• Jul 30th 2009 at 7:56PM
  • 32
2009 Honda Civic GX

One thing we try to do with our weekly series of Greenlings articles is answer reader questions about the green car industry (if you've got a burning need to know something, please let us know). Considering today's news that the Honda Civic GX is now available for sale in Utah, we thought we'd dig into AutoblogGreen reader Island Don's question about compressed natural gas vehicles. Here it is (slightly edited):
To me as a big diesel guy, I see the the CNG as a great, cheap, clean burning alternative to to gas, diesel, or hybrid, yet Honda CNG sales aren't great. Why haven't they done better? Why haven't they been promoted by the government or the manufacturer? I've never seen an ad, nor ever heard any politician promote them. Yet I see all the buses in LA and San Diego running on CNG. That tells me there's an infrastructure in place. What's the scoop?
Follow us through the jump for the answer.

Back in April, we took a Greenlings look at CNG vehicles, and we'll assume you've read that primer about the basics and try to look at the broader CNG picture in this issue (if not – go do it).

CNG-powered vehicles are certainly the invisible children of the green car scene in the U.S. While there are nearly 10 million natural gas vehicles in the world – here are a few examples from India, Germany and France – they're not common on American roads. Still, Island Don is right when he says that buses (and other large vehicles) do burn the fuel in some cities. Some U.S. Senators who want to promote more CNG vehicles in the U.S. say that "natural gas has the ability to displace 100 percent of the petroleum used in heavy-duty vehicles." Wait, Senators? Yes. Natural gas vehicles are promoted by the government. At least some of the time.

The support is important, since CNG vehicles cost a lot more than standard gasoline vehilces. Some estimates put the extra cost of converting a CNG vehicle at $12,500 to $22,500 (most of this is for EPA licensing requirements, not the technology, so this government hurdle is jumpable). As for what the government is doing to help CNG, there is a federal tax credit worth up to $4,000 to buyers of CNG cars. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill called the NAT GAS Act that would greatly expand federal government support for natural gas vehicles. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were co-sponsors of the bill, so it's got serious support. According to the co-sponsors, the bill would, among other natural gas benefits:

Expand and modify the alternative fueled vehicle and refueling property tax credits as follows:
  • Makes all dedicated natural gas-fueled vehicles eligible for a credit equal to 80% of the vehicle's incremental cost. Only some dedicated natural gas vehicles currently can qualify for an 80% federal tax credit
  • Makes all bi-fuel natural gas-fueled vehicles eligible for a credit equal to 50% of the vehicle's incremental cost. This is the first time bi-fuel vehicles would be eligible for a federal tax credit
  • Increase the allowable incremental cost limits to more accurately reflect the cost of producing or converting natural gas vehicles:
  • For light-duty vehicle, the purchase tax credit cap would be increased by to $12,500 (currently $5,000)
  • For all other vehicle weight classes, the purchase tax credit cap would be doubled
  • Increases the refueling property tax credit from $50,000 to $100,000 per station
Local governments, too, can issue their own support for CNG vehicles, such as California's 2007 decision to allow the only CNG-powered passenger vehicle in the U.S. – the Honda Civic GX – to drive in the carpool lane.

So, government support can be found. Not at the same level as other gasoline-alternative technologies and not without complications, but it is available. As for the question on why manufacturers aren't promoting CNG vehicles, our eyes need to turn to Honda, since no other OEM sells CNG vehicles direct to the public (there are plenty of conversions available, especially large trucks from Ford and Roush). There are conspiracy theories that Honda can't build enough Civic GXs to supply demand out there, but we can't see any automaker throw away any potential sales these days, so we're not sure about that one. Toyota toyed with the idea of a CNG-powered Camry hybrid at last year's LA Auto Show, but no production plans have been announced. OEMs are promoting CNG to fleets – just ask the AFVI folks – but for "regular" drivers, they apparently see no need to really push for CNG.

