Although not a renewable fuel, natural gas has grown in popularity as an alternative to petroleum-based transportation fuels. In 2010, about 44 billion cubic feet (bcf) of natural gas was used for vehicle fuel. It is particularly popular as a fuel for city-owned fleets, though increasingly is garnering interest in the personal vehicle arena. Can you separate fact from fiction about this alterntive fuel?
Natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels.
Fact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's most recent data comparisons,natural gas is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels. When combusted, petroleum and coal release greater levels of harmful emissions. This includes a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. Both of these fossil fuels also release ash particles into the air, which contribute to pollution because they don't burn and are carried out into the atmosphere. By contrast, combustion of natural gas releases much lower amounts of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, next to no ash or particulate and only very low levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other hydrocarbons.
The Middle East is a primary source of natural gas production.
Fiction. The U.S. is the second largest producer of natural gas, trailing close behind the former Soviet Union. By contrast, the Middle East is the source of only about 9 percent of the world's total natural gas production, making natural gas appealing as an alternative to other energy sources which are more greatly dominated by non-domestic production.
There are fewer than one hundred natural gas fueling stations in the U.S. and of these, only a handful are available for consumer use.
Fiction. There are actually about 1,000 natural gas fueling stations dotting the country and about half are available for public use, the rest primarily dedicated for fleet use. While still a relatively small number, there continues to be growth in the development of natural gas fueling infrastructure.
Natural gas costs, on average, one-third less than conventional gasoline at the pump.
Fact. It also compares favorably in price to diesel fuel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, natural gas costs 42 percent less than diesel fuel on average on an energy equivalent basis. By the year 2035, natural gas is projected to cost 50 percent less than diesel fuel.
Use of natural gas for vehicular use climbed throughout the 1990s, but then plateaued and has shown a small decline in recent years.
Fiction. Vehicular use of natural gas continues to trend upward. Industry data shows that vehicular natural gas nearly doubled between 2003 and 2009. Natural gas displaced more than 350 million gasoline gallon equivalents in 2010. Forecasters predict that this trend will continue. The International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles believes that there will be more than 50 million natural gas vehicles around the globe within the next decade, making up about 9 percent of the world transportation fleets.
Proponents of natural gas for vehicular use point to its potential for reducing dependency on foreign oil as one of the fuel's top selling points.
Fact. One of the arguments for all alternative fuels is the ability to reduce reliance on foreign oil. While the U.S. imports more than 60 percent of the oil it uses, 98 percent of the natural gas it uses was produced in North America.
While it produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions than other fuels, natural gas is a major source of methane, another greenhouse gas.
Fact. While NGVs do emit methane, another principle greenhouse gas, any increase in methane emissions is more than offset by a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions compared to other fuels. Recent analyses estimate that NGVs produce up to 20 – 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than comparable diesel and gasoline fueled vehicles.