG is far more available than the contributor suggests.  Do see sites such as flyingj and
    pilot re the expanded number of truck stops now providing it….sites also give phone numbers and fuel prices.
    –CNG requires 3,500 psi….that’s 35 times the pressure of a heavy truck tire.  I’m not certain that this is for everyone.
    –The ‘burning water faucet’ shots from Gasland are from geographic areas where to earliest oil well drilling took place.  Many drill sites were unplugged and oil and gas thus had a route to sully the aquifier.  This problem is extremely rare outside of PA and upper Appalacia.
    –Many electric utilities are working with municipal landfills to capture the natural gas/methane (to run electrical generation turbines) that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.
    –Internal combustion engines can be made to have a compression ratio of around 16 to one….and burn ethanol, diesel, jet, and natural gas fuels without the destructive knocking that occurs in gasoline engines at much lower compressions:  10 to one and up to 13 to one.
    –even at today’s low prices, the oil/natural gas industry is far more interested in recovering all natural gas, compared to the past. This universal aspect will be seen far more, in the near future.
    –yes, consistent and large enough government oversight is needed to keep them honest

  • Paul Hanson

    Is it legal to fill one’s automobile with the same natural gas used in the household (eg., water heater)?  What about gas taxes–charged at the pump for gasoline & diesel??  Are natural gas cars exempt from this road tax?

    • OSUgraduate

      Yes, it’s completely legal to fill from home.  Federal taxes are not yet collected on home filling appliances and few states have started looking at it yet, because of the lack of potential revenue.  As more NGV’s hit the roads though, you can bet both federal and state taxes will become a reality.  The bad news, is that most home refueling appliances cost at least $5000 today and pump 1/2 gallon (gasoline gallon equivalent)/hour.  With rebuild neccessary after 3000 hours, the economics just don’t make any sence yet.  Times are changing though.  See my link below.  Several companies are heavily researching this space and believe that $500-$1000 devices are on the horizon (2-4 years).  At that cost, it could help revolutionize the market.  However, as the market shifts, the government won’t be left holding the bill, so I’m sure taxation will be around the corner too.  Even so, at $0.60/gallon, even if the sames taxes are due (around $0.40-$0.55), it can still make a lot of cents for the driver.  And, knowing that gas companies are regulated, most will not have to worry about the cost changing much, as can happen in a retail environment.

      http://energy.gov/articles/arpa-e-announces-40-million-research-projects-develop-cleaner-and-cheaper-transportation

  • Prbsurf7

    Dear Robin,
    Heard your show on the natural gas cars. Great piece! I wanted to stress one point that you and your Bloomburg reporter forgot.
    Here in the great USA we burn off or flare more nat. gas than we consume on a daily basis. That means we could be making diesel fuel using the gas to liquid method. Instead of wasting our natural resources by burning it off and damaging the atmosphere. This could be available for the Navy, semi-trucks, trains, ships, my truck, etc. I’ve written to Boon Pickens, Jim Cramer, Al Gore, etc. asking them why we haven’t advantage of this wasted resource. But it seems that no one cares.
    This would make a great investigative piece for your show. Why convert so many trains, trucks, buses, ships to burn LNG when they already burn diesel. With LNG to diesel conversion you get a clean, pure b100 diesel fuel as well as other useful products to use with existing engines. Makes me think that money runs the show, and we just get to watch…
    Thank you for the great work u do!
    Paul B
    Santa Cruz, Ca

    • Alex R

      I suspect that last bit (the economics) is key.  If there were a revenue-neutral fossil carbon tax and dividend/incentive system, things like recapturing wasted fuel might be more attractive.

  • psumba

    The biggest problem with CNG is the “last 10 yards of the Supply Chain”!   When you can get CNG at a gas station in every town, you will see CNG become a real factor!

  • Bobtec

    Here are the Facts

    I run 2 cars on CNG Bi-Fuel a 2002 A6 twin turbo and a 2000
    Nissan Extara CNG Bi-Fuel 6 cylinder.

    Update my Home fueling pump and storage system to give me
    2-3 Gal an hour filling with a stand by fill of 2 Gal.  Here is a video of my Nissan and home
    filling.

    I pay 60 cents a Gal of CNG at home filling.

    I save from $200 to $400 a month in fuel cost. At a rounded
    off $300 times 12 months is $3600 a year in cash or take home pay back in my
    pocket. Or if you were to look at it this way you would have to get a pay raise
    of $10,000 a year to the same spending cash.

    So at $300 cash spending money a month in my pocket, I can
    buy a lot of big screen TV, eat in a lot of nice French restaurants. Or just
    buy nice toys.

    So I say just save yourself as I did.  I have not found any other way or life style
    to put that kind of money back in your pocket.

    Bob Mann
    Feel free to call on me on this 781 five 88 three 968
    I am in Pembroke MA

  • http://twitter.com/felixhoenikker9 Felix Hoenikker

    its still cobustion and terrible to drill for, turn off fox “news”

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 15 7 Comments

4 Lamb Recipes, Plus Lamb Cooking Tips

With the weather getting warmer, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is thinking lamb. She shares recipes for Middle Eastern-style lamb meatballs and more.

April 15 14 Comments

The Problem With U.S. Tax Policies

Tax expert David Cay Johnston says it's easy to fool the IRS, but there's one catch: "you have to be rich." He says outdated tax policies are hurting the economy.

April 14 4 Comments

Lessons For News Media After Marathon Bombings

We take a look at what the news media got wrong and what can be learned for future breaking news coverage.

April 14 8 Comments

Marathon Bombing Survivor Loses Limbs But Finds New Life

A year after Jeff Bauman lost both legs in the bombing, he and his fiancée are expecting their first child.