All you energy users out there remember the Pickens Plan? On TV last summer T. Boone’s craggy Texas face was everywhere, explaining why compressed natural gas (CNG) was a great alternative fuel, at least for the interim, before wind power took over. The idea made some sense, particularly for fleets, trucks, and buses, as ol’ Boone proposed.
Lower gas prices, wind turbine haters, and a devastating economy have pushed Pickens off the tube, for now. Most proponents of alternative fuels have since ignored CNG because of the obvious problems of infrastructure and fueling stations.
Well, Pickens was right in many ways, and Mercedes has brought its BiFuel B170 NGT car to the Washington (DC) Auto Show to confirm that the company is considering making it available in the U.S. The 2-liter four cylinder can run on either CNG or premium gasoline, switch between them, and go for 625 miles. Toyota is looking at CNG hybrids, too. CNG produces 20% fewer CO2 emissions, gets better mileage, and is abundant in the U.S. There are other advantages, as we learn from the Natural Gas Vehicles for America website.
CNG is a lot cheaper than gasoline—$.63/gal in Nevada, where there are 91 fueling stations (about 1,100 nationwide). You can buy a recharge station for your home. And there are conversion kits for car engines, some of which have not worked well because CNG is a 130-octane fuel. Conversion of diesel trucks would present fewer problems. UPS has a fleet of them running now.
Daimler-Benz must have looked long and hard at the 10-year success of Honda’s Civic GX in this country. While demand has been relatively low for that car, its owners generally love it. In other countries, like Thailand, India, and Brazil, CNG use has grown rapidly, though the government generally subsidizes the effort.
CNG for fleets and trucks is a natural. For cars, its use presents problems, most of which can be solved. As we are finding with many aspects of our economy, the government may have to provide some help.
Should the government subsidize some form of CNG fuel use?