For years manufacturers and mad scientists around the world have been trying to crack the secret miracle fuel. Everything powers vehicles these days. Not only are petrol and diesel accounting for most cars on the road, but we’re also starting to see an increase in alternative fuels.
Natural gas is just another such alternative fuel that has entered the market to rid the world of traditional fuels. Although not as popular as hybrids or electric vehicles, natural gas is slowly becoming a primary fuel for long-haul trucking and local transportation.
Natural gas has obvious advantages, but is it the next miracle fuel for vehicles? Currently, natural gas powers just under 200,000 vehicles in the United States and nearly 23 million worldwide. Here’s what we know about using natural gas as an alternative fuel.
How is natural gas an alternative fuel?
Alternative fuel is any fuel that powers a vehicle that does not use conventional gasoline or diesel. These fuels come in several flavors, such as hydrogen, EV, E85, biodiesel, and more. Many alternative fuels have even claimed wonderful things, but fail to produce measurable success.
A relatively unknown alternative fuel is natural gas. It may seem unlikely that natural gas will fall in favor of any environmental regulations. Yet these vehicles make a strong case as a viable alternative to conventional fuels with some benefits.
Natural gas is available in two types to power vehicles. Compressed natural gas powers smaller, more regional operations that use a central hub for refueling. And liquefied natural gas that powers larger, long-range vehicles.
Some specialist manufacturers produce a range of vehicles that run on natural gas, but at the moment retrofitting is the most available option. Standard cars can be converted into dedicated natural gas vehicles using only natural gas. Additionally, a dual-fuel system uses separate fuel tanks to use both fuels. Or there’s a dual-fuel option that uses diesel to help start the engine, then switches back to natural gas.
How does natural gas power vehicles?
The fuel system of a natural gas vehicle works much the same as a conventional vehicle. For example, a fuel tank stores natural gas, compressed or liquid. This fuel goes to the engine via the fuel lines.
Once the fuel reaches the engine, the pressure drops for proper ignition. Finally, natural gas enters the combustion chamber and the same chemical reaction takes place to release energy for movement.
The driver can decide which fuel to run the vehicle on for dual-fuel systems. A switch is usually installed during the conversion and allows the driver to switch between fuels. For this method, you will need two separate fuel tanks and lines.
What are the benefits of using natural gas for vehicles?
Energy density is crucial when it comes to long distance shipping. Currently, shipping is done via trucks that rely on a central supply network. These trucks now depend on gasoline or diesel, which is harmful to the environment, and conventional fuel supply chains depend on international production.
Compressed and liquefied natural gas, on the other hand, has a robust production and distribution system. As a result, domestic sources are rich in natural gas, reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Although not renewable, natural gas offers certain environmental benefits. For example, it is much less harmful than conventional fuels like gasoline and diesel. In addition, natural gas vehicles offer the same acceleration and performance while maintaining similar ranges as traditional fuel.
Due to its low carbon content, natural gas is a perfect alternative to conventional fuel. More importantly, the fuel system of natural gas vehicles is simpler than a traditional vehicle, which means it is easier to control emissions. When it is easier to control emissions, cars can adopt ever stricter regulations.
Natural gas: there’s nothing like a free lunch
With every pro comes a downside, and there are obvious downsides to natural gas vehicles. Natural gas is a great alternative to conventional fuel cars. Still, there are limited options, such as the F-150 CNG and the Leon Sportstourer TGI, and many people are even unaware of these models.
Not only are the options for natural gas vehicles limited, but they are also expensive. For example, a CNG conversion will cost between $5,000 and $7,500 depending on the vehicle and type of retrofit. Plus, expect to spend the same higher amount on a new CNG vehicle, if you can even find one.
In addition to the high costs of converting to natural gas, the fuel is just as expensive. There are a limited number of commercial natural gas fueling stations, which means you’ll need fuel shipped home, which is extremely expensive. In addition, refueling with natural gas takes as long as charging an EV battery.
Finally, natural gas is a non-renewable fuel. Apart from its advantages, there are still a lot of environmental disadvantages. As a fossil fuel, when natural gas burns, it releases fumes that contain the same chemicals as traditional fuels. And the extraction of natural gas is just as harmful as the extraction of oil.
Is natural gas the next miracle fuel?
Probably not. But it’s a creative solution to another problem, but ultimately we’re trying to move away from reliance on non-renewable forms of energy. Natural gas as non-renewable means it is still a form of energy destined to disappear.
Automakers are trying to find better ways to fuel vehicles, and natural gas is a solid alternative to conventional gasoline. Its benefits cannot compete, however, as hydrogen, electric vehicles and other forms of fuel offer similar benefits without the drawbacks of natural gas.
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