A recent National Academy of Science report, Transitions to Alternative Fuels and Vehicles, looked at options to meet the President’s goal of reducing petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
It found that natural gas vehicles could help meet the petroleum consumption standard as part of a fleet that also includes advanced biofuels, and battery- and fuel-cell-powered vehicles. The report also found that the fastest way to reduce vehicle petroleum consumption is using natural gas vehicles, although that approach would make it hard to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the 2050 goal.
Achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2050 would be very difficult because it would require a vehicle fleet composed primarily of fuel-cell and battery vehicles using electricity produced by low-emissions power plants. Adding to the difficulty, fuel-cell and battery vehicles would have to become a large segment of vehicle sales by 2035.
The report states that meeting the 2050 goal will significantly increase the cost of vehicles, and will require large investments in infrastructure to produce and deliver new fuel types. An additional problem is that alternative fuels will probably be relatively expensive when they are first introduced. It is questionable whether consumers would adopt the necessary changes.
The report committee suggests that federal rebates on high-efficiency vehicles and/or taxation of low-efficiency vehicles be used to help meet the standards. These kinds of economic incentives would negatively impact low-income and rural consumers.
Of course, all of these advanced vehicle technologies will require a significant federal investment in research and development.
Natural gas vehicles have lots of advantages: relatively low vehicle cost, low fuel costs, rapid refueling and good driving range.
Disadvantages include: loss of trunk space for the large natural-gas storage tank and a paucity of refueling stations–there are now about 1,000 in the U.S.