It Takes Brains


Whatever Happened to CNG-Powered Cars?

Eric Peters

June 27, 2017

Itís interesting to speculate about why solutions that would have actually worked — which did work — seem to always just kind of … go away.

Not the fabled 100 MPG carburetor. That probably never existed.

But how about cars powered by compressed natural gas (CNG)?

They did exist. And — much more interesting — they worked.

Several car companies — including GM and Ford — offered them, briefly, back in the late 1990s. Including CNG-powered versions of their full-size sedans (the Impala and Crown Victoria, respectively) with room for six and a V8 engine under the hood.

Beats hell out of a four cylinder hybrid.

And not just 0-60.

These CNG-powered cars didnít cost a fortune — which made their economics much more sensible than most hybrids (and all electric cars).

They didnít have functional gimps, either — and thus, were practical. Most could operate on either CNG or gasoline, so no worries about running out of CNG (as opposed to battery charge) and being stuck.

No range anxiety. No hours-long waits to refuel.

Even the infrastructure to provide for CNG refueling is already largely in place in most urban and suburban areas, because natural gas lines are already in place. If your home has a gas furnace or gas appliances you could also refuel a CNG-powered vehicle at home — and in minutes, not hours.

Massive government subsidies are not required. Not for the vehicles, not for the infrastructure/refueling facilities. As opposed to what would be absolutely necessary in order to make electric cars as mass-production vehicles functionally viable and leaving aside all the other considerations. Billions would have to be mulcted from taxpayers to erect a vast network of high-voltage “fast” chargers along the highways and secondary roads in order to keep hundreds of thousands — potentially, millions — of electric cars ambulatory.

And even if that were done, the Wait Issue remains.

Imagine it: Millions of people stuck for at least 30-40 minutes (best case scenario) to recharge their electric cars. The country — the economy — would literally come to a halt.

And — the really big one — CNG-powered vehicles run clean.

Much cleaner than today’s already very clean-running cars — because of the clean-burning nature of CNG. They may even run cleaner, in the aggregate, than so-called “zero emissions” electric cars — which may not emit emissions at their nonexistent tailpipes but the utility plants that burn oil and coal to produce the electricity that powers them most certainly do produce lots of emissions.

The fact that this is almost never brought up by the media doesn’t mean it’s not true.

One must also take into account the emissions generated during the very labor (and machine) intensive process of earth-rape necessary to manufacture electric cars and to obtain and process the raw materials used to make them and which are not needed to make CNG-powered cars.

Which are just like other cars, no hundreds of pounds of toxic batteries on board.

CNG-powered vehicles not only run cleaner, they run longer without needing things like oil changes. Service intervals can be increased by several thousand miles because burning CNG is clean; fewer contaminants are produced, so the oil doesn’t need to be replaced with fresh as often.

That’s good for the Earth, too.

CNG is also a fuel that exists in vast, almost unfathomable oceans underneath the United States — as opposed to under the control of Middle Eastern sheiks. And which doesn’t have to be refined from a precursor substance, such as petroleum.

CNG is therefore inexpensive.

It is estimated that there is enough natural gas in the United States alone to last for the next several hundred years, at least. Probably longer, because current estimates do not take into account the likelihood that additional vast oceans of natural gas will probably be found, to double or triple the currently known reserves.

An interesting thing to consider:

If say a third of the vehicles in circulation were CNG-powered, it would reduce the national demand for oil by an equivalent amount, with the likely effect that gasoline would become even cheaper than it already is (about $2.20 a gallon as of late June). That would make electric cars even more economically absurd than they already are.

It would also do exactly what the chorus singing constantly the virtues of electric cars and hybrid cars warbles about: It would greatly reduce the country’s “dependence” on foreign oil.

Reserves would not be sucked down the national gullet so hungrily. There would be more gasoline — and for longer and for cheaper.

You’d think there’d be a clamor . . .

Almost any existing vehicle — including full-size trucks and SUVs — can be modified to run on CNG. The existing engine (and transmission) can be used. No re-engineering is necessary. No elaborate, expensive technology is necessary.

No diminishment of capability is involved.

All that is necessary is modifying the vehicleís fuel delivery system to accommodate the CNG and reprogramming its ECU — the computer that controls the fuel system — for CNG operation.

No big — or expensive — deal.

The biggest thing — and itís a small thing, really — is the CNG tanks. These are similar in look and size to SCUBA tanks and while they do take up a lot of space (usually, trunk-space) that can be counterbalanced by the simple expedient of making the trunk — or the vehicle — larger.

Mark that. Size, weight. Capacity, capability and performance. None of these things have to be sacrificed or even compromised

CNG is perfectly adaptable to large, powerful and capable vehicles. Full-size sedans and truck and big SUVs with big V8s.

And that is very interesting, indeed.

It may explain what happened to CNG-powered vehicles.

They worked too well. Were too practical, too efficient.

They opened up a way for the average person to continue driving large, powerful and capable vehicles. Cars like the six-passenger/full-size Ford Crown Vic and Chevy Impala (old model, rear-wheel-drive and powered by V8, unlike the current model, which is front-wheel-drive and comes standard with a four cylinder) and — potentially — large SUVs and trucks, also with V8s.

And at a reasonable price — less than the cost of a hybrid and far less than the cost of an electric car.

It could have changed everything — and for the better.

Instead, the cartel force-feeds us hybrids and electrics that make little if any economic sense. But which do make sense from a different perspective. Of course, that perspective isn’t our perspective.

Once you adjust perspective, it all makes sense.

And becomes very interesting, indeed.

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