Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NGV's Growing Rapidly In World But Slowly In USA

Natural gas vehicles numbered 13.9 million vehicles globally in 2010, up substantially from 2.8 million in 2003. Since 2000 the global growth rate for NGVs has been 26 per cent per year. About 1 per cent of all vehicles on planet earth now run on natural gas and most of them are light duty or cars.

In the USA just 120,000 natural gas vehicles are operating on gas or about 1 out of every 10,000. Here most vehicles running on natural gas are heavy duty vehicles or trucks and buses. As a result, about 0.2% of the fuel used in America for transportation is gas. In 2010 45 billion cubic feet of natural gas was used to power vehicles on our roads.

While the USA has a slow growth rate in natural gas vehicles, the growth rate in gas for transportation has been 25%, as niche markets like transit buses, refuse trucks, and taxi fleets show major growth. The vehicles in the USA that are running on gas are big and use a lot of fuel-- typically the equivalent of 5,000 to 15,000 gallons per year.

Notable successes include the Los Angeles transit system recently retiring its last diesel bus. The California Air Resources Board calculates that a natural gas vehicle emits 22% to 29% less carbon than vehicles running on diesel and gasoline respectively.

Just two ways exist for cutting the major carbon emissions from transportation: fuel efficiency and switching to lower carbon fuels than gasoline and diesel.


  1. Fuel efficiency for light-duty vehicles (SUVs & compact cars) + compressed natural gas for heavy duty vehicles, especially 18-wheelers, I think could make some significant changes in oil consumption by transportation. Fortunately, CAFE standards have already been increased twice by Obama. As for CNG with heavy duty vehicles, I think the trend will continue to grow. One big hurdle I see for CNG in large-scale penetration of the LDV fleet is the need for additional infrastructure - both in terms of new vehicles that can run on CNG but, more importantly, filling stations. This is especially true given the emphasis on electric charging infrastructure, which shouldn't compete directly with CNG stations, but I think will for investment dollars. Filling infrastructure for heavy duty vehicles, like 18-wheelers, on the other hand is more centralized, and so could be shifted toward CNG more readily.

    Then you have the fact that the gap in NG & oil prices that exists today will likely widen as shale gas is further developed and oil shifts to increasingly non-conventional, more expensive sources. All in all, very promising for the transportation sector.


  2. John, if it is easy, could you please supply a source for these stats?

    I am compiling similar stats from the National Household Transportation survey as a reflection on the DOE Quadrennial Tech Review (ie, where are we now, and where could we be, realistically) and am wondering how your stats and NHTS stats might compare.


  3. Michael:

    You are right that infrastructure is a major hurdle. Clean Energy Fuels says it will be building another 92 truck fueling stations spaced about 250 miles apart on key east west interstate truck stops to begin creating natural gas highways for trucks. Another hurdle is that the only car on sale in USA that is built to run on gas is the Honda civic.

    Richard Kolodziej, President of NGVAmerica says Fiat sold 100,000 natural gas cars last year in Italy. More cars and vehicles that run on gas are needed here too.

  4. The data about global NGV and USA sales comes from NGVAmerica. It was presented in DC at a conference on Tuesday. I also did some calculations such as the 1 per cent of vehicles in the world run on gas.