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Cheap gas for your auto! Natural gas that is.
October 4, 2013 11:46 AM   Subscribe


 
That's nothing, I fill mine all the way home!

I have no life.
posted by nevercalm at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


The cars themselves generally cost about $10,000 more than comparable conventional vehicles.

So if a car gets 30 MPG (or natural gas equivalent) and it's $3/gal for petroleum gasoline or $1.40 for natural gas, thats 187,500 miles to break even on the $10k initial investment.

And that's assuming no time-value-of-money calculations or anything, just a straight equivalence between the two.

I suspect most Americans don't own a car for anywhere near that mileage, so the decision to forgo the CNG upgrade is entirely rational.

If we really want CNG cars, then we need to do something to nudge the manufacturers into providing it as an option without the $10k upcharge. There's nothing inherently different about a CNG that costs that much more. I mean, there are mopeds in Bangladesh that run on CNG, and they're not paying ten grand a pop for the privilege.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 AM on October 4, 2013


If we really want CNG cars...

Brought to you by fracking. What will we burn when the natural gas glut clears?
posted by ennui.bz at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Eh, as long as it's just Pennsylvanians with hot and cold running radium it works for me.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Predictable commutes are all well and good, but what do you do if you want to drive, you know, somewhere? Or get stuck in traffic?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:14 PM on October 4, 2013


Maybe I'm just ignorant of the technology, but the idea of all those vehicles running natural gas is pretty scary. Sure, it only explodes if some of it vaporizes and mixes with air, but that seems a lot more likely if the neighborhood is full of LNG vehicles and refueling units approaching the end of their operational lifetimes. Maybe not a problem now, but twenty years from now?
posted by Kevin Street at 12:28 PM on October 4, 2013


there are mopeds in Bangladesh that run on CNG, and they're not paying ten grand a pop for the privilege.

It's the fact that it's a moped from Bangladesh that makes it not cost $10k, your modern rolling super-computer of a car requires a LOT of sweet talk before it will run happily on CNG or propane.
posted by Cosine at 12:29 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


... she parks her car in her garage and fills it up with natural gas.

tl;dr ... I assume the "it" in this case is her car and not her garage?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:31 PM on October 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Does a CNG engine work with propane as well? 'cause that's easy to find. 20 years ago my Grandparents had a VW that ran on propane and did all of Europe and Central America on it.
posted by furtive at 12:31 PM on October 4, 2013


So what if they're dumping radioactive waste water in the river 45 miles upstream of my city's municipal water intake. As long as someone gets a cheaper commute to work, it's all good, right?
posted by octothorpe at 12:33 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


So if a car gets 30 MPG (or natural gas equivalent) and it's $3/gal for petroleum gasoline or $1.40 for natural gas, thats 187,500 miles to break even on the $10k initial investment.

And not counting the filling dingus if you want to do it in your own home; the article says $6k installed. You could spread it over multiple vehicles, though.

Does a CNG engine work with propane as well?

Seems like a propane engine would burn CNG fine, though it might need a pressure conversion. Presumably the propane-ready vehicle does filtering/cleaning that the CNG wouldn't need.
posted by phearlez at 12:36 PM on October 4, 2013


Oh hmm, that may not be right; I ignored the massive BTU difference. Propane cars used to get mocked as being somewhat low-powered and downscale, IIRC, so it may be that they'd be fundamentally unable to operate with that big a power drop.
posted by phearlez at 12:37 PM on October 4, 2013


With natural gas at $1.40 per equivalent gallon, it costs the Joneses $30 to drive their Honda Civic GX 1,200 miles each month, about $130 less than an average gasoline car covering the same distance.
This doesn't add up: 1200 miles for $30 at $1.40 per gasoline gallon equivalent gives them a miles-per-equivalent-gallon of 1200 / (30 / 1.40) = 56mpg -- much higher than the Civic GX's rating. (Wikipedia has the 2009 model at 24/36; this page has their 2003 model at 30/34.)

(And there's before the slipperiness of the comparison to an "average" gasoline car rather than to an equivalently-sized car.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:38 PM on October 4, 2013


Energy-efficient clean-burning propane gas for all our heating, cooking, and transportation needs.
posted by kafziel at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2013


Is CNG less explosive than LNG?
posted by Kevin Street at 12:46 PM on October 4, 2013


So if a car gets 30 MPG (or natural gas equivalent) and it's $3/gal for petroleum gasoline or $1.40 for natural gas, thats 187,500 miles to break even on the $10k initial investment...

If we really want CNG cars, then we need to do something to nudge the manufacturers into providing it as an option without the $10k upcharge.


