If you are a Pickens Plan believer and are ready to take the next step to fueling up with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), the first thing you will need to do is either buy a Honda Civic GX (the only production CNG powered vehicle available for sale), find a used vehicle that has already been converted, or have your own car fitted with a CNG kit. After that, assuming you don’t have a station with CNG to fill up your car, you will need to install a residential unit hooked into your home’s natural gas system. After all of that, if you still think think that fueling up with CNG is relatively easy…think again.
In contrast to here in the U.S., Europeans have a choice of no less than 28 vehicles. Beyond the Honda Civic GX, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea and is only available for sale in two states (CA and NY), you have a limited amount of choices in picking a CNG-fueled vehicle. You mostly have the option of buying a previously converted, fleet used vehicle. If you go that route, I hope you like the Crown Vic! There are other choices; largely vans, SUVs and trucks used by governmental agencies. In the future the number of vehicles available for CNG conversion kits will probably increase. The problem currently is that the EPA requires every vehicle model in line for a conversion kit to be rigorously tested before it can be offered to the public at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars per model. The next step to address once you have a natural gas vehicle is your ability actually fill it up. Although there are over 1,000 locations nationwide to do so, at least half are not open to the public, which makes finding one near you and available a crap shoot at best. Want to fuel up at home? Good idea. Lots of houses already use natural gas for heating, which would lead you to believe that having a home fueling unit installed would be as simple as buying a new air conditioner. Unfortunately, only one home fueling system is currently produced, the PHILL unit by Fuelmaker. Additionally, only residents of 13 states are able to have that unit installed. Overcoming all of these obstacles does not include the costs associated with either converting a vehicle or installing a home fuel unit, which can be cost prohibitive. In the end, if our government can make CNG more accessible to a wider variety of new and older vehicles and reduce the amount of red tape for ordinary citizens to make the switch, the upside for using natural gas could be hugely beneficial for our economy and environment.