Lastly, let's look at whether car companies sell CNG vehicles if they were available? This comes down to a question of infrastructure. A new project by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) called TransAtlas shows just where in the U.S. refueling stations for all sorts of fuels are, including CNG (pictured below), hydrogen and E85. To see whether or not the fuel is available near you, click on the map below to visit the NREL page and zoom the map to where you live or want to drive the car. As for the gas that is needed to keep the CNG cars and infrastructure humming, it looks like there is enough domestic supply "to displace imports of all petroleum products... for 43 years" (visit The Oil Drum for the number crunching details). Back in 2007, USAToday published a story headlined "Natural-gas powered cars: Who even knows they exist?" Two years later, this question still doesn't have a solid answer, but at least a few more AutoblogGreen readers know.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Here is the Acog for Oklahoma Alternative Energy Credits.
      • 6 Years Ago

      I just want to point out that biofuels do not inherently put more carbon into the atmosphere. The CO2 put out by burning has already been absorbed during the plant's life cycle. Granted some extra carbon is produced during the processing and shipping, but it's not much.

      Electric power that comes from a non-green source is non green. It might beat regular gasoline, but it's still not sustainable. Replacing coal will be a tough prospect, and I doubt it will happen, especially considering that it's what the country has alot of.

      I think somone has to figure out a way to make a car that runs on any flammable gas. This would make things alot easier (BTW, as soon as I finish my two stroke motorbike and get a 4 stroke engine to play with I'm going to work on making a variable gas motor, set up for propane, H2, and woodgas)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Natural gas, propane, and hydrogen could all be used interchangeably with the right engine design and computerization. Propane is often available where natural gas is not. Natural gas can be filled up at home , and propane users could do the same. Hydrogen might not be competitive because of the abundance of natural gas and propane. Fleets should be enticed to convert to CNG. They could also sell to individuals, at a profit.That would lead to more abundant fueling spots.
      • 6 Years Ago
      dg, sorry to attack you. I had just gotten pissed off at several users on here who would start attacking anything diesel.

      Now, I think the thing you have to remember with BEVs is that even the best batteries- Lithium Ion, are expensive, bulky, and heavy. I mean some of that can be brought down, but the bottom line is that a battery is a big mass of reacting chemicals that stores energy.

      Thats just too much to put in a car and have it be it's fuel tank. I like the series hybrid set up, but I have issues with it. First thing is that if you are making rotational motion with your generator, why the hell are you converting it to electricity and then back into rotation motion? Engines are most efficient at a constant flat rate, which is the natural advantage of this power train, but my question is- if your speed is close enough to what the engine is putting out (like lets say it puts out 30 horsepower at peak efficency, which is good for 50mph in the example) have it go directly to the wheels on a traditional drive train. If the speed you want to go is under, but close, the regen breaking will just come in and keep you at the desired speed. If you want to go faster it will add electric power with motors. Setting up the drive train is an issue, so either a 3 wheeled 1-wheel drive vehicle, or a large truck with lots of space would be ideal. If you aren't putting power to the wheels with your engine, you shouldn't even bother having it produce rotational motion, and just use a vertical alternator instead (no crank shaft, flywheel, variable compression ratio, very good setup)

      Now I think another thing is we often loose sight of WHY we are interested in all these green vehicles- because they are good for the planet. See, it's great that all these new things are coming along, but something available now should be put to use.

      Now heres what I like about flammable gas (CNG, burning hydrogen...hell, even woodgas):
      1- it's clean. Propane, methane, H2, ect... only produce Water and CO2 (H2 dosn't even do that)
      2- it's simple. The mythbusters just blew hydrogen into the carburetor of an old car and had it run, wood gas was used in WW2 to run cars with a few garage modifications. it seams flexible and simple
      3- gas mixes with air nicely, and is high octane. You see all this fuss being done with fuel vaporizing and new types of injectors all to mix gasoline more thoroughly with air- a gas does that on it's own.
      4- Getting the gas can be done a number of "green" ways. H2 can be produced at wind power plants during during low demand periods and/or strong wind (good way to avoid overloading the grid). Useful especially on the many coastal generators. Methan can come from cow crap. Wood gas could be produced in solar heating apparatuses, with geothermal heat, or with electricity produced cleanly during off hours.
      • 6 Years Ago
      For an article that purports to explain why CNG is not more popular, how the emphasis be on government support instead of infra structure. No one would buy a gasoline burning car if there was only one filling station in a state like Montana or only a dozen or so in a state like California. No one is going to buy a hydrogen car or an electric car that requires change out of a battery in any significant numbers, because there is no infrastructure. The government could require every station to also provide CNG, but that would be seen as an unwelcome intrusion into business. How dare they?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't forget that natural gas can be filled up at home. Propane also. It just takes some equimpent.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Most CNG vehicles in the U.S. are government-owned and their refueling station is not open to the public.