We could remove taxpayer subsidies on gasoline products. For one, paying less for corporate welfare programs like military excursions to extract it from countries elsewhere in the world would probably make the product more expensive, compared with domestically-sourced energy. That would help make the break-even point on natural gas more favorable. More people using alternative fuel technologies means more R&D into improving performance and efficiency. Less war and more rational energy decisions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:58 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


it costs the Joneses $30 to drive their Honda Civic GX 1,200 miles each month

I could suggest a zero-cost solution to this problem, but I usually get yelled at for being a spandex-clad elitist wanker, so I won't.
posted by klanawa at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


My province (British Columbia) is relying on LNG and fracking to pay for... well, everything. Marketed as a "clean" fuel, but oh so dirty in reality.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:31 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But even though the fuel is cheap and [home refueling] units have to meet safety standards like other household appliances...

I sure hope the safety standards are not *like* those for household appliances.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2013


I could suggest a zero-cost solution to this problem, but I usually get yelled at for being a spandex-clad elitist wanker, so I won't.

I heart my bike so very much, but I think it actually might cost me more per mile in consumables than my car.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2013


(although that's partly because I prefer to fuel myself with something other than the lowest price calories)
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A friend has an electric car that he charges from his rooftop solar array. He pays about $50.00 per month for his "from the grid" household electricity now that he has the car. Prior to that, he usually paid $0.00. I envy him. These "compressed natural gas" things? Not so much.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:57 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here in California a CNG car can get you a sticker to drive in the carpool lane with only one occupant, and depending on your commute route/timing that can save you a huge amount of time per day. And we know what time is.
posted by Huck500 at 1:57 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


$50.00 per month? We have a LEAF, and it rarely is over about $25 per month. I spend that in three days worth of gas in our Minivan. We also have solar on the roof of our house, and even charging, during a nice summer day, our meter is running backwards. That's sweet!

Encouraging more fracking? Not so sweet...
posted by Windopaene at 2:03 PM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Unless I'm traveling, I only spend about $25 a month for gasoline but that's because my spends most days sitting the garage while I walk to work.
posted by octothorpe at 2:15 PM on October 4, 2013


I heart my bike so very much, but I think it actually might cost me more per mile in consumables than my car.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:52 PM on October 4 [+] [!]


I guarantee that the bicycle is cheaper. Think about it this way: a Tour de France racer is burning about 3500-4500kCal extra every day, and riding about 200km every day. That's an awful lot of spaghetti, but it only costs $5-$6. Driving 200km costs about $50 in my car. We're not going 200km, and we're also not going 40km/h, so we're using a lot less calories per km, and therefore a lot less food, per km. The average cycle commuter is probably burning a dollar's worth of extra calories each day.

Every time I buy a new tube or chain or an energy bar and fret about the price, I think about the cost of a tank of gas (>$70), and about how long that tank would last. Then I LoL heartily.
posted by klanawa at 2:29 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


[We are not doing the "cyclists are horrible/drivers are horrible" thing here. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:18 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why do they look so smug in that photo? Are they convinced somehow that they are doing something revolutionary? I'm at a loss, I see no tangible benefit or moral high ground here.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:12 PM on October 4, 2013


Everyone is horrible in their own way.

I don't like all this natural gas noise. When it comes down to it there is X amount of carbon in known fuel reserves, and Y amount of carbon we can add to the atmosphere without shit getting too fucked. X > Y. We have to leave perfectly good oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground. We should have a functional government and it should be running a cap and trade system to accomplish this. It's amazing how appropriate all this Wall Street shit would be for this problem. They could make up carbon options, futures, etc... and have a blast, and it would save the environment at the same time. Get the gov't to rig it so that any speculative interest in the credits would further drive down actual emissions. Someone could probably have a byline selling them to people for the express purpose of not emitting.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:32 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> $1.40 for natural gas

A few years ago, I calculated the cost of running a Civic GX with at-home filling in a part of California where the "baseline" electric usage is very low, so most households (including mine at the time) are paying for "extra" electricity at the 200% or 300% tier, so 31 to 35 cents per kWh.

Turns out pressurizing household NG to 3000 PSI uses a lot of electricity. It was half the cost of fueling the car.

PG&E lets consumers get a card & refuel CNG vehicles at NG distribution points where they have equipment to refuel their trucks. The cost of gas is about the same as it costs at home, but it's delivered at high pressure with no charge for the power to run the pump.

There's one of these depots 1.2 miles from my work. Find one near you.

[extra = electricity beyond what we were already using. I think it's fair to consider an electric car, electric compressor or bigger TV the user of the 35 cent power instead of the 15 cent power.]

[Don't know if $1.40 includes the compressor power. If it doesn't, they have cheap power or aren't telling the whole story]
posted by morganw at 4:33 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn! $2.28 per GGE (126.67 cubic feet) at the Cupertino PG&E station.

