Natural gas vehicles are happening but not in the United States and Europe, according to figures compiled by NGV Global. In fact the Asian Pacific and Latin America are emerging as the epicenter with the Asian rim now running away with the lead.
The graph above shows the number of natural gas cars on the road in five regions, North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Asia Pacific. The horizontal axis is the time scale from 1991 to the present. The vertical axis represents the number of gas-powered cars from zero to 9 million.
A decade ago there were hardly any gas-powered cars on the road anywhere. The first steps were taken in Latin America, mainly in Brazil, which was eager to find alternatives to oil before it discovered its own oil resources offshore. By 2006 Latin America had 4 million compressed natural gas vehicles on the road. At that point China discovered the technology, however, and ran away with it. The Chinese surpassed Latin American in 2007 and haven’t looked back. China has also diversified, using both compressed natural gas and methanol synthesized from natural gas.
Europe has made some progress since then but the real laggard is the United States, which is still at the same level as Africa. (The two lines are barely separable on the graph.) All this may change now that the US has whole huge surpluses of gas from fracking technology. Major auto companies are offering compressed gas vehicles and groups such as the Fuel Freedom Foundation are pressing to allow methanol derived from gas to be burned in internal combustion engines.
It may yet happen. Nevertheless, China and Latin America are already well launched. If natural gas vehicles begin to rival gasoline engines, it will be the first time in centuries that such a technological breakthrough has been launched outside the European-American axis. It might not be the last.