Tighter EPA Soot Standard Could Complicate Underground Construction

September 2012, Vol. 67 No. 9

A number of the witnesses at July 24 Senate hearings mentioned the DOE initiative. The very high cost of home natural gas refueling systems -- upwards of $5,000 -- is a significant roadblock to the establishment of a natural gas automobile industry. Electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt don't suffer from the same barrier since fueling there involves simply plugging the car into a garage electrical outlet.

Reg Modlin, director of Regulatory Affairs at Chrysler Groups LLC, agrees that the current cost of a home natural gas refueling "station" can approach $5,000. "That is a bit of a barrier," he said, with some understatement, considering a natural gas car, if anyone made one, would also sell at a premium, as is the case with the Volt. The industry, he explained, is working on its own to bring down the cost of a home refueling system to one-third of the cost. He added that the DOE MOVE program, one of whose objectives is to bring the cost of home refueling to $500, "is fantastic."

Michael Gallagher, senior advisor at Westport Innovations Inc., mentioned that two of the 13 projects announced by the DOE focus on home refueling, including one led by General Electric. "So with some serious players involved, natural gas vehicles could have a very nice future," he added. Gallagher was chairman of the Natural Gas Group of the National Petroleum Council’s Study on Future Transportation Fuels.

Honda made a Civic natural gas-fueled vehicle but the cost of the compressor hiked the cost of the refueling station to the $5,000-plus level. Honda discontinued the car in the face of negligible consumer demand. Chrysler is now selling its CNG Ram truck which is built as a bi-fuel vehicle with CNG tanks holding up to an equivalent of 18.2 gallons of gasoline and an eight-gallon reserve gasoline tank. The vehicle’s range on CNG is 255 miles and the total range of the vehicle including gas reserve is 367 miles.

Major fleet operators like Waste Management, Verizon, Ryder and others are switching to natural gas vehicles because the business case is there.

Witnesses at the hearings pressed for two specific federal initiatives. Dave McCurdy, president and CEO, American Gas Association, argued for "equalization" of natural gas vehicles with electric vehicles in the Obama administration's 2017-2025 final rule on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. That final rule is on the cusp of being published, with the White House Office of Management and Budget reviewing it. McCurdy said the latest version does not include equalization. He encouraged members of the committee to press the White House to reverse that failure.