Natural Gas As Vehicle Fuel: Why Trucks Make More Sense Than Cars

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Natural Gas-powered Kenworth truck (Image: Flickr user TruckPR)

Natural Gas-powered Kenworth truck (Image: Flickr user TruckPR)

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Natural gas passenger cars have never really taken off in the U.S. like some thought they might.

While the fuel is hugely popular in countries like Brazil, gasoline has always reigned supreme in North America. Or diesel, if you're a long-haul trucker--though that could be about to change.

Natural gas is already becoming a major power source across the U.S, but the trucking industry is quickly turning to its two major benefits--cleaner running and lower pricing.

The former is particularly important environmentally, given the billions of miles truckers drive every year delivering produce to each corner of the country. But as an industry that spends vast amounts on fuel, the potential for something cheaper is highly attractive.

Cheaper fuel, cheaper produce

The New York Times reports that natural gas fuel prices are as much as $1.50 per gallon equivalent cheaper than diesel. With eight million medium and heavy-duty trucks on U.S. roads, the savings for the industry would be enormous.

If you're wondering, "How does this benefit me?" then consider some of the products you use on a daily basis.

The vast majority of your food and other items--including the computer you're reading this on--probably reached you via a truck.

If that industry can reduce its costs by $1.50 per gallon equivalent, some of those savings can be passed on to the consumer--the whole supply chain becomes more affordable, so the cost of products need not rise as quickly.

Less foreign oil... less oil in general

The other benefits are even further-reaching.

The industry consumes three million barrels of oil per day, the equivalent of three quarters of the oil imported into the U.S. Roughly two-thirds of the diesel used as transportation fuel is currently used by three million 18-wheelers.

Swap some of those diesel vehicles for gas, and it means less money spent on imports, and more money kept inside the country--before you even consider the environmental benefits of using gas rather than oil.

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Comments (15)
  1. My state awards CNG vehicles a tax incentive more than four times larger than that for EVs. I therefore prepared and sent to my legislators two reports on the issue --to no avail. Others might care to read them:

    Utah Air Quality and EVs

    How Do EVs and CNGVs Compare? Really?

  2. Where did you get the 7.9 sec in 0-60mph for the Leaf from?

    (please don't use the as your source. Their own page says this on the top: Zero to 60 times .com does not guarantee the accuracy or validity of the any of the NISSAN 0-60 mph times)

    Motortrend and Car&Driver both tested the Leaf at around 9.5sec-10sec range for 0-60mph.

  3. Hi, Xiaolong:

    Heh. You answered your own question!

    Yes, I used the figure from Of course, none of the reports from different sources guarantee their "accuracy or validity."

    For example, "The Truth About Cars" clocked the Leaf from 0-to-60 at 8.96 seconds, i.e., faster than MotorTrend and Car& Driver:

    And John O'Dell of Green Car Advisor claimed to have hit 60 mph in 7 seconds:

    Ergo... I figured that the 7.9 seconds might be a reasonable average or compromise among these different reports.

  4. Well, first of all, 0-60times doesn't do any test of their own. They don't disclose how they get their data.

    Now, as far as John O'Dell goes, this is how he did it "He timed out a 0-60 dash in just around 7 seconds with his own digital watch".

    With my technical background, I am highly skeptical of that for 2 reasons. 1. He depended on the speed display of his speedometer reading. 2. He used his wrist watch which is very "non-technical". No uncertainties or precision displayed.

    Now, if you think that 7-8 second range is "realistic", then MT and CD should be able to easily reproduce those numbers with their own Instrument testing. NONE Of them have been able to.

  5. I have also driven the Leaf many time. From my own impression. It is quick off the line but seem to run out of "breath" once it hits around 45mph and then cruise to 60mph...

    None of my Leaf owner friends have been able to beat my Volt in 0-60mph and I know my Volt isn't that fast.

