What is a CNG/Natural Gas Car: Introduction
What if we told you there exists an energy source available to power your car cheaper than gasoline? Further, it is cleaner burning and can be already accessed right outside your home? What if we told you there are abundant supplies of this fuel available right here in the United States, so there’s no need to import it, nor do we have to worry about supplies being cut off by a government hostile to ours?
Further, what if we told you cars have been running on this fuel since 1998; so it’s proven, reliable and absolutely feasible? Would you want to know more about it? Or more importantly, would you want to buy a car that ran on this miraculous fuel?
Well, it’s absolutely true.
The fuel is Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
Natural gas, like all petroleum-based fuels, formed from the fossil remains of ancient plants and animals buried deep in the earth. While natural gas gives off a lot of heat and light when it burns, it doesn’t produce smoke because it burns cleaner and hotter than oil-based fuels. The main ingredient in natural gas is methane, which is also produced as a byproduct of the fermentation at landfills.
Yes, garbage dumps also produce this fuel.
Natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It's drawn from natural gas wells or produced in conjunction with crude oil extraction. Pockets of natural gas typically reside with, or near crude oil deposits. Most natural gas comes from three types of wells: natural gas-and-condensate wells, oil wells, and coal bed methane wells. While vehicles can use natural gas as either a liquid or a gas, most use the gaseous form compressed to pressures above 3,100 pounds per square inch to enable them to carry enough of the fuel to have a decent range.
Compressed Natural Gas Cars: Honda Civic CNG
Currently, the only mainstream manufacture producing CNG cars for mass consumption is Honda. The company sold its first compressed natural gas burning Civic back in 1998. Relegated mostly to fleet sales at first, primarily because of the scarcity of fueling stations, the Civic GX was made available for retail sale in four states (California, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah) in 2005.
With the introduction of the all-new Honda Civic model for 2012, the manufacturer decided to go all-out to make the Civic GX a viable player in the green car marketplace. To increase its visibility, marketers renamed the car Civic Natural Gas. To improve its availability, sales were expanded to 200 dealers in 35 states. And, to improve its desirability, the Honda Civic Natural Gas car was specified out to come quite nicely equipped.
Standard features include air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system capable of streaming music wirelessly from portable devices via Bluetooth or a wired USB connection. The Natural Gas Civic’s Multi-Information Display integrates vehicle information and compatible personal electronics with a color LCD display in the dash and it can all be controlled from the steering wheel. To ease concerns about refueling, the optional Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System hosts a database of publicly accessible Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) refueling stations across the United States.
Natural Gas Cars: Honda Civic CNG Cont’d.
Powered by the cleanest burning internal combustion engine ever certified by the EPA, the Honda Civic CNG car uses the same basic 1.8-liter inline four cylinder engine found in other Civic models — modified to cope with the higher temperatures and increased output of the hotter burning CNG fuel. The compression ratio is increased and a stronger crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons are fitted. Additionally, the fuel injectors, intake and exhaust valves and valve seats are redesigned to work with natural gas.
Engine output is 110 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 104 ft-lbs of torque at 4200 rpm. The Civic natural gas car has a fuel capacity equivalent to approximately eight gallons of gasoline and will travel about 250 miles on a tank of fuel. Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway and 31 combined. By comparison, the Civic Hybrid is estimated at 44 miles per gallon and holds just over 13 gallons of fuel for a theoretical range of about 570 miles.
So, is it worth it to go with a Civic Natural Gas over a Honda Civic Hybrid?
Good question, as of this writing, a gallon of unleaded is averaging $3.25. The equivalent of a gallon of natural gas is about $1.52. So natural gas fill ups are considerably cheaper. However, the Civic Hybrid will travel farther for less money overall. On the other hand, the Natural Gas Civic runs cleaner and can be refueled at home.
Ultimately, it really boils down to personal preferences. If the idea of running your car on a domestically-sourced fuel that is cheaper and cleaner burning than gasoline, as well as somewhat renewable and accessible right outside your home appeals strongly to you, the Honda Civic Natural Gas car is currently the only automobile on the market that will accommodate you.
Natural Gas Cars: Alternatives
Chevrolet, Ford and Ram offer CNG-fueled pickup trucks, albeit their more heavy-duty models.
On the car side of the equation, you aren’t limited to the Honda by any means. Aftermarket conversion systems exist for a broad array of contemporary automobile engines, as well as many older ones. You’ll find a rather comprehensive list of engine conversion kits at http://www.ngvamerica.org/pdfs/Available_Vehicles_and_Engines.pdf
Converting a gasoline engine to run on CNG is surprisingly easy. However, there are strict government regulations that must be adhered to. Still, there are a number of companies in business both selling kits for the do-it-yourselfer and performing conversions as well. You’ll find a list of them at: http://alternativefuels.about.com/od/naturalgasvehicles/a/cngconversion.htm