October 2004
Natural Gas vs. Gasoline

Natural gas is proving to be a leader in the automobile industry. As a cleaner-burning fuel, natural gas has the potential to significantly impact the automobile industry by raising the bar on emission standards.

According to the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition (NGVC), over two million natural gas vehicles are on roadways worldwide and almost 130,000 on U.S. roads alone.

Most natural gas vehicles look identical to gasoline-powered cars, vans and trucks. You would never know the difference just by the vehicle's appearance. Manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Honda produce natural gas cars and pick-up trucks.

The most beneficial aspect of natural gas vehicles is their extremely low emissions. The NGVC reports that the typical natural gas vehicles can reduce exhaust emissions, including carbon monoxide by 70 percent, non-methane organic gas by 87 percent, nitrogen oxides by 87 percent and carbon dioxide by almost 20 percent below that of gasoline vehicles.

Even though these figures appear convincing, to consumers, driving a natural gas vehicle doesn't always have advantages. With limited access to fueling stations, consumers must plan their routes and hope for enough fuel to reach their destinations.

Across the United States 1,300 natural gas vehicle fueling stations are available, but not all are open to the public. Natural gas has a lower energy content than gasoline, increasing the number of times the vehicles need re-fueling. Even though extra storage tanks could be added, the increased weight would alter the vehicle's load capacity and efficiency.

Besides consumers, natural gas vehicles are widely used for school buses, taxicabs and transit buses. Airports are also using natural gas to fuel some of their vehicles. Major cities like Atlanta, where air pollution is a problem, have begun using transit buses fueled by natural gas, including Atlanta's MARTA shuttle.

The NGVC also reports that natural gas buses produce almost 80 percent less emissions of particulate matter than diesel buses. Particulate matter emissions have been linked to various health problems, such as respiratory disease. Not only do natural gas vehicles use a clean-burning fuel, but they are also significantly quieter than others.

How much does a natural gas vehicle cost? Consumer vehicles are comparable to gasoline-powered vehicles. Fueling a natural gas vehicle is more expensive than gasoline engines, and the fuel tanks also require periodic inspections. However, natural gas vehicles only require oil changes every 10,000 to 12,000 miles, depending on the model.

For consumers, it might not be the most economical decision to drive a natural gas vehicle. But over time and as technology progresses, more and more fueling stations will be added. Natural gas has the potential to evolve as consumers' choice for driving.

More information can be found on the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition's website. Or search 'alternative fuel vehicles' at the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website.

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