Given the surplus of natural gas being produced by fracking technology, you might think the United States would be leading the world in the adoption of natural gas vehicles. Actually, several other countries are far ahead. The reason is they have their own natural gas but few oil resources and so have sponsored the technology in order to avoid expensive oil imports.
As Ed Dolan outlines in a post last week on OilPrice, outfitting a car to run on natural gas is not complicated technology. Basically, the parts come off the shelf. The problem is storing gas aboard the vehicle. Both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG) must be stored under extremely high pressue and low temperature. Nevertheless, both technologies are currently available for cars, buses, delivery vehicles and large tractor-trailers.
Pakistan leads the world with 80 percent of its fleet operating on natural gas. Of course Pakistan doesn’t have many vehicles compared to the rest of the world. Bangladesh is second at 60 percent with Armenia close behind. Iran, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Myanmar and Uzbekistan fill out the top ten. The US is far down the list with only .5 percent of the fleet in natural gas.
Dolan notes that low gas prices in America are starting to inspire entrepreneurs to fill the gap. Pilot-Flying J, a private firm, is building a network of natural gas filling stations across the country for long-distant trucks. Stations are already operating at truck stops on national highways across the southern part of the country and more will open this year in the north. The map at right shows the network, with existing stations in yellow and stations to open this year in orange. Dolan notes that natural gas will progress first with long-distance trucks because they tend to run along fixes routes and can save considerable amounts of money by converting to gas.
Natural gas cars may be further down the road. A few manufacturers have produced CNG vehicles but converting natural gas to methanol would probably be an easier route. Methanol is a liquid and could use the current gasoline distribution system. Running a car on methanol is currently illegal, however, since the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet written regulations making it permissible. The Fuel Freedom Foundation and others are urging the EPA to make the practice legal.