Can natural gas for cars be marketed as sustainable?

Posted: May 8, 2017 by oldbrew in Energy, Travel


That’s the plan of car makers such as VW. The claim derives mainly from biogas and manufacture of methane using surplus electricity from renewables like wind and solar power. Their aim is for a million CNG vehicles in Germany by 2025.

Volkswagen Group, operators of compressed natural gas filling stations and gas networks have signed a joint declaration of intent, committing themselves to the extension of CNG mobility, reports NGT News.

As reported, the signers corroborate the objectives of the “Round Table for Natural Gas Mobility” initiated by the Federal Ministry of Economy in 2016, where representatives of vehicle manufacturers, the gas industry and filling stations operators, as well as representatives of important retail customers, fleet operators and the public sector, came together to promote the fuel.

With their contributions, the signers, together with other vehicle manufacturers, will work toward multiplying the CNG vehicle fleet in Germany 10-fold to 1 million vehicles by 2025.

Moreover, the initiative aims to expedite the extension of the filling station network in Germany to increase it from 900 locations today to 2,000 by 2025.

On the basis of the European Union directive for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure, the expansion will also be promoted in other European countries.

“Due to its purview, Volkswagen Group recognizes its considerable social responsible with regard to the energy revolution. Its short-term availability makes natural gas an important component of our overall strategy for eco-friendly mobility of the future,” says Ulrich Eichhorn, head of research and development at Volkswagen.

“Owing to the addition of methane from renewable resources, the propellant can gradually become even greener. This makes it an important constituent of the energy revolution in the transport sector in the long run, too.”

Source: Volkswagen Signs On to Promote, Expand CNG Mobility – NGT News
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See also: Volkswagen’s large-scale move to electric power, coasting and natural gas | Autoscene UK

  1. oldbrew says:

    ‘the propellant can gradually become even greener’

    ‘Gradually’ is the key word there.
    – – –
    VW is also trying to escape from its ‘dirty diesel’ cheating scandal.

  2. ivan says:

    Why not face reality and just use liquefied shale gas? There is a lot more of that and is possibly greener than any of the supposed ‘green’ alternatives.

  3. M Simon says:

    On a side note: Looks like the war in Syria is winding down due to Israeli natural gas.

  4. JB says:

    ” surplus electricity from renewables like wind and solar power.”

    In Kansas wind barely contributes 10% to the electrical demand. Were CNG confined to those sources the supply would be quite limited to the weather. And of course it makes a lot of sense to burn a petroleum fuel to compress NG for vehicle service.

    CNG is great for local fleet service, but a considerable PITA for the common consumer. Expensive to install, maintain, and reduces the safety margin in collisions. My son asked me about it a few years back, thinking of converting his SUV. I asked how he would feel about a 3000PSI tank of fuel behind his 3 kids in a rear end collision (one man was cremated by his ruptured propane installation after a freeway rear end collision), in addition to the ROI taking at least 3 years of commuting to break even on the installation.

    In 1957 I met a mechanical engineer who had 3 pressure tanks in the back of his Willys jeep. Every time he visited his rented garage shop he would fill them with NG. Not a high pressure system, he had to come by at least once a week to fill up. The tanks consumed a third of the cargo space. For the duration, it worked out for the old bachelor, though I don’t see how he could have saved anything when gasoline was 15¢/gal.

  5. oldbrew says:

    At least one of these – or similar capacity – has to be crammed into the car somewhere.

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve looked into getting a CNG car for about 30 years now, on and off. Mostly due to the fuel costing about 1/2 as much here.

    In addition to the concerns above, realize that your DOT Compliant tank requires re-testing every few years (at least in the USA).

    So expect to have it UN-installed, shipped, tank tested, shipped, RE-installed… every few years.

    Don’t know the current test interval. It was 5 years at one time IIRC, but there was a push to make it longer. Fine if you consider cars disposable… it was a big factor in my not buying a used CNG vehicle.

    Range is about the same as an electric car… suckey… and refilling about the same, except that many airports have CNG stations for the shuttle busses. At one time you could drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco… IFF you planned ahead and hit each station just right.

    There is a growing Commercial Truck CNG fleet in the USA with CNG at truck stops growing; largely due to very low cost of fuel. It may yet “take off”…but it has been in a “push” for about a decade that I know of, with minimal penetration ( mostly in urban cores and local haul near a fuel center). There are now a few long haul runs with fueling stations all the way, so maybe in another decade you can choose your route as you like…

    Note that LNG is also used in some vehicle trials, but essentially has not moved out of trials.

