Using Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel - Part 1

This is part 1 of 2 of our series "Using Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel".  Why would we want to do that?  Well, because we're tired of seeing the U.S. and the world's economy held hostage by some of the most unstable places on earth.  In part 2 we'll go into a little more detail about how owning a natural gas powered call actually works.  But first, we wanted to go over some of the basics of the advantages of natural gas over oil.

First, the U.S. has much more natural gas than it does oil.  In 2009, we net imported over 50% of the oil we use, while that number was below 12% for natural gas.  That means in times of crisis, we are much more in control of our natural gas supply.


U.S. Natural Gas Imports and Exports

Second, compressed natural gas burns much cleaner than gasoline!  One of the only cars that consumers can purchase that uses natural gas is the Honda Civic GX.  From Kelley Blue Book on the topic of natural gas powered cars:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls the natural-gas Honda Civic the "world's cleanest internal-combustion vehicle," generating 90-percent cleaner emissions than the average gasoline-powered automobile. Natural-gas vehicles can emit 60 to 90 percent fewer smog-producing pollutants and 30 to 40 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. In some big cities, according to, emissions can actually be cleaner than the surrounding air. An average dedicated natural-gas vehicle emits about 70 percent less carbon monoxide and 87 percent less NOx (nitrogen oxides) than a gasoline-engine car.

And now for some of the drawbacks:

  • Natural Gas is still a fossil fuel and we'll eventually have the same price problems we have with oil and all non-renewable resources
  • One method of obtaining Natural Gas called fracking has come under scrutiny lately for the potentially damaging affect it has on groundwater supplies in the area.  Here is a great segment on Fracking from energyNOW!
  • The infrastructure really isn't in place to fuel private vehicles, as most of the fueling infrastructure is used to support government or private fleets.  Here is a great map of natural gas fueling locations.

Fueling your vehicle with natural gas is not a perfect solution, but it sure is better than getting oil from our enemies and it will pollute a lot less than your gasoline powered car.  Of course, you could always get an electric vehicle, and considering that almost 25% of U.S. electricity comes from natural gas, you'd be partially powered by natural gas anyway!    There may still be some challenges you'll have to overcome, but in your efforts to reduce your consumption of oil it is hard to beat.

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How do the "oil" and "natural gas" imports compare in terms of total energy? You say that the US has plenty of natural gas and currently only imports 12% of what is used here, compared with 51% for oil. But how would those figures change if we switched about 20% of vehicles from gasoline to natural gas over the next 10 years? Would that just be a rounding error in natural gas usage? Or would current usage look like a rounding error compared with what we'd be using to power a fifth of vehicles?
ckmapawatt's picture
Great question Tony. You could look at the post we did on <a href="" rel="nofollow">Energy Flows in the U.S.</a> to answer the question. I view natural gas as just part of the solution, and really a solution that plays a small, temporary role in getting us off oil. For the long term, we have to focus on renewable sources of energy because all non-renewable sources eventually run out!
I'm concerned about this move to natural gas, especially as the USA's enemies might not provide it, and hence a move to get natural gas from allies, eg South Africa. Please see;ap=1 on Facebook. This is The Karoo Action Group, which I am a part of. The big oil companies want to destroy a pristine environment for natural gas using Fracking. This is really dangerous. I think our common mission on Mapawatt is to find ways to use renewable energy and energy efficiency and smart grids to solve our energy problems. If the USA gets its gas from South Africa and destroys 1/5th of South Africa in the process, is that ok? And will it mean that once gas runs out here, the companies will resort to getting it in the USA no matter what, ie you will just have deferred your problems. The Story of Stuff says that resources in the first world countries are running out fast, and so these resources are being fetched from us in the third world. With water we can do anything. See Gaviotas for an example of this. With oil, what can we do, if we don't have water? Make it from sea water? And what if the see is a 1000 miles away? And add major pollution on the way? Let's really take the bull by the horns and look for our common future. Time for deregulation and allowing people to supply their own electricity, either directly or using retail wheeling. Ke nako (the time is right), David

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