CNG – The Missing Link

CNG – The Missing Link

Why isn’t the CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) industry in the United States moving forward like it has world-wide? 

Iran has 2,859,386 CNG Vehicles, Argentina has 1,900,00 CNG Vehicles, Brazil has 1,694,278 CNG Vehicles, even Thailand has 300,581 CNG Vehicles.

World-wide Natural Gas has been a fuel of choice where it is available and the Federal and State Governments along with the CNG industry promote it.

Here in the United States we have less than 200,000 Natural Gas vehicles that’s less than .08%??? of the 246,000,000 vehicles in the United States, we know how to build gasoline and diesel vehicles, why not Natural Gas?

 How were the countries listed above that have produced a high percentage of CNG vehicles were able to do so? When it comes to government and the CNG industry they can help or hinder.

For any industry to grow you need supply and demand. Every time the price of gasoline goes up in the United States more U.S. drivers start looking at CNG. There is a demand for CNG vehicles and CNG filling stations in the United States but there are also many unique problems.

 CNG Filling Stations/CNG cylinders

CNG filling stations are costly, you need a good natural gas source and the required storage and safety features. In order for vehicle owners to economically convert to CNG the price differential between CNG and gasoline must be 2 to 3 times less.

In the states like Utah and Oklahoma that have the CNG filling station infrastructure already in place drivers can realistically look into converting to CNG or purchasing a CNG vehicle already converted. In areas that don’t have the CNG filling station infrastructure already in place the only option is a CNG home fill compressor, this option is expensive and most would be CNG drivers choose against it.

In order for Natural Gas (methane) to be used as a vehicle fuel it either has to be compressed (3000psi or 3600psi) or turned into a liquid (LNG liquid natural gas) by freezing it to -260f.

The tanks used CNG are high pressure (3000 to 3600 psi) they are either light and expensive type 4 composite 10 gge (gasoline gallon equivalent)/$2000/130lbs or less expensive type 1 steel 10gge/$1200/338lbs. There are also (less popular) type 2 tanks (steel/fiberglass wrapped) and type 3 tanks (aluminum bottle composite shell)

 LNG vehicles use a high pressure (3600psi) composite cryogenic insulated tank, 10gge/price?/154lbs

 CNG tanks have a use life of 15 to 20 years. Unlike all other high pressure gaseous tanks they can only be tested of re-certified by their manufacturer.

CNG cylinders due to their high-pressure are twice the size of comparable LPG tanks, a type 1, 10gge CNG cylinder is 16′ x 54” and weighs 220lbs, a 23 gal propane tank is 16”x40” and weighs 103 lbs.

Due to the high-pressures CNG and LNG tanks must be cylindrical shaped.

CNG Converters and CNG Component suppliers.

In the United States the CNG industries and community are divided into factions.

You have the EPA-certified faction, they promote their “EPA certified” conversions to a small market. EPA-certified systems are only available to a few new pickups and a couple of new cars. The EPA-certification process is very expensive, those companies that choose to certify a system need a ready made market with deep pockets to buy their conversions. EPA certified conversions cost from $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the type of vehicle. Plus you have the cost of the new vehicle.

EPA-certified systems are mostly produced by U.S. CNG component manufacturers.

EPA-certified system component manufacturers will not sell any CNG components to aftermarket converters for fear of the U.S. government and specifically the EPA.

EPA-certified system installers usually don’t install aftermarket or non-EPA certified systems, most have an agreement with the EPA-certified kit manufacturers not to.

CNG and LNG operating systems are either Aspirated or Sequential Injection. Both types of systems are in use world-wide.

CNG and LNG vehicles are either dedicated (Natural Gas only) or bi-fuel (Natural Gas and Gasoline)

I like to call the rest of the CNG converters Aftermarket converters. They can convert most any car or truck. They use Aspirated and Sequential Injected CNG Systems. World-wide most CNG vehicles were converted using Aspirated CNG systems. Since the EPA component manufacturers in the United States refuse to sell to the Aftermarket converters they must import their CNG components from other countries or buy from suppliers who import them. These systems come from South America, Asia and Europe.

In the past 6 years due to the high gas prices Aftermarket converters have put 1000’s of new CNG vehicles on the road but it hasn’t been easy. EPA-certified installers on the other hand with a limited market and higher cost have also added new CNG vehicles to the roads.

Can We Work Together?

As you can see the CNG Industry world-wide is complicated. The United States due to misinformation and over-regulation have turned would be CNG vehicle owners and converters into supposed criminals. Even though no person in the United States has ever been prosecuted for an illegal CNG conversion there are enough rumors and innuendos going around to discourage many. What can we do to improve this situation?