    Do NOT expect to drive I-10 from L.A. to San Antonio (there is an about 270 mile run of no gasoline stations. CNG? Who knows). Similarly, who knows if you can get to The Grand Canyon and back. I once drove around the far end of the Grand Canyon. There was ONE gas station in the middle of the Navaho reservation before I got to the end at Marble Bar (a great place to overnight) where they had a couple more. No funny fuel at any of them. That kind of trip is impossible on CNG ( or electric) until more charging / filling stations are installed (though for electric you might be able to charge at the hotel over a dozen hours…if they let you).

    FWIW, I’d still like to buy one used, IFF I can find one with 5 years left on the tank at the right price. It would cover the 75% of my driving that is around town, doesn’t require luggage space, and I go near the airport once a week anyway. Just realize it isn’t the same use profile… and I have a nice Diesel for the long trips.

  7. oldbrew says:

    VW offer a CNG/petrol dual fuel engine so lack of CNG doesn’t become a range barrier.
    Of course that means at least two fuel tanks.
    This model weighs 170kg more than its equivalent Golf TSI 1.4 petrol car.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    Updated my info on tank expiration. The current spun composite tanks in older cars have a 15 year expiration date in the USA (which is generally a pretty long life!) From what I can tell, they are not tested and recertified, but replaced. (Could be wrong on that, but the only things I’ve found are for replacement). I did fine a claim that some standards had been extended, but related to trucks:

    In the 1990s, the NGV industry created CNG cylinder certification standards. Cylinders built to meet the original (1992) version of Standard NGV2 were designed for a service life of 15 years, with labeling requirements setting a “Do not use after” date. A 1998 revision extended allowable cylinder life certification to 20 years. The 2007 revision raised that figure to allow a 25-year lifespan.

    Most countries have adopted similar CNG cylinder standards. Tanks cannot be recertified after reaching the expiration date set at time of manufacture and must be taken out of service. That leaves vehicle owners two options: retire the vehicle or replace the cylinders.

    The downside is that on Craigslist there are a lot of 1998 to 2004 or so CNG cars / trucks listed, some for pretty cheap. My GUESS is tanks expired or expiring in a year or two. It’s a $1000 or so for a tank and can run $4000 for a full replacement. Do not expect to see ANY “original equipment collectors cars” with CNG from the factory.

    The economics of used cars is such that the cost to replace tanks WILL exceed the value of the vehicle, so essentially 100% of older GNG vehicles have a 15 – 20 year “Trash Me!” built into them.

    Now if you buy a Ford in Detroit / Salted Road Land, that will be about 7 years after the car itself has turned to a rust pile. HOWEVER, for those of us in California, it is a different thing. ( I’m presently driving a 1980 Mercedes – yes, 37 years old and still in fine condition).

    So any CNG market will need to adjust to that reality, that the resale value of your car goes negative when the tanks expire.

    I have no idea if the current crop of cars use the same extended life tanks as the trucks.

  9. Kip Hansen says:

    Almost all the taxis in the Dominican Republic operate on propane (bottled gas) powering standard engines with modified carburetors — conversion kits are freely available. The propane bottle sits in the trunk. Bottled gas is subsidized by the government as cooking fuel in a long successful fight against deforestation (wood/native charcoal being the primary cooking fuel previously, and still widely used).

    Occasionally one will see a car on the side of the road spewing propane due to some fuel line failure, people running like mad to get away, but I never saw one explode…though, like gasoline cars, I have seen many burned.

    For city driving, where fuel stations are many and always nearby, propane is a reasonable substitute for gasoline, and in the era of fracking in the USA, might well be a sensible shift.

  10. Gamecock says:

    ‘The claim derives mainly from biogas and manufacture of methane using surplus electricity from renewables like wind and solar power.’

    My advice: get the CNG cars running before delving in such minutia.

    ‘The signers thereby corroborate the objectives of the “Round Table for Natural Gas Mobility” initiated by the Federal Ministry of Economy in 2016’

    ‘This approach is in line with the alternative fuel strategy of the European Union and the announcements made by the Federal Government in its recently-passed climate protection plan 2050.’

    Hard to tell how much this is governments interfering with the marketplace. Probably so, and it won’t go well.

  11. oldbrew says:

    Gamecock – the CNG cars are running…

    ‘Worldwide, there were 22.7 million NGVs by 2015’

    NB that includes dual fuel vehicles, but not LPG (= propane gas).

  12. Gamecock says:

    How many in Germany? This is about Germany.

  13. oldbrew says:

    Gamecock – it’s stated in the post.

    ‘With their contributions, the signers, together with other vehicle manufacturers, will work toward multiplying the CNG vehicle fleet in Germany 10-fold to 1 million vehicles by 2025.’

    So about 100,000.