Natural gas can be used in two distinct forms as an alternative fuel for specialized vehicles. Compressed natural gas (CNC) is subjected to extreme pressure and can achieve nearly the same mileage per gallon as gasoline. Liquified natural gas (LNC) has been cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a liquid state, and takes up much less space than its compressed counterpart.
Natural Gas Production and Distribution
Most natural gas is a fossil fuel that has formed underground as the result of millions of years of pressure and heat acting on organic matter. Different types of porous rocks are drilled by the same methods traditionally used to locate oil. According to eia.doe.gov, natural gas streams come in a variety of forms, including methane, propane, butane, and nitrogen.
The substance procured by drilling must be processed to separate the natural gas from other substances, and the separated gas must be further processed through a series of specialized plants to meet strict standards set by the US Department of Energy.
A vast interstate natural gas pipeline infrastructure is already in place in the United States, making natural gas obtainable nearly anywhere. Much of the natural gas shipped through the pipelines end up in processing plants to be either compressed or liquefied for use as a vehicle fuel.
Advantages of Natural Gas
According to fueleconomy.gov, natural gas fuels produce an average of 75 percent less air pollutants and 35 percent less greenhouse gas than traditional fuels such as gasoline. Natural gas is also less expensive than its traditional counterparts, which gives it a competitive edge compared to other alternative fuel sources that are still expensive to produce. The highly adequate natural gas pipeline infrastructure mentioned above also gives this fuel a distinct edge over other options.
Drawbacks of Natural Gas
Although natural gas is readily available, CNC and LNC fueling stations are still rare, as are the number of vehicles that support natural gas as an alternative fuel. Natural gas cannot be used in lieu of gasoline in traditional internal combustion engines, so converting our existing gasoline economy to one based on natural gas would require an expensive overhaul of international vehicle design and production standards.
Other Alternative Fuels
Natural gas is a very strong competitor in the alternative vehicle fuel market, but it is not alone in its struggle to rid the world of harmful energy sources. Other alternative fuel sources, such as hydrogen, ethanol, and biomass are all emerging as possible successors to gasoline as the fuel of choice in developed nations.