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Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) in Utah
State Promotes Diversification of Transportation Fuels
Many Utah residents, including Division of Air Quality (DAQ) director Bryce Bird, are driving natural gas vehicles (NGVs). Booming natural gas production in Utah and a growing number of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling stations make this alternative fuel an attractive option for both individuals and fleets.
CNG stands to play a key role in the state's efforts to improve air quality. CNG vehicles can
deliver emissions reductions compared with older vehicles and offer lower fuel costs. With
nearly 40 CNG fueling stations in the state and more on the way, CNG is becoming an appealing fuel choice for Utah drivers. Using cleaner burning CNG can help improve air quality and diversify the state's transportation fuels portfolio.
What is CNG?
CNG is made by compressing natural gas to less than 1% of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure. It is an odorless, non-toxic gaseous mixture of hydrocarbon, primarily methane (around 90%), along with small amounts of ethane, propane and other gases. Methane is lighter than air and burns almost completely, with its combustion byproducts consisting of carbon dioxide and water.
Natural gas burns cleaner than conventional gasoline or diesel due to its lower carbon content. When used as a vehicle fuel, it can offer life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits over conventional fuels Using natural gas may reduce some types of tailpipe emissions, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO). These emissions are precursors for the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, both of which present significant air quality concerns in Utah.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently holds all fuels and vehicle types accountable to the same levels of air pollutants emitted from vehicle combustion, CNG continues to provide emissions benefits—especially when replacing older conventional vehicles or when considering life cycle emissions. Replacing a typical older in-use vehicle with a new natural gas vehicle (NGV) reduces carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by up to 75%, NO x emissions by 50%, primary particulate matter (PM) emissions up to 95%, VOC emissions by 55%, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20-30%.
Natural gas can also replace gasoline in smaller applications, such as forklifts and commercial lawn equipment. Because natural gas is a low-carbon, clean-burning fuel, a switch to natural gas in these applications can result in substantial reductions in VOCs and NOx emissions in small engines, contributing to a reduction in PM2.5 formation from these area sources.
How Natural Gas Vehicles Work
A natural gas vehicle (NGV) is remarkably similar to a "conventional" gasoline or diesel vehicle. Internal combustion engines normally burn mixtures of gasoline or diesel and air, but can easily be modified to run on a mixture of natural gas and air. A CNG fuel system transfers high- pressure natural gas from the storage tank to the engine while reducing the pressure of the gas to the operating pressure of the engine's fuel-management system. The natural gas is injected into the engine intake air the same way gasoline is injected into a gasoline-fueled engine. The engine functions the same way as a gasoline engine. The fuel-air mixture is compressed and ignited by a spark plug and the expanding gases produce rotational forces that propel the vehicle.
There are two types of CNG fuel systems on the market: dedicated vehicles, which operate exclusively on natural gas, and dual-fuel vehicles, which can use both natural gas and gasoline. Auto manufacturers offer a variety of both dedicated and dual-fuel CNG vehicles, including compacts, trucks, vans, and buses. Light-duty vehicles typically operate in dedicated or bi-fuel modes, and heavy-duty vehicles operate in dedicated or dual-fuel modes. Natural gas is stored in tanks as CNG.
Natural gas powers about 112,000 vehicles in the United States. The octane rating for CNG is higher than that for gasoline; in a dedicated engine, a CNG vehicle's power, acceleration, and cruise speed can be greater than that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. In addition, due to the cleaner burning characteristics of natural gas, CNG vehicle engines can run more efficiently than a gasoline powered vehicle, thereby extending the life of the vehicle.
Current market conditions indicate that the need and desire exists to expand CNG fueling
options, both in Utah and nationwide. A recent survey of over 200 NGV executives indicated that business leaders expect significant increases in the number of natural gas fueling stations nationwide over the next three years. At least half of natural gas equipment suppliers surveyed were confident that home refueling appliances for CNG vehicles would be widely available by 2015.
