Natural gas is an odourless, colourless gas that is made of 90% methane. It is also non-toxic, lighter than air and disperses quickly, which minimizes ignition risk compared to gasoline. For transportation use, natural gas is compressed and stored in cylinders at between 3,000 and 3,600 pounds per square inch (psi). It is referred to as compressed natural gas or CNG.
Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) create 20% to 25% fewer greenhouse gases and substantially fewer smog-related emissions, especially compared with diesel engine vehicles.
Natural Gas in Fleet Operations
The major difference between a gasoline vehicle and a natural gas vehicle (NGV) is the fuel system. Light- to medium-duty NGVs can be “dedicated fuel,” meaning they operate only on natural gas, or “bi-fuel,” meaning they can operate on either natural gas or gasoline. Medium- to heavy-duty diesel equivalent NGVs are all dedicated fuel. Some medium- to heavy-duty vehicles use LNG (the liquefied form of CNG), with technology supplied by Westport, a BC company. Fleets switching to natural gas need to install a new fuelling infrastructure in order to fuel their vehicles on site. This infrastructure would include pressurized tanks and pumps.
Natural gas is publicly available at a number of BC natural gas stations. In BC it is typically priced 20-40% cheaper than gasoline.
A prime market for natural gas has been high fuel usage fleets, such as TransLink, which operates over 50 re-powered natural gas buses in Metro Vancouver. Phase 1 of TransLink’s alternative fuel test program report is available online. Phase 2 is expected to summarize TransLink’s experience with state-of-the-art CNG buses and re-powered CNG buses that operate on a blend of natural gas and hydrogen.
Few auto manufacturers are making new light-duty NGVs for the North American market. The most common approach is after-market conversion of gasoline vehicles. While the initial capital cost is significant, there are operating cost savings over the life of the vehicle, depending on the cost of natural gas. Lordco, the largest after-market auto parts supply firm in BC, uses a fleet of after-market converted NGV vehicles to deliver parts across Vancouver.
Canada is a Technology Leader
BC companies are leaders in every segment of the NGV industry including manufacturers of components, fuelling systems, engines, and vehicles; manufacturers of refuelling equipment (compressors, high pressure storage cylinders, dispensers and associated equipment) and builders and operators of refuelling stations. A list of companies can be found on the Fortis website.
Fortis offers incentive grants of up to $10,000 towards the purchase of a factor-built NGV or the conversion of a vehicle five years old or newer to natural gas, provided the vehicle meets federal emissions and quality control requirements and can refuel in the Lower Mainland. Funding may also be available for demonstration projects – contact Fortis for details.
Pumped about CNG
In February 2011 Waste Management Inc. rolled out 20 new compressed natural gas (CGN) trucks for its commercial recycling, food waste and garbage operations across Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. The company intends to convert its regional fleet of 100 recycling and waste collection trucks. Waste Management expects the trucks to produce almost no air particulate and 23% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Another benefit — the engines run more quietly than traditional diesel engines.