1. Establish a CNG Community that includes all types of CNG conversions, EPA-certified and Aftermarket.

2. Promote CNG filling stations, form investment groups made up of CNG suppliers and CNG proponents to fund new stations.

3. Establish CNG safety standards and let CNG vehicle owners and converters be self governing.

4. Establish open Forums that are not biased that can provide information about CNG Components, CNG Conversion instructions/tuning and CNG help in general

5. Start an open, clear, honest and understandable dialogue between politicians, regulators, CNG vehicle owners and CNG converters

Converting vehicles to CNG can be problematic but it is doable. Worldwide in the countries where the government and private business owners have came together to move CNG Conversions forward, CNG is the favored fuel. Lets follow their example.


CNG Training and Certification

 In the United States there are no individual certification requirements for CNG converters.

Some states require CNG converters to take a CNG safety course.

Some CNG system manufacturers offer training classes for the installation of their specific system. ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) has an F-1 certification for Alternative Fueled Vehicles.

CSA (Canadian Standards Association) offers classes for the inspection of CNG tanks and the high pressure piping.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) section 52 has suggested rules and regulations concerning the mounting and installation of CNG components. 

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2 Responses to CNG – The Missing Link

  1. blufie says:

    Jim, A very good collection of information and generally accurate regarding some of the problems facing CNG in the US. The only critique I would offer is that you could summarize and better organize the thoughts in the article to paint a clearer narrative and provide readers with actionable points when possible.

    For example:
    The title of the article was “The Missing Link?”. It was indeed a question because I had trouble finding what the link was in the article. I did understand that there are a collection of “issues” at play, ranging from poorly understood and mis-intentioned regulations, to techincal challenges in the conversions of vehicles themselves. But I was not left feeling like I understood the call to action that you perhaps intentioned. Again, this is only meant to be constructive, as I find your tenacity and honesty very much a positive for the CNG community. I think people such as you, who do the work each day and face the issues, are best positioned to identify the roadblocks, but moreso, to suggest clear steps of action that would begin to help correct them.

    I have been a shade-tree mechanic for 35 years. And having just went through the Oklahoma process to become state certified, I have researched and ran into many of the same issues with CNG. In fact, the reason I had to get certified is so I could legally work on my own CNG vehicles. On top of being certified, I had to provide general liability insurance for myself to get the “legal” right to change out a faulty CNG injector on my own truck! That is another story though.

    I wholehartedly agree that we need more open and clear communicators in the CNG industry, and we need lawmaker “partners” that can and will make it a political priority to push CNG and bifuel systems into the mainstream. Other countries have probably faired better because they didn’t have big-oil concerns funding candidates, or the access to the oil resources their country needed anyway, so it made sense for their leaders to support the changover. When political will wants things to happen, they do.

    So we have political machinery that needs to be educated and retooled to put in effective strategies for CNG expansion, we have laws and regulations that need to be re-visited, modified, or scrapped, we have “competitior” companies that either want to carve our CNG for themsleves only or at least keep the playing field hard to enter for new competition. And lastly, we have a need for more locally available and workable CNG kits and storage systems providers.

    Some of these problems are being worked on. Chesapeak and 3M are working on lighter cheaper tanks. System producers are looking at 4500+ psi systems to increase volume and range. New US vehicle manufacturers are again considering offering certified factory conversions for something other than vans and heavy-duty trucks. A consortium of governors from mid-america are even working directly with auto manufacturers, promising purchase of fleet CNG vehicles if they can be supplied for reasonble costs… and finally, there is joe Consumer demand for these alternatives.

    What I have yet to see is the grass-roots or trade-based CNG organizations that will bring many dedicated small businesses together to begin lobbying for the needed fixes. Perhaps we are all too busy trying to survive in a battered economy? Maybe there are just not enough leaders in the field to organize a movement. Maybe one exists and its just not made my radar. A lot of maybe’s.

    Truth be told, I am not likely to be a force in the CNG world. My aims are small and my opportunity to do the work is very limited with my other full time job. I realize that this is a convenient excuse, but I AM interested in promoting CNG, and I WILL continue to learn and grow the industry as I can. Keep posting your thoughts and eventually we may gell this into a concise and clear set of goals that can be pursued by a larger audience.


  2. Grace says:

    Nice and Collectible information on “United States CNG industry in comparison to some other countries” which are growing faster in this field.I think “the missing link is”:We have only .08% CNG vehicles out of total running in US(may be it has been grown to a good rate now in 2013 as I am replying late)

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