July 22, 2008

$1.25 per gallon

The Honda Civic GX runs on compressed natural gas, which supposedly only costs about the equivalent of $1.25 per gallon of gasoline. Downsides include the tank only holds the equivalent of eight gallons of gasoline, so range is half of the gasoline version. And if you run out between the rare CNG filling stations, you'll need to be towed to one. Plus, you only get 113 horsepower, instead of the 140 in the basic gasoline Civic. And the MSRP is a hefty $24,590, a couple of thousand more than the 110 horsepower Civic Hybrid.

My question is whether this is one of those rare cases where it pays more to get in early on a new technology. If 15 years from now, half of America is driving around in a compress natural gas vehicle, will the current large price gap between CNG and gasoline narrow considerably due to more demand for CNG?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


rob said...

If a good chunk of cars ran on natural gas, the price would go up. Maybe not to gasoline levels, but demand for natural gas would increase and be less elastic.

Tscottme said...

About the Civic GX, it's a favorite of the best consumer-affairs radio show on radio, Clark Howard. He has one, he owned an Insight (honda hybrid), and he's super-cheap. These Civic GX show up on Ebay from time to time but the Government Services Admin (GSA) buys them for the gov't and sells them through their usual auctions. You can get a Civic GX for less than half the steep $25K new price with just a few years of experience. NG burns very, very clean which just boost the legendary Honda longevitiy.

You lose about half of the small truck space in Civic in the GX model. You can search Google for public filling stations or consider the home-installed filling station if you have NG at home. It takes several hours to fill-up an empty fuel tank at home, however.

Honda has capacity to build 100,000 or more GX per year but demand is much less and their new GXs are sold only in CA and NY. I would probably buy one but there is no public NG filling station in my town and I have no NG at home. I would only consider the used GX due to the price. Callers to Clark Howard's show have reported buying their used GX for $4-9k.

neil craig said...

Both major problems are a function of gas not starting popular (if it was already popular it would be easy & popular). If a serious taxation differential was introduced, together with a promise to expand the diferential at the rate of inflation, it would introduce economic pressure to build more, thus reducing marginal cost, & to have more pumps.

John Mansfield said...

There's not much that's new about CNG. Twenty years ago when I was in Argentina, a lot of cabs were running on the stuff, mostly Peugeots in my memory. A few years before that I remember a roofer in Nevada who had his big pickup equipped with dual gasoline tanks plus a propane (LPG) tank sitting across the front of the bed, and the engine could run on either fuel. Being able to drive a couple hundred miles out into the boonies to go fishing and then back without refueling appealed to him. These short alkanes don't have the material compatibility issues that ethanol does, so there's not really anything to work out with the technology any more than there is for gasoline engines.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: Downsides include the tank only holds the equivalent of eight gallons of gasoline, so range is half of the gasoline version.

A little off-topic, but what are the weight and the volume of a full "eight gallon" cylinder of natural gas -vs- the weight and the volume of a full 15 gallon tank of gasoline?

The measurements would need to include both the fuel and the metal container which contains the fuel: For example - it seems to me that the weight of the [empty] cylinder which is to hold the natural gas might be as great or greater than the weight of the natural gas itself.

David Davenport said...


Nobody really knows how much natural gas will cost fifteen years from now. Safe to assume the asnwer is, "More than now."

We'll also assume that future CNG cars will have larger fuel tanks and that there will be more CNG filling stations. A CNG or Diessel fueled combustion enegine can also be used in a hybrid electric vehicle. It's early days for all these devices, in spite of the Prius being on the road for several years now.

In addition, I think Honda is advertising a prototype home refilling compressor.

Being the first on one's block to own an alternative fuel vehicle is not cost-effective, but doing so does help create demand for alternative fuel vehicles.

Steve, The way you posed the question really doesn't lead to any practical decision making. One gets the feeling that your're chasing the pundit market these day for columns about politics or fuel shortages.

Umm, why don't you write a piece about Boone Picken's nat. gas cars and windmills proposal? T. Boone would probably be a better President than Bob Dole MacAmnesty or NoBama. Too bad he's not running. Why don't superior men run for POTUS?

Another thumb-sucker: if oil prices stay high, airline travel will become much more expensive. It will also cost more to import basic commodities such as fertilizer via ships, unless we revert to sailing ships to move bulk freight. The implications for globalism and global movement of labor?

headache said...

Gas and oil prices are linked, even though it makes no sense. Probably just another oil industry scam to make more money. So that means you really are tied to the oil price. The real deal on the horizon is electrical cars. Several automakers are tooling up and the cars coming out look nice. I bet they'll be quiet. Range is still an issue but apparently batteries have undergone a revolution. So the future scenario seems gas for long range and electricity for town. An electrical auto for town and a standard diesel for the long roads. That's my take.