Home gas in central CA is 95 to 98 cents per therm or 100,000 BTU. Gasoline is 114,000 BTU/gallon, so $1.11 per GGE. One claim is that Phill uses only 0.8 kWh for a fill up, but a different claim is that it draws 712 Watts or 1.2 kWh per GGE. $0.42 per GGE to run the compressor. Not as bad as I thought.

The Civic holds 8 GGE. Also, pressure is higher than I thought: 3600 PSI with complaints that the PG&E substation sometimes can't deliver better than 3200 PSI so you can't completely fill your car.
posted by morganw at 4:48 PM on October 4, 2013


"Taste the street and not the heat."
posted by drezdn at 6:28 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


How come the US doesn't do LPG? My car is currently running on LPG in Australia, (liquid phase injection) the running cost of it is half that of petrol, it develops more power than petrol on the same engine, I still get 600km per tank, is stored in the tank at only 100 psi which is about twice as much as a Coke can. And it is seemingly a lot cleaner (you would not cook food over petrol or diesel, but you would over natural gas). And the conversion option is only $2000. You can get it at virtually every gas station. Obviously if more people started using it the price would go up, but for now it seems like I'm using a car from the future.
posted by xdvesper at 6:41 PM on October 4, 2013


I guarantee that the bicycle is cheaper. Think about it this way: a Tour de France racer is burning about 3500-4500kCal extra every day, and riding about 200km every day. That's an awful lot of spaghetti, but it only costs $5-$6. Driving 200km costs about $50 in my car.

First, 200km is 125 miles and in my freakin truck that's about 25 bucks. Dunno where you live.

Right, so if I eat spaghetti, you're right. If I eat, say, clif bars, you're wrong. They're 250 cal each so that's $12.

About every 3000km I get new tires, that's $150 or $10/200km. At about the same distance I get a new chain for $30 or $2/200km. We're now at $24/200km and I haven't even counted clothes, or wear and tear on components (I go through a cassette or two every year, a set of cables, bearings, etc)

I think it's *possible* for bikes to be cheaper than cars, but not that easy. If I had a reasonably fuel efficient car, 200km would cost me like $12 in gas and nowhere near $12 in service/parts/etc.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:01 PM on October 4, 2013


There's another approach.

Through a process called reforming, you can convert natural gas to hydrogen. (You don't have to use electrolysis). Then you have a fuel cell car, that converts the hydrogen to electricity to power an electric car. Unlike battery electric cars, you can refill them quickly like a gasoline fueled car.

Honda has the only fuel cell car at the moment, and although reforming stations can be built pretty small so they can even be put at gas stations, there are very few stations, around LA.

Here's Honda's concept for a reforming station in your house.

The advantage to this? It is supposedly more efficient (and less polluting) than actually burning the natural gas in your car. Because of this, several of the major car manufacturers are designing fuel cell cars.
posted by eye of newt at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if a car gets 30 MPG (or natural gas equivalent) and it's $3/gal for petroleum gasoline or $1.40 for natural gas, thats 187,500 miles to break even on the $10k initial investment.

And that's assuming no time-value-of-money calculations or anything, just a straight equivalence between the two.

I suspect most Americans don't own a car for anywhere near that mileage, so the decision to forgo the CNG upgrade is entirely rational.


My vehicle has 294,000 miles on it. My husband's has 200,000 on it. However, we keep our vehicles until they are completely dead and unable to be revived.

On the bicycle argument. Discounting those of us that are disabled, how many people live within a close enough distance to ride to work, everyday?

My husband works well over an hour, at highway speeds, from home. That is too far to bike.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:28 PM on October 4, 2013


Fracking is what gets us CNG. And there are recent surveys over fracking fields showing that as much as 5% of the field's gas yield escapes directly into the atmosphere. Guess what? Methane is 100 times as effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2 is. Not exactly going to be climate friendly if it becomes the standard fuel.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:00 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the fleet taxis in Japan (not the private taxis) are CNG.
posted by gen at 3:03 AM on October 5, 2013


The advantage to this? It is supposedly more efficient (and less polluting) than actually burning the natural gas in your car.

After the natural gas is 'reformed' into Hydrogen, what happens to the carbon? Oh, it becomes CO2.
Steam reforming generates carbon dioxide (CO2). Since the production is concentrated in one facility, it is possible to separate the CO2 and dispose of it without atmospheric release, for example by injecting it in an oil or gas reservoir (see carbon capture), although this is not currently done in most cases.
So long as it isn't done, it doesn't look like that's any less polluting than burning the CH4 in your car.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:36 AM on October 5, 2013


My husband works well over an hour, at highway speeds, from home. That is too far to bike.

Take the bus.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2013


it doesn't look like that's any less polluting than burning the CH4 in your car.--Kirth Gerson

The idea is that fuel cells are more efficient, so less natural gas is needed per mile driven, so less CO2 escapes.
posted by eye of newt at 11:09 AM on October 5, 2013


>>My husband works well over an hour, at highway speeds, from home. That is too far to bike.

