Last week I talked about Yellow taxis running on propane and the new Honda Civic GX CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicle that was making some people take notice. This has brought to mind the possibility of using the current natural gas infrastructure as a starting point for the hydrogen vehicle infrastructure.
Currently, most of the hydrogen infrastructure in the U. S. is located in California. Coincidentally, most of the natural gas infrastructure for vehicles is also located in California.
In California, there are currently 24 hydrogen fueling stations in operation and an additional 10 stations planned for the near future. Compare this to the fact that there are currently 200 CNG fueling stations operational in California with another 50 stations currently under construction (see map).
California produces 15-percent of its own natural gas instate and imports the rest from other states and from Canada. In fact, Canada is the largest exporter of natural gas to the U. S. from pipelines that run across the northern states borders.
CNG burns much more cleanly than gasoline or diesel fuel with as much as an 80-percent reduction in some ozone-forming emissions. The recent cost for CNG on a per gallon equivalent basis is also under $2 per gallon.
Now, natural gas does share some of the same issues as hydrogen gas such as compressing it to store in as small of tanks as possible inside autos and vehicles. Also, liquefying natural gas (LNG) does drive up the cost substantially.
And, even though natural gas vehicles pollute less than gasoline or diesel vehicles, they cannot compare to zero emissions hydrogen vehicles in this arena. In addition, using natural gas vehicles on a large scale still means a dependence upon foreign fossil fuels, even if it comes from a friendlier nation such as Canada.
But, what natural gas may offer is a jumpstart as transitional technology towards hydrogen vehicles. The most popular method of creating hydrogen currently is the steam reforming of natural gas. This means that at high temperatures, hydrogen is separated and captured from both the natural gas and water in the steam.
In fact, Honda’s Home Energy Station IV is based upon the steam reforming of natural gas in one’s garage in order to supply hydrogen to a vehicle and power one’s home cleanly. This same technology is already used at some hydrogen fueling stations and could be used at some CNG stations to provide fuel for both compressed natural gas vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, onsite and on-demand.
By piggybacking off the current natural gas infrastructure, there is no need to recreate the wheel (or at least all of the wheel). And, if CNG fueling stations were to offer both hydrogen and compressed natural gas, this would add to the profitability of the station.
CGN will not ultimately be the ideal fuel for the reasons already mentioned. But, it could be valuable transitional fuel that will help more hydrogen autos get on the road faster than waiting for other alternative methods of producing and distributing hydrogen to take hold.