      A home CNG refueler like the now-dead Phill cost several thousand dollars and lasted only 2-3 years before it had to be shipped back to the factory for an expensive rebuild.

      The CNG-fueled Civic GX is more expensive and less fuel-efficient than the Civic hybrid.

      Other countries have had more success with dual-fuel LPG (not CNG) conversions.

      Especially in 3rd-world countries, locally-sourced LPG is much cheaper than gasoline.

      And there are many more places here in the U.S. to refuel with LPG than CNG.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I worked for a school district in Arizona that converted all of it's vehicles to CNG in 1995. It was a fairly simple process.

      14 years later we still do not see CNG vehicles at auto dealerships.

      When I tried to convert a vehicle to CNG last year, I found the costs was about $10,000.

      What gives?

      I finally gave up waiting for CNG vehicles in Arizona and bought a Hybrid......

        • 6 Years Ago
        You should have cashed in on Arizona's CNG boondoggle back in 2001 or so. The legislation passed, and the governer signed, a bill that essentially paid for half of your new car purchase if you converted it to CNG. With no limit on the 'rebate'. People were buying brand new, $50k SUVs, converting them to be able to run on cng (they could still flip back and forth from cng and gasoline), and the state picked up half the tab. If you installed a CNG refilling station on your property, the government pretty much paid for that too. The program cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars before they realized what a mess they created and stopped it.

        By the way, at that time, the CNG Civic was available for sale in Arizona, is it not still?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Was that from registration or the actual hardware? Could you have bought some tanks and gas injectors, and installed a system to replace, say, half the gasoline with CNG?

        Oh, also, does anyone have any info on if there would be issues running a CNG car off of any flammable gas? Since both hydrogen and CNG stations are far and few between, it seams like a car that could run on both CNG and hydrogen combustion would be useful, and would be a good way to hedge your bets (so that you arent screwed if one technology becomes widely adopted and the other one just sort of dies)
        • 6 Years Ago
        That AZ program in 2001 was a joke.

        They paid HUGE tax breaks for people who bought vehicles that ran on CNG/Propane but also coulds still run on gasoline.

        People got the tax break, and the car pool lane permits, and continued to put regular gasoline in the tank.

        Most of the vehicles purchased were large trucks. Since the owners ran them on gasoline, they made MORE POLLUTION NOT LESS....

        A program designed to decrease pollution actually increased it, becasue they gave them the option to still run on gasoline...

        • 6 Years Ago
        Lorena Palin: For a CNG vehicle to work with mixes of other flammable gasses would require some modifications in the fuel regulation and injection systems, as the physical characteristics and volumetric energy density varies - possible to do, but not easily or cheaply.

        Hydrogen has a much lower volumetric energy density than natural gas, meaning it takes up more room for the same energy. So switching to H2 gas, or a H1/CNG mixture called "hythane", would reduce the driving range, and the driving range of CNG is already somewhat short. Moreover, H2 is quite a bit more expensive than natural gas, so using it would raise the fuel cost. As previously mentioned, the controls would have to be able to adjust to the different fuels, and keep in mind that as the smallest molecule, H2 is leak prone, and dissolves into steel, turning it brittle.

        With all those disadvantages, the only advantage is that burning H2 doesn't produce any CO2 and that it can be made from renewable energy sources. Mixes with butane and propane are much more promising.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hardly hear anything about CNG, except occasionally I hear Ron Paul talking them up.

      But after looking at that map, I now know why...it seems to have avoid my state like the plague. (South Dakota)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Besides there not being many places fill up, I didn't realize they apparently can be quite slow to fill up until I stumbled across some postings on Edmunds one day. See http://blogs.edmunds.com/roadtests/Vehicles/2007HondaCivicGX/, esp. http://blogs.edmunds.com/roadtests/2009/07/2009-honda-civic-gx-an-afternoon-at-the-pump.html and http://blogs.edmunds.com/roadtests/2009/06/2007-honda-civic-gx-20-minutes-and-still-not-full.html.