  6. Additionally, wasn't Green Car Advisor part of the ""? I can't find the original link of the article anywhere... Almost everything is a blog quote from another quote. No direct reporting.

    Now, even's own testing shows 9.9 second to 60mph time.

    So, 1 "blog" shows some guy with a wrist watch clocked "around 7 second". 3 other "car" sites did their own testing and shows around 9.7-10s in 0-60mph. If you average all 4 (blogger, edmund, MT, CD)of them (7, 9.9, 9.7, 10.0), you get a 9.15 sec in 0-60mph. Statistically speaking, it will be hard for the Leaf to break the 9 sec barrier...

    But I do believe that Leaf is probably one of the quickest car in 0-30mph.

  7. Oh, Xiaolong... whatever! John O'Dell would likely be the first to admit that his "test" was off-the-cuff. Literally! LOL.

    I think you're getting sidetracked to pick at nits about those various 0-to-60 estimates.

    To get back to the topic at hand, my report attempted to show that the Leaf beats the Honda CNG in (1) pollution emissions, (2) greenhouse gas emissions, (3) fuel economy, (4) fuel costs, (5) maintenance, (6) safety, (7) capacity, and --yes-- (8) acceleration --no matter which figure you prefer.

    Conversely, the Honda CNG beats the Leaf in (1) top speed, (2) purchase price, (3) range, and (4) refueling time.

    In my opinion, it therefore doesn't make sense to opt for a CNG vehicle instead of EV for most of our daily driving.

  8. @Mark Larsen,

    I do agree with your analysis and I think you have done an excellent job at making the case of how much better a Leaf is vs. Civic CNG. And regardless which 0-60mph test is right, the Leaf is still quicker and more responsive to drive than a Civic CNG. I have driven both and I would take a Leaf over the Civic CNG anyday...

    But I see a lot of the quote from various Leaf owners on "how fast" a Leaf is to 60mph on varies news sites and blogs. They end up all getting laughed at. I just want to set the "expectation" level correctly. :)

  9. Experience with CNG buses suggests that filling them up with 150KG of natural gas (the equivalent of ~120 litres of diesel)takes up to 30 minutes. Long haul truckers are probably going to need at least 1500KG of CNG every time they fill up. That's not just going to take hours but unless your trailer is a CNG tanker there is just no place to put it because the volumetric energy density of CNG is pretty poor.

  10. If truckers don't take a break every 500 or 600 miles they should be forced to anyway. This is a serious and well known problem. It takes time to fill up with diesel too.

  11. I know busses in the Netherlands that get filled with 200 kg in 12 mins. It depends on your filling station.

  12. T. Boone Pickens has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Congress to pass enabling legislation to get the country converted to natural gas for trucks and rail. Government subsidizing of fueling station construction may actually be an investment in the economic sense, and something that would benefit the country enormously. If T. Boone gets rich along the way, well, good for him.

  13. Waste Management is converting it's truck fleet to natural gas. As it does, it is opening it's own fueling stations, which will also be open to consumers. An executive stated this on CNBC 04-24-2013.

  14. Most of what you say is true, but you leave out a lot of information that is important. Natural gas can be pumped at home for about $.75 . That is a lot more than $1.50 savings. How about $2.90? Of course you have to buy a pump which costs around $5,000 but GE is working on a $500 home pump.

    You did not mention the ubiquitous pickup trucks and large SUVs that burn a large amount of fuel, and could save a lot of money. Those vehicles average well over $35,000. Even a $5,000 pump and an $8,000 premium on the price would make sense for people who drive a lot, and keep their vehicles a long time. It could save many a lot of money.

    The CEO of Chrysler, Mr. Marchionne says that the the upgrade cost for an average car should be $4,000.

  15. In the Netherlands we have only about 100 CNG filling stations and a few LNG stations... I am almost jealous of your numbers :) However we see a lot of fleetowners with their own filling stations. And I know that in Germany almost all fleetowners using LNG have their own filling 'station'. There are definitely options if you want to take advantage.

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