What the heck, I live in Germany and the public transport is so good I don't ever intend buying a car. Its not because I'm green, far from it. Only thrifty and fiscally very conservative.

Peter said...

As I understand it, CNG filling stations are very expensive to build and maintain, far more than ordinary gasoline stations. It's part of the reason why CNG is best suited for fleets, such as city bus systems, as the vehicles all can go to one central depot for refueling. Building a whole network of stations for private vehicles would be a more daunting task.

jody said...

natural gas vehicles do not have a future, so no, it does not pay to "get in early".

look at the research & development plans for every major car manufacturer. battery, battery, battery.

rec1man said...

Thousands of cars run on Natural gas in India

There is a kit that will replace the gasoline engine with a natural gas engine

There is less smoke and pollution

Local mechanics, modify the cooking gas cylinders

In delhi, all the buses run on natural gas too
to reduce pollution

David Davenport said...

So the future scenario seems gas for long range and electricity for town. An electrical auto for town ...

In your 100 per cent battery powered car, do you expect to have air conditioning in hot weather and heat/defrost in cold weather?

Heat, windshield defroster, headlights and windshield wipers on may require a considerable portion of the car's stored electricity.


One point in natural gas' favor is that North America has more nat. gas than petroleum left in the ground, so they say.

In regard to obtaining more energy density, we can also think about liquefied natural gas. Liquefied natural gas may be the right choice for an alternative fuel for airliners, as well as commercial ground vehicles.

From Wikipedia:

Basic facts

LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. LNG offers an energy density comparable to petrol and diesel fuels and produces less pollution, but its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have prevented its widespread use in commercial applications. It can be used in natural gas vehicles, although it is more common to design vehicles to use compressed natural gas.

The density of LNG is roughly 0.41 to 0.5 kg/L, depending on temperature, pressure and composition, compared to water at 1.0 kg/L. The heat value depends on the source of gas that is used and the process that is used to liquefy the gas. The higher heating value of LNG is estimated to be 24 MJ/L at −164 degrees Celsius. This corresponds to a lower heating value of 21 MJ/L.

The natural gas fed into the LNG plant will be treated to remove water, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and other components that will freeze (e.g., benzene) under the low temperatures needed for storage or be destructive to the liquefaction facility. LNG typically contains more than 90% methane. ( Sometimes less. All natural gas isn't exactly the same. --DD) It also contains small amounts of ethane, propane, butane and some heavier alkanes. The purification process can be designed to give almost 100% methane.

The most important infrastructure needed for LNG production and transportation is an LNG plant consisting of one or more LNG trains, each of which is an independent unit for gas liquefaction. The largest LNG train in operation is the Train 4 of Atlantic LNG with a production capacity of 5.2 million metric ton per annum (mmtpa),[5] followed by the SEGAS LNG plant in Egypt with a capacity of 5 mmtpa. The Qatargas II plant, under construction by QP and ExxonMobil, will have a production capacity of 7.8 mmtpa for each of its two trains. LNG is loaded onto ships and delivered to a regasification terminal, where the LNG is reheated and turned into gas. Regasification terminals are usually connected to a storage and pipeline distribution network to distribute natural gas to local distribution companies (LDCs) or Independent Power Plants (IPPs).

Anonymous said...

Filling up your CNG automobile at a CNG station--->

No way is CNG going for the equivalent of $1.25 gasoline. The lowest I read was %1.75 and more likely you will find $2.50

Anonymous said...

My sister just got a Prius. Her husband drives it and gets 52 highway

Steve is exactly right that the battery/electric motor could be strpped out and the Prius could be sold for say $18,000. Be sold as high MPG dork-mobile. This Prius will be mostly on the highway.

Anonymous said...

T. Boone Pickens was on CSPAN last night testifying to the senate energy committe.

He says: 1 mcf of natural gas is the same energy equivalent of 8 gals. of gas.

Since 1 mcf is selling on the Henry Hub today at $10.25, that means that the same energy of gasoline is 8 X $4 ish / gallon = $32.

so $10.25 / 8 = $1.28
So, yeah, about a $1.25 / gal. for natural gas as compared to gasoline.

He also stated that he owns a Honda which uses natural gas and that he has a device attached to his home natural gas line that allows him to refuel.

Peak Oil is upon us. We better figure out what works besides conventional oil from Saudi Arabia and start instituting it right now, or we're all DOOMED.