Utah currently has the one of the largest per capita CNG fueling infrastructures in the country. At the end of 2012, there were 35 public access CNG stations, including seven managed by the State Fuels Program. Additionally, there are more than 50 private stations operating in Utah. Local businesses and governments have converted their vehicles to CNG and installed onsite fueling stations for their fleets.
Governor Herbert, along with a growing number of governors across the country, believes that states positioned to take the lead on the use of CNG vehicles and infrastructure stand to reap long term social and economic benefits. Diversifying transportation fuels and building a transportation infrastructure and fleet to meet the needs and demands of future generations is one of the cross-cutting goals included in Governor Herbert's 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan. The Plan states that "it is critical to our economy, air quality, and our quality of life that Utah diversifies (its) transportation model."
According to a recent study by America's Natural Gas Alliance, growth in CNG infrastructure is dependent on vehicle availability. Fleets continue to be the leading purchasers of NGVs, with nearly one-fifth of the nation's transit buses running on CNG or liquefied natural gas (LNG), making it the sector with the highest NGV use. Waste collection and transfer vehicles, followed by airport shuttles, were the next largest users of NGVs. There are a number of heavy- duty natural gas vehicles—as well as few light-duty NGVsâ€”available from original equipment manufacturers. Many public and private sector fleet vehicles, however, are CNG conversions, with the higher price for a conversion offset through lower fuel costs.
General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford offer bi-fuel CNG pickups, which run on either gasoline or natural gas. Currently, however, the Honda Civic GX is the only dedicated CNG passenger car available from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and only on a limited basis. Increased consumer and business use of NGVs depends in part on OEMs introducing more natural gas models into their product line, leading to the expansion of the CNG infrastructure.
Governors across the country, including Governor Herbert, are determined to shepherd that process along. In July, officials from 14 states including Utah met with car makers in Detroit to discuss ways to increase NGV vehicle production. A coalition of 22 states, led by Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, propose to purchase up to 10,000 new CNG cars and trucks per year for state fleets to spur production and encourage car manufacturers to build OEM CNG vehicles rather than converting them to CNG after the fact.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by interested states, "the
joint solicitation of a Multi-State Request for Proposal (Joint-RFP)...aggregates annual State fleet vehicle procurements...to provide a demand base sufficient to support the design,
manufacture, and sale of functional and affordable OEM NGVs by automotive manufacturers in the United States...the States understand the need for continued development and expansion of CNG fueling infrastructure and (will) endeavor to encourage private investment, predicated on demonstrating an anticipated increase in State NGVs, to meet growing demand."
More than 100 car dealers in 28 states submitted bids in response to this joint RFP, driving
down the cost premium of five classes of NGVs. Officials say this successful bid will encourage car manufacturers to provide more affordable NGV options, leading to greater public demand and utilization of CNG vehicles. The increased use of NGVs in government fleets is predicted to accelerate investment in supporting infrastructure, making the use of CNG vehicles more feasible and convenient.
Natural gas vehicle conversions provide alternative fuel options beyond what is available from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Individuals can economically and reliably convert many light-duty vehicles for natural gas operation. Natural gas engines and fueling systems are also available for heavy-duty vehicles such as transit buses and refuse trucks. Initially, certified installers would only perform a CNG conversion on new or nearly new vehicles. Recent changes to the EPA certification process now allow CNG conversion for older vehicles.
The Utah State Legislation passed HB70 during the 2010 general legislative session to
encourage CNG conversions in the state. Under the provisions of HB 70, vehicles converted to operate on CNG must be inspected and certified in accordance with relevant safety standards by a CSA America certified CNG Fuel System Inspector. The vehicle must also be tested to ensure that it meets emissions standards in the applicable county, or the county with the most lenient emissions standards if the vehicle is registered in a county without its own emissions standards. A person who performs a conversion must certify to the vehicle owner that the conversion does not tamper with, circumvent, or otherwise affect the vehicle's on-board diagnostic system, if applicable. A CSA America certified CNG Fuel System Inspector must also inspect the vehicle every three years, or every 36,000 miles, and after a collision occurring at a speed greater than five miles per hour.
