Dual-fuel vehicles could be the next big thing

With fuel economy foremost on people’s minds these days, dual-fuel vehicles that can burn either gasoline or natural gas may be the ultimate answer to both efficiency and emissions, especially in the wide open spaces of the American West.

Not to be confused with flex-fuel cars and trucks, dual-fuel vehicles will be able to work with two widely varied combustibles. Most fortuitously applicable to large trucks, the technology will require both petrol and natural gas storage tanks.

If natural gas is not available, the truck could run on gasoline only. If petrol prices get too high, it could run on natural gas only, as well – a great advantage in places like Wyoming where it’s a 30-mile drive to the neighborhood WalMart and natural gas is everywhere.

According to a report by Mark Koebrich on 9NEWS, a new dual-fuel production model of the Dodge Ram has a load-bearing compressed natural gas (CNG) tank immediately behind the cab with the normal gas tank in the usual place.

Reportedly, dual-fuel Ram Heavy Duty trucks, along with a competing pair from GM, will be in select showrooms this summer. They will take on Ford’s CNG trucks that have been available since 2009. Dual-fuel sedans are expected to follow later in the year.

Natural gas prices range from $1.49 to $2.59 in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah producing dramatic savings on large trucks that can require up to $200 to fill with petrol at today's rates.

Koebrich talked with David Padgett, who owns a Honda Civic CNG sedan – Honda has been selling a few of these natural gas vehicles annually for years.

"It's costing me one-third of the cost of commuting with gasoline as it does to commute with natural gas,” he said. “I wouldn't drive anything else.”
He pays $2.59 for the equivalent of a gallon of gas at a commercial refueling pump on the outskirts of town.

"If I was buying gasoline, it would have cost me over $30 to fill up this car," Padgett said. "The actual cost of the natural gas was about $12, and if I do it in my garage, it's going to be about $4."

At home you can install a natural gas hook-up in the garage from your home gas line. You pull the hose from the wall and refuel at home for a fraction of the commercial station price.

"You'll burn natural gas when you can, and if you need to back it up with gasoline, it's there for you as well. Same engine - no difference," Padgett concluded.

Automotive pundits foresee this technology catching on over the next few years, just as hybrids are beginning to now. Toyota Motor Sales more than doubled hybrid sales in April (compared to last year), on the heels of over 50,000 hybrids of all makes selling in March.

Dr. Jennifer Miskimins, a professor in petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, told 9NEWS the technology is a game changer that could empower a new economy, just because it's so plentiful and cheaper than gasoline.

Colorado has thousands of active natural gas wells, both in Weld County (Colorado’s third most populous, stretching from Denver’s suburbs to the Wyoming border) and on the Western Slope. They are just a hint of a potentially enormous natural gas based economic model.

"The energy needs of the world are expected to go up something like 50 percent over the next 20 to 25 years," Miskimins said. "Hydrocarbons will still make up about 80 percent of that energy demand and that energy supply. Natural gas is clean burning. It's something people are starting to get a lot more comfortable with, so you're going to see those car systems and everything else start to continue."

There are always environmental concerns to extracting any form of fossil fuels, without even getting into the controversy surrounding fracking. Just like with BP massive Gulf disaster, problems with wellheads are always possible. Extraction techniques can sometimes release of orphan emissions from wells, which may include noxious gases.

Nevertheless, the U.S. economy has always thrived on low energy costs Miskimins remains convinced dual-fuel vehicles provide an attractive and viable solution.

As a country, we spend over $1 billion daily for foreign oil that mostly goes into our trucks and automobiles. It is high time that changed.

The projected reserves of natural gas from methane hydrates are simply staggering. The energy contained in these methane hydrates are thought to vastly exceed the energy found in all the coal, oil and conventional natural gas nationwide – the equivalent of a 9,000 year supply at current U.S. consumption levels.

At Torque News we said it before – energy is all around us. The trick is learning to produce and consume it in more efficient and sustainable manner.

Several thousand years is a good start – not even the Mayans have predicted Earth events beyond 4347.

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Dual fuel is also at the cusp of having a major impact on heavy trucking. My company EcoDual and several others are now introducing EPA and CARB approved dual fuel systems that can deliver major fuel cost savings for long haul tractors running on diesel with either CNG or LNG. The two best things about dual fuel are that you can always automatically run on 100% diesel if NG is not available and you also keep the same high torque and horsepower of your diesel engine. Inexpensive, domestic natural gas is a great solution for our economy.
That's awesome, Doug. I've talked about that over at GreenBigTruck.com a few times. Volvo and others are working on injection systems as well. There's a lot of great stuff happening in heavy commercial vehicles in terms of getting more efficient.
Really glad to hear that. Over the road haulers use a lot more petrol than the rest of us all together so that's good news for everyone. You guys save money and so does everyone else when they shop. Thanks!
Actually, no they don't. Light duty vehicles (mostly passenger cars) used 121 million gallons in 2010 while heavy vehicles (mostly diesel-fueled) used 47 million gallons. The rest of the "transportation" fuels used were in other modes of transport (trains, ships, planes, etc). According to RITA at BTS.gov.