Are CNG fueled RVs and dinghys practical?
By Bob Difley
While the national average price of gasoline is now reaching for $4.00, some residents of Utah are happily filling up on compressed natural gas (CNG) at $0.63 per gallon–the country’s lowest price for CNG. There are an estimated 150,000 Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) on America’s highways according to the Natural Gas Vehicle Assn. (NGVA) and only about 1500 CNG refueling stations–about as many as there are stations that carry E85 ethanol blends. Even in Utah there are only 20 open to the public.
The NGVA also says there are 50 different manufacturers producing 150 models of light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles and engines that run on compressed natural gas, but, there is only one–the Honda Civic GX (photo)–that is available to individuals and it’s only offered in California and New York (although Utah could be next on the list). California ranks highest in number of CNG refueling stations, but fuel prices are also higher—closer to $2.50 per gallon.
The good news–for Honda, anyway–is that there is so much demand in Utah for CNG-ready vehicles that Honda can’t make them fast enough. However, you don’t have to wait in line for a Honda. You can convert a used vehicle to run on natural gas, and for either used or new vehicles, the tax incentives are substantial. Combining state and federal tax credits in Utah can almost completely offset the approximately $7,000 difference in price between regular and CNG-ready vehicles.
Compressed natural gas is touted as the “cleanest burning” alternative fuel available. The big question in Utah is whether or not the infrastructure can keep up with the number of new CNG cars on the road. Utah already has 5,000 CNG vehicles, up from none a few years ago, and they are overwhelming the refueling network.
Then, of course, there’s the question of natural gas supply. Supposedly, there are huge natural gas resources on public lands in the U.S., including areas a hundred miles or more off the coast of Florida, the east and west coasts, and in the Rocky Mountain area. The current jump in oil and natural gas prices is increasing political pressure to allow domestic gas exploration and production.
An alternative is bio-methane gas, resulting from the natural breakdown of plant material, something already captured by landfills in the US. The NGVA says that waste biomass could supply enough natural gas for about 11 million natural gas vehicles, which is approximately 5% of the nation’s automotive fleet.
According to GreenCar.com, “the cost to convert to CNG can range from about $12,500 to $22,500 depending on the vehicle, engine, size of CNG tanks needed, and who does the converting. The greatest expense is for the CNG tanks, and the more capacity and number of tanks, the more expensive the conversion.” That’ll make a dent in your wallet.
Tax credits, rebates, and other incentives can offset some of the cost of a conversion, but it wouldn’t work unless you kept the car long enough to offset the expense. For example, the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 includes an income tax credit that offsets 50 to 80 percent of the incremental cost of purchasing a new dedicated NGV. It applies to the cost of converting an existing vehicle with an EPA- or CARB-certified retrofit system. In addition, there may be state tax credits. Home CNG refueling devices may qualify for additional federal and state tax incentives as well.
Like electric vehicles, CNG vehicles appear to be a bit far away before they become practical for RVers, unless you do all your RVing in Utah. However, CNG as a fuel for an RV seems to be a bit closer to practical than electric or hybrid. Demand would have to perk up, gas prices continue to rise, the media to jump on a CNG bandwagon, drivers start to damand more public CNG availability, the extraction process of hydrofracking will have to overcome the environmental problems, and there would have to be a big increase in CNG infrastructure for it to happen. And, of course, Boone Pickens will have to keep investing in gas wells and promoting CNG. But it is a sensible step between oil and electric for fueling America’s vehicles and getting us off foreign oil.
Check out my website for RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.