We need natural gas. We also need coal-to-diesel. We need nuclear power plants. We need wind. We need solar. We need biofuel. It is very late. The time grows short.

High prices are painful. Shortages are deadly. If the truckers can't fuel up, they can't bring the food. And grocery stores only stock about 3 days' worth. In a panic-hoarding situation, the shelves will be bare in hours. Start your hoarding now. (And anyway, when oil prices go up, so do food prices. Buy now, save money.)

c23 said...

I don't have time to cite this right now, but I have done some research into natural gas as a fuel for cars, and it seems that we are near "peak natural gas," even at current levels of consumption. Using it to power cars would just make it run out faster. Electricity is a better long-term solution.

Anonymous said...

"live in Germany and the public transport is so good I don't ever intend buying a car. Its not because I'm green, far from it. Only thrifty and fiscally very conservative."

I live in America. I would LOVE to be green AND thrifty AND fiscally very conservative. I wish I DARED to ride public trans.
But here, we have minority troubles. The black and hispanic gangs make riding public trans. nerve-wracking at best, or deadly at worst. And building light rail allows the thugs access to the wealthier neighborhoods to commit theft and muggings. Cars are the only safe option.

Half Sigma said...

The U.S. is squandering its natural gas reserves on electricity production.

Natural gas is most valuable as a home heating fuel.

SFG said...

It NEVER pays to get in early on new technology (as a consumer, that is). They haven't worked out all the kinks yet and your car will break down all the time. Leave it to the techie geeks who MUST have the newest piece of equipment. Then you can go out and buy the one Toyota has perfected.

Concerned said...

"The U.S. is squandering..."

Famous last words.

Famous first words, too, come to think of it.

Lucille said...

Nerve-wracking, maybe, but not deadly. I've been in public transport all across the country, major cities such as NYC, DC, and Chicago included. I've never been given any remote cause for such fear. The worst incident I've ever been present at was in 91% white [at the time of the last census] Bay County Michigan.

Bill said...

We may still have gasoline, but according to the the guys at Los Alamos we'll need to use nuclear power to make it.

Here's some info:

Green Freedom

RobertHume said...

Long-haul trucks will be replaced by trains which are 20 times more efficient measured in gallon/mile/ton. Didn't make much difference when fuel was a minor part of the overall cost.

If the trains are driven by electricity they are 100 times more efficient.

Train spurs will be refurbished.

Trucks will be used to carry the last few miles. Those trucks can be driven by batteries. Train spurs will be refurbished.

headache said...

RobertHume sed
"Long-haul trucks will be replaced by trains "

Good point. Here in Germany all the goods trains are electrical. I could never understand why there are so many trucks but apparently its the speed thing since loading trains is slow and then you have to redistribute. But perhaps logistics can become more particular. I guess well just have to slow down a bit.

Anyway, I always enjoy the sight of a long freight train. It has something magical to it.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of listening to experts who may not be that expert, this looks interesting.

"As will be discussed later, it is likely that natural gas will provide the country with the most effective bridging fuel for the next 20 years."


The article seems to be talking about using NG to create liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel), which although have least impact on consumer habits, is not good efficiency-wise.

The processes do work, (GTL and CTL, gas to liquid and coal to liquid) and are economically feasable, have been done in places like NZ (GTL) but have greenhouse
gas problems.


The problems for car use of CNG are : conversion, filling and tanks.

Filling can be done overnight with a special machine in your garage. "Phill". Conversion doesn't seem too bad, plenty of NZ mechanics are available :).

The tanks are a bit of a problem.

CNG (at 200 atmospheres) has a similar energy density to gasoline by weight. It is by volume that is the problem. (wikipedia on energy density - look how bad batteries are).

"Natural Gas Vehicles: Economic, Environmental and Infrastructure Strategies" by John G. Ingersoll, which you can read using google books, claims that you need
about two to three times the tank size for CNG.

Another approach to tanks is to use adsorbtion. This relies on things like charcoal or burnt corn cobs (always the US likes to find uses for corn!) where the gas sticks to the surface.

Another problem with gas is that the price is certain to rise if it became a mainstream fuel.

There is meant to be quite a lot of gas, undiscovered gas, for a while (worldwide).

Picking winners (e.g. $35 million to Toyota) is not smart

Solutions that look simple probably aren't. Something has been overlooked.

BTW there are variations on the use of natural gas for transport. One expert has hypothosised on the use of a 'Methanol cycle' instead of a hydrogen cycle. Another possible use for Methanol is aviation fuel. (Methanol is relatively easy to get from NG.) See the above book.

I don't know what the greenhouse implications of methanol are.