Natural Gas vehicles have recently hit the newsstands, as a great way of
fighting the specter of global warming. We are all painfully aware that cars are
a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and actively seek ways of reducing
their environmental impact. In many states, such as California, tough
legislation, aimed at reducing the emissions of smog-causing gases is entering
the statute books. Why not think about using natural gas vehicles now, before
the last minute scramble, and enjoy the opportunity to bask in the knowledge
that you are reducing your carbon footprint.
Many people are looking at Hybrid Electric Cars as the answer, but they are expensive, and use more gas than the average car. They also contribute so much carbon dioxide in their manufacture that they are a false hope. As a result, environmentally aware consumers are looking at natural gas vehicles as the best way forward. This technology requires only a simple conversion of existing vehicles to a cleaner burning fuel.
HOW DO NATURAL GAS VEHICLES WORK
The principle behind natural gas vehicles is simple, burning methane, CH4, rather than complex hydrocarbons, for powering the car. Without being too technical, methane is the most efficient hydrocarbon fuel, and produces the least carbon dioxide. If even half of the cars in North America converted, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be immense, along with the levels of smog causing gases.
The conversion is an easy process, and the number of qualified mechanics is growing rapidly. New cars are entering the marketplace, which can run on natural gas, ethanol enriched gasoline and pure gasoline, making refueling easy. It is simply a matter of fitting storage tanks in the trunk of the vehicle and installing injection nozzles in the engine, not a major undertaking.
WHAT ABOUT REFILLING?
Many countries, especially in South America, have adopted natural gas vehicles and have shown that setting up filling networks is not difficult. In addition, manufacturers have designed machines that will allow filling at home, great if you already have a natural gas supply installed. If not, many cities are investigating the possibility of developing an integrated network of filling stations. Even if you do find yourself running out of fuel, converted cars can still run on gasoline, so you will never be stuck miles away from home. Modern kits are usually Tri-fuel enabled, so your vehicle can run on bio-ethanol too, covering another environmental base.
BUT NATURAL GAS IS STILL A FOSSIL FUEL
It is, but natural gas vehicles offer a way of gently weaning consumers away from inefficient and dirty gasoline. Methane is cleaner and more efficient than gasoline. Many cities, in South America and SE Asia, have already converted their entire taxi fleet to natural gas, vastly improving the air quality in the city. Many US cities are going down the same route, so it is important to think about this now, or your old car may be banned from the cities. In London, for example, drivers have to pay steep congestion charges, but environmentally friendly vehicles attract discounts. Imagine Los Angeles without the smog, and you can see why local governments are pushing through these tough laws.
Finally, there is another source of readily available methane for powering natural gas vehicles, which truly fits the definition of a renewable energy source. Organic waste, such as manure and trash from landfills, gives off methane as it rots and decomposes. This is normally released into the atmosphere, and is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Siphoning it off for fuel prevents the gas from reaching the atmosphere, and this is a huge source of potential energy, not derived from fossil fuels. Companies in the UK are already using trucks powered with a bio-methane/diesel mix, reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide by up to 60%
WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY RISK?
Natural gas does carry a risk of explosion, as with most fuels, but is no more dangerous than gasoline or hydrogen. In fact, methane is a much safer option than gasoline. If methane leaks, it is lighter than air, so quickly disperses into the atmosphere. Gasoline, on the other hand, forms a dense vapor and builds up into a dangerous cloud, with a low flash point.
THE TIME IS NOW
Tough emission legislation means that natural gas vehicles are the cheapest option for meeting these targets. Cheap, easily refillable and safe, methane is the fuel of the future, and there is little excuse for not considering this option. Natural gas systems are easy to install, and you can rest, safe in the knowledge that you have done far more to reduce global warming than celebrities buying inefficient hybrid cars.