>Take the bus.


Totally. He'd only have to get up four hours earlier.

(The ideal solution would be to just live closer to work, but that's usually not so easy.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:32 AM on October 5, 2013


Totally. He'd only have to get up four hours earlier.

Four hours ride there, eight hours work, four hours ride back, eight hours sleep. Adds up to 24 hours. Perfectly workable! You need to cut this pre-recession thinking.
posted by kafziel at 11:40 AM on October 5, 2013


I don't like all this natural gas noise. When it comes down to it there is X amount of carbon in known fuel reserves, and Y amount of carbon we can add to the atmosphere without shit getting too fucked. X > Y.

Also Y < 0
posted by Bonzai at 9:01 PM on October 5, 2013


First, 200km is 125 miles and in my freakin truck that's about 25 bucks. Dunno where you live.

Canada. It's more expensive here. My truck gets better mileage than yours (barely).

Right, so if I eat spaghetti, you're right. If I eat, say, clif bars, you're wrong. They're 250 cal each so that's $12.

It would take an average commuter an hour to burn an extra 250cal. Say a cycle commuter rides 15mph for an hour. That's 15 miles for about a buck. Your truck gets 15mpg, which is $3.20 at Washington prices (closest to me). Also, clif bars are good, I eat them on rides of over, say, 60km, but it's pointless to use them for commuting. Just eat a little more breakfast.

About every 3000km I get new tires, that's $150 or $10/200km. At about the same distance I get a new chain for $30 or $2/200km. We're now at $24/200km and I haven't even counted clothes, or wear and tear on components (I go through a cassette or two every year, a set of cables, bearings, etc)

That's a lot for commuting tires, but I'll go with it. Now, how much did you pay in car insurance and maintenance? My insurance is about $860 a year at the reduced rate. For the same distance you've already spent $400 in gas for your truck. A Prius would be about $150. If you're spending over a grand a year on your bike, you're doing something disastrously wrong. It is conceivable that a small, efficient car costs less per km, but considering all the other benefits that accrue (health, happiness, social connections, etc.) it doesn't really make a lot of sense to compare.

Where the cost issue really breaks down for me is with insurance. Our insurer doesn't have a per-mile plan so insurance premiums are the only cost that doesn't go down when I leave the car at home. If my woman didn't need it for work two days a week (it's a requirement of the job), I'd just mothball it. On the other hand, my car insurance does insure me while on the bike, so...
posted by klanawa at 10:51 PM on October 5, 2013


On the bicycle argument. Discounting those of us that are disabled, how many people live within a close enough distance to ride to work, everyday?

My husband works well over an hour, at highway speeds, from home. That is too far to bike.


This is not a problem with the "bike argument," it's a problem with having a society that is designed around cars. One that fueling with CNG won't address, incidentally.
posted by klanawa at 10:56 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm getting ready to sell my trusty CNG Crown Victoria that has carried me around the SF Bay Area for 8 years and 80,000 miles in fine senior citizen style, in the carpool lane whenever I want. CNG has ranged from $1.40 to $2.70 (currently near the lower end of that range). I usually fill up at a PG&E station in San Carlos, but there are plenty of Trillium and other stations all over the Bay Area too. I was never particularly tempted to compress my own CNG at home -- I only have a driveway, not a garage, and the compressors cost nearly as much as the car did. (At the time I bought it, I WANTED an electric car, but the only EVs on the market, Toyota RAV-4 EVs for $40,000 (very used), seemed way too expensive.) The Crown Vic was $7,500. Added bonus: When you come zooming up behind most cars in a dark colored Crown Vic, they assume you're a cop and get out of the way. All in all, it has saved me a ton of time and traffic aggravation, although the Google Shuttle is even more relaxing.

I'm bicycling everywhere in my new much smaller, much more Northern town, but might have to figure something else out once it starts snowing. The shops have studded snow tires for bicycles, but I'm not sure I'm that hardcore.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 7:36 AM on October 6, 2013


How come the US doesn't do LPG?

LPG (liquefied propane gas) is a byproduct of natural gas production. Some relatively small percentage of all natural gas that's extracted is propane, which has a low vapor pressure and is thus easy to store as a liquid. But because it's a byproduct and has basically fixed supply, the price is pretty volatile.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:18 AM on October 6, 2013


Totally. He'd only have to get up four hours earlier.

Four hours ride there, eight hours work, four hours ride back, eight hours sleep. Adds up to 24 hours. Perfectly workable! You need to cut this pre-recession thinking.


This mountain of excuses for the burning of petrol two hours per day has me sold! Well done.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:32 AM on October 9, 2013


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