Ford’s aluminum bodied F-150, an all-new generation that debuted in the 2015 model year, is revolutionary. It is also distinguished as Green Car Journal’s 2016 Green Truck of the Year™, an honor bestowed at the recent San Antonio Auto & Truck Show in Texas.
Besides this new generation's more refined look and improvements across the board, use of an all-aluminum body has allowed Ford to decrease the pickup’s body weight by 630 pounds, with a high-strength steel frame reducing weight by another 70 pounds. This lightweighting contributes toward higher fuel efficiency without sacrificing the durability and all-around functionality F-150 buyers have come to expect from their pickups over many decades.
For 2016, Ford expanded the F-150 lineup with a new Limited edition for discerning high-end truck buyers, plus special edition appearance packages available for XLT and Lariat models. An all-new aluminum-bodied F-250 has now joined the Ford pickup lineup and this heavy-duty variant will be detailed in a future article.
The F-150’s weight reduction brings the added benefit of better performance. Simply, it takes less power to propel the truck when empty so acceleration is noticeably improved. With less mass working on the chassis, the truck has a lighter feel and handles better than the previous model generation. Braking is also improved since there is less weight to bring to a halt. Cargo bed payload capacity and gross combined vehicle weight ratings (GCVWR) remain similar on the new truck compared to the previous generation, so the lighter aluminum F-150 can haul and tow hundreds heavier loads.
Ford offers F-150 buyers four engine choices to fit varying requirements including a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V-6, and a 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V-8. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine should be of particular interest to drivers seeking a balance of power, functionality, and efficiency. This engine allows the F-150 to achieve up to 26 highway and 19 city mpg while also enabling towing up to 8,500 pounds. Other powertrain choices allow towing up to 12,100 pounds. Ford has integrated the sport mode feature found in the Mustang that changes the frequency of gearshifts, thus enabling drivers to keep the F-150 in the ‘sweet’ spot of the powerband while holding lower gears longer for a more engaging driving experience.
A gaseous-fuel prep option is now available with the F-150‘s 5.0-liter V-8 engine. This positions the F-150 as the only light-duty pickup capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane to help further reduce operating costs and CO2 emissions.
The 2016 F-150 features SYNC 3, Ford’s newest communications and entertainment system that delivers enhanced voice recognition and a capacitive touch screen. Plus, the F-150’s segment-first Pro Trailer Backup Assist technology makes it easier to back a trailer up to launch a boat or park in a driveway. Using the F-150’s advanced camera technology, a driver steers a trailer instinctively by turning a knob left or right to indicate direction, then backs up as the truck controls its steering and limits vehicle speed.
Pickup buyers have a wide choice of F-150 engine, cab configuration, and trim levels in either two- or four-wheel drive, at a starting cost of $26,540.
Well, this should be no surprise. Reuters reports what we’ve suspected all along because there’s a long history of this happening: Low gasoline prices are negatively impacting the sale of alternative fuel vehicles including those running on natural gas and electricity.
Not surprisingly, with lower gasoline prices comes a decided uptick in purchases of larger and lower efficiency vehicles, especially SUVs. Beyond personal transportation, the commercial sector is also being hit hard because the cost differential involved in buying large natural gas trucks presently fails to pencil out well compared to conventionally powered models.
Is this a trend? Only short term, really. Cars of Change and Green Car Journal editors have noted such occurrences over the past two decades and the trend has always ebbed and flowed with varying fuel prices, incentives, and other factors. While the long-term prospects for battery electric vehicles hinge on lower cost batteries in the future, hybrids and high efficiency conventional vehicles are here to stay.
Over the 10 year history of Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year award program, there has never been a battery electric car that has been compelling enough to be recognized as the best-of-the-best in an ever-expanding field of ‘green’ cars. That has changed with the groundbreaking BMW i3, Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green Car of the Year®.
The BMW i3 came out on top of a field of finalists that included the Audi A3 TDI, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Honda Fit, and VW Golf. The array of technologies and fuels represented included high efficiency gasoline, electric drive, clean diesel, and natural gas.
BMW’s i3 stands out as one of the most innovative vehicles ever to be introduced by any major automaker. It breaks the mold – literally – with a strong and lightweight body using materials and technology at home on the race track, and now used for the first time to construct a mainstream production car. It is a milestone, forward-thinking approach.
Meeting both near-term and far-reaching goals is no easy thing. The challenge is to design and build cars that offer meaningful environmental achievement while delivering the traditional touchstones desired by new car buyers, among them comfort, safety, convenience, connectivity, performance, and value. Also important in the world of advanced vehicles like battery electric cars is a significant commitment to the manufacturing and sale of these vehicles that goes beyond a few thousand units sold in select geographical areas. BMW’s commitment with the i3 is focused not only nationally in the U.S., but globally as well.
Offering a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body on an aluminum space frame, BMW’s innovative i3 brings environment-conscious drivers all-electric drive with an optional internal combustion range extender. The most unique aspect of the i3 is the car’s body structure, which incorporates the first-ever use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to form the body and passenger cabin of a mass-production vehicle. CFRP is as strong as steel and 50 percent lighter. It is also 30 percent lighter than aluminum.
This BMW’s drive module includes an electric drivetrain, 5-link rear suspension, and an aluminum structure. Its lithium-ion battery pack is mounted mid-ship beneath the floor. Strategic placement of the 450 pound battery pack and drive components provides a very balanced 50-50 weight distribution to enhance handling and performance.
Acceleration is crisp, with a 0-60 elapsed time of 7.2 seconds provided by an electric motor producing 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 has is sprightly even at highway speeds. Strong regenerative braking characteristics often allow the i3 to be driven with just the accelerator pedal in city driving. When a driver lets off the accelerator, regen slows the car quickly and allows it to come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal.
Charging at home with an available 220