But What About Natural Gas Supply?
Natural gas supplies 20% of all energy use in the US. According to NGVA: “Even if the number of NGVs were to increase 100-fold in the next ten years to 11,000,000 or roughly 5% of the entire vehicle market (a formidable goal), the impact on natural gas supplies and the natural gas delivery infrastructure would be small — equating to about 4 percent of total U.S. natural gas consumption.”
At first glance, that sounds pretty good, but any increase in natural gas usage means importing more fuel.
Taking a look at data from the Energy Information Administration, the US uses about 21.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, most of which is produced domestically (18.5 trillion cubic feet) with the difference being imported (4.2 trillion cubic feet). Proved natural gas reserves in the US amount to about 211 trillion cubic feet. If my math is correct, without taking into account any increase in demand, the US only has about 11.5 years of natural gas left. After that, we’re back to square one: importing oil from Russia, Qatar, Iran, and Saudi Arabia
Like petroleum, two-thirds of world natural gas supply exists in just a few countries. If we’re at all worried about having domestic (let alone renewable) energy sources, basing the future of US transportation on natural gas puts us right back in the same position we’re in now.
Also like petroleum, there is an “infinite supply” argument: “Don’t worry, we won’t run out… promise.” NGVA says that if we can tap into methane hydrate ice formations that exist under 1000 feet of water at the bottom of the arctic oceans, we’ll be just fine. Right now, this is about as plausible as time travel, and methane hydrates serve a very important function—they’re a crucial sink for carbon dioxide in the global carbon cycle.
Whether or not we’ve learned our lesson about importing foreign energy, natural gas could still provide a functional infrastructure and technology for transition to hydrogen fuel cells. Natural gas is currently the number one feedstock for producing hydrogen, and refueling stations along California’s hydrogen highway may produce the fuel by reforming natural gas on-site. Basically, this gives us a transition fuel until we figure out how to make hydrogen sustainably.
As for the Honda Civic GX, it may be the cleanest-burning vehicle on the market, but the drawbacks listed above are likely to keep NGVs out of mainstream production for the forseeable future. It seems unlikely that natural gas will stay as cheap as it currently is in Utah, but relatively low pricing could keep the car’s popularity high in some areas. It will be interesting to see how things resolve there.
For more on Natural Gas, see Natural Gas Cars: CNG Fuel Almost Free in Some Parts of the Country.
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Photo Credit: Honda