Will there be a natural gas vehicle revolution due to low cost CNG refueling station from GE?
Natural gas is cheap and abundant thanks to the controversial technique, hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) that has led to a boom in natural gas production. While use of natural gas increases greenhouse gas emissions, and desequesters carbon that was sequestered millions of years ago, it is thought to be cleaner than gasoline or diesel. The problem with natural gas adoption is a lack of refueling infrastructure for public, and those of us with electric cars have it good compared to the infrastructure for natural gas vehicles (NGV). General Electric is looking to fix that problem with a new at-home refueling station for natural gas vehicles being developed in part with government funding through ARPA-E.
The GE project is part of a larger group of ARPA-E projects which are collectively known as Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE). The bakers dozen (13) of MOVE projects are to receive a total of $30 million in funding, and are expected to find new ways of harnessing the now abundant natural gas supplies for cars and trucks and expand the use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel.
The GE program has a target of a $500 refueling station that cuts the time required from 5-8 hours to 1 hour. The project is a partnership between GE, Chart Industries, and scientists with the University of Missouri.
If the team is able to meet the goals, it could ignite mainstream interest in natural gas vehicles. Primarily natural gas is being used in fleet vehicles, and is starting to be used for long-haul trucking, but the average consumer has not had an effective way to put natural gas vehicles to use. The barriers to natural gas vehicle adoption should sound familiar to those of us familiar with the barriers to electric vehicle adoption: a) refueling inconvenience, 2) low availability of refueling stations, 3) limited driving range of natural gas vehicles.
In automobiles the only natural gas car available on the market is the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas Special. It has a fuel efficiency of 27 city 38 highway MPG (equivalent), and has a driving range of under 300 miles. The base price is $26,305, while the base price of a normal Civic Sedan is $15,955. But unlike the networks of electric car charging stations being built now, public charging stations for natural gas vehicles are few and far between, and exist primarily for fleet operators. Despite the fact that natural gas already has a mature distribution network, the delivery of natural gas for stoves or water heaters is not at the high pressures required to fuel a natural gas vehicle.