Not flex fuel – dual fuel. Flex fuel is a system that can use similar fuels in the same system such as pure gasoline to 85% ethanol. Dual fuel will use two differ fuels that will feed two systems. Sounds expensive, but natural gas at such low prices is driving a market.
Natural gas prices range from $1.49 to $2.59 in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. This is far less than gasoline.
Honda builds a Civic Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) sedan and has been selling a few of these natural gas vehicles in select markets for years.
At $4.00 gasoline the natural gas equivalent is running $2.50 in the higher priced markets. That was back in May of 2011 when Mark Koebrich at Denver’s 9NEWS interviewed David Padgett, a Honda CNG owner.
Padgett said, “It’s costing me one-third of the cost of commuting with gasoline as it does to commute with natural gas. I wouldn’t drive anything else. If I was buying gasoline, it would have cost me over $30 to fill up this car. The actual cost of the natural gas was about $12, and if I do it in my garage, it’s going to be about $4.”
Another lure is you can install a natural gas hook-up at home in the garage from your utility gas line. You pull the hose from the wall and refuel at home for a fraction of the commercial station price. It’s almost that simple.
Padgett concludes, “You’ll burn natural gas when you can, and if you need to back it up with gasoline, it’s there for you as well. Same engine – no difference.”
The catch is one needs two fuel tanks. Not something you add on at home. But the manufacturers are catching on. Ford’s CNG trucks have been available since 2009. Dual-fuel sedans are expected to follow in the 2013 model year. GM is offering two pickup models and a dual-fuel Ram Heavy Duty truck production model of the Dodge Ram has a load-bearing compressed natural gas tank immediately behind the cab with the normal gas tank in the usual place.
That’s the US Big Three Automakers plus Honda. OK – two cars builders and three pickup truck makers is a major start.
But the big opportunity is application to large trucks. Trucks have the room and the capacity to carry two fuel loads. Various plans are popping up to line the interstate system with CNG filling stations. For diesels adding CNG injection is more complex, but the fuel cost savings would quickly recover the investment when a truck is traveling over one hundred thousand miles a year.
Once a part or combination of the plans gets underway the rest of use could seriously look for natural gas duel fuel vehicles. With some careful planning a home served with natural gas may justify the piping and compressing for home filing.
Many pundits believe CNG technology will catch on over the next few years, just as hybrids are beginning to now. Toyota Motor Sales more than doubled hybrid sales in April (compared to last year), on the heels of over 50,000 hybrids of all makes selling in March.
There is less doubt about the supply of natural gas than the gasoline and diesel supply and assuming the government stays out of the way that should last for years, perhaps decades. If the methane hydrates supply of natural gas can be tapped cheaply the supply would last tens of centuries.
The flex fuel option has been a smart choice for years, hybrids the cost conscious choice more recently and CNG looks to be the next big thing.
On the other hand, pretty soon ‘dual fuel’ might be redundant – just make CNG cars and call it done could come pretty quickly with a price advantage driving the switch.