      I also didn't realize that the home filling station called Phill is quite pricey and later went into limbo state. When the company was viable, it was $3000. Unfortunately, I can only post 3 URLs so you'll want to look back at their posts from early 2008.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Well, I' can't understand the choices that have been made in the last years in the U.S. (and Canada too) about cng. Of course, cng is not oil, so an answer can come very easily.
      The very thin cng-station network is one of the big problems in the U.S. (except for some states) and the same issue we have in Italy, where self service at the cng pump was forbidden till September 2008, but, in fact, you will not find any cng stations which will offer self service cng refuelling. Something very strange, because in German speaking countries self service is available. (but the cng-lobby in Italy don't like new cng stations, apart from official declarations, the reality is quite exasperating sometimes).
      What U.S. car makers have totally missed, is having cng cars in their offers. And also some ignorace of planning the future.
      For example, Opel (still a GM company) has the Zafira with an 1.6 aspirated (94 hp) and now turbocharged engine (150 hp), the last one theoretically could be a very interesting alt-fuel engine which could be well be mounted on northamerican platforms.
      Volkswagen developed the 1.4 TSI Engine, which is now offered on the Passat and the Touran. But no one is offered in North America.
      Fiat has a long history about cng engines, which should continue with a new multi-air cng engine. Maybe the Italian carmaker could surprise in offering cng vehicles through the Chrysler group.
      Ford has some cng models in its European line-up, but in fact there are conversions of gasoline engines and not OEM.
      Of course in the U.S. big engines are still requested but for suvs and pickups a cng conversions makes absolutely sense, because you have also enough space for the cng tanks, which are sometimes a space problem in little cars.
      I'm really wondering, why i.e. Toyota does not sell the Toyota Camry Hybri-cng or the Yaris cng, which has been presented at northamerican auto shows last year!
      Now I ask myself who decided in Detroit not to invest some $ in cng models. Someone was sleepy in the HQ of Detroit? And I think that with the new/old management cng will have no chance in Detroit.
      Just not remembering the E85 development: an absolutely silly getting alt-fuel from corn.
      It's right to invest in new technologies, but hybrid or EV are, for me, still not the right answers. Just a question: today you can get biomethane from waste, so CO2 neutral, so cng cars could be refuelled environmentally, but is biomethane available in the U.S.
      And in this really not good American cng panorama, there are also the absolutely old EPA regulations for car conversions. In Italy a cng conversion of a Euro 4 car costs from 3.500 to 4.000 $, it's absolutely nonsense that in the U.S. the costs are three or four times higher!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I took advantage of a program from my local Atlanta gas company around '01 and converted my chevy S10 to CNG. It was duel fuel so, should I get out of range, it would fall back on gas. At the time there were a handful of CNG pumps that were a short drive away from my house and things were great. I really enjoyed burning "clean" and the truck ran noticeably better when on CNG. Unfortunately, things went south when Amoco started pulling out of the program because they weren't moving enough CNG. I was slated to get a home-filling station but that too dried up. I wound up going back to the conversion installer and having it removed. It was a genuine shame.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm from Southern California. Two years ago I started researching CNG because I thought it would be a great alternative to gasoline. I reluctantly gave up the idea of CNG because

      1. Only one company sells new CNG cars in the U.S., Honda. The only model
      they sell is the Civic GX. A Civic (Civic!) that sells for $24,000. Way too much !!
      2. Phill, the company who sells a refueler for your home, went bankrupt.
      3. Too few places to fill up. Some city yards don't allow citizen access. Too far
      between places who do allow it.
      4. Conversions are too expensive in the United States, and it's hard to find a shop
      licensed to do CNG conversions.
      5. The Natural Gas companies talk about CNG for cars, but when you call them
      for information, they know nothing, not even what is on their own website. They
      are of no help.

      This is too bad, because there are 3rd world countries that seem to have no
      problem converting to CNG. Three of them have at least 1 million CNG cars
      on the road, while a great nation like this can't seem to figure anything out.
      CNG is abundant. It should be an available option.
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