During and prior to the passage of HB 70, DAQ worked with the EPA to develop a new,
streamlined compliance program that would allow conversion manufacturers to satisfy EPA
emissions requirements more easily. The program also added a mechanism for converting
older vehicles to CNG. Under the program, intermediate age life vehicles and engines must
demonstrate through testing that the converted vehicle or engine continues to meet applicable emission standards. Outside useful life vehicles and engines must submit a detailed technical description of the conversion system to demonstrate that the conversion will not increase emissions. EPA put this new program into effect on April 8, 2011.
Utah offers several types of tax credits, grants, and loans to facilitate the purchase of NGVs.
Alternative Fuel and Fuel Efficient Vehicle Tax Credit
The Utah Clean Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit was established in 1992 to provide incentives for
taxpayers wishing to either convert their vehicles to cleaner burning fuel or buy a vehicle built by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to run on cleaner burning fuel. The state provides an income tax credit of 35% of the vehicle purchase price, up to $2,500, for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) CNG vehicle registered in Utah. The tax credit for converting a vehicle to run on natural gas, propane or electricity is 50% of the conversion cost up to $2500. The state also allows for a $605 tax credit for the original purchase of new vehicles that are not fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) that meet air quality and fuel economy standards.
Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) and Fueling Infrastructure Grants and Loans
The Utah Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Grant and Loan Program, funded through the
Clean Fuels and Vehicle Technology Fund, provides grants to assist businesses and government entities in covering 50% of the cost of converting a vehicle to operate on clean fuels; 50% of the incremental cost of purchasing an OEM clean fuel vehicle; and the cost of retrofitting diesel vehicles with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) verified closed crankcase filtration devices, diesel oxidation catalysts, and/or diesel particulate filters; and matching funds to another grant for the purchase of clean refueling equipment.
The Grant and Loan Program also provides loans for:
- the cost of converting a vehicle to operate on a clean fuel,
- the incremental cost to purchase OEM clean fuel vehicles,
- retrofitting diesel vehicles with EPA-verified diesel oxidation catalysts, diesel particulate
- filters, or closed crankcase ventilation systems, and
- the purchase of clean fuel refueling equipment.
Since 2008, DAQ has awarded a total $981,658 in grants and $366,667 in loans. Projects have included the conversion of cars, trucks, and shuttle buses to natural gas as well as the purchase of natural gas refuse trucks, freight trucks, transit buses, street sweepers, aerial truck towers, glass recycling vehicles, and refueling stations.
UDAQ solicits applications annually to help promote clean fuel projects statewide. A combined total of $250,000 in grants and $250,000 in loans may be awarded every year. Successful projects may receive up to $100,000 for a grant and $100,000 for a loan, with a minimum of $5,000 per project. Fleet operators may include up to 100 vehicles in each application.
Utah Promotes NGV Use in State Fleet
Governor Herbert recently asked each state agency to review their vehicle purchasing needs and plans for the coming year and to consider an expanded role for CNG vehicles in fleet operations. The governor is encouraging agencies to choose CNG and other alternative fuel vehicles as the default for fleet purchases.
Sam Lee, Director of Fleet Operations, reports that orders from state agencies for new vehicles will be coming in over the next few weeks. There are currently three classes of OEM CNG vehicles available for state purchase: compact sedan, 3/4 ton crew cab truck, and full size cargo van. Increased use of CNG vehicles will encourage infrastructure growth, both for state fueling stations and public CNG stations across the state.
Utah hopes to build momentum for an upsurge in CNG vehicle use in both the public and
private sector. With abundant natural gas, a sizable fueling infrastructure, and public and
political resolve to address air quality issues, Utah stands ready to fuel a thriving CNG market in the state.
For Further Information:
- CNG Conversions
- Where to Fill Up in Utah:
- Washington City You Tube Video
- Western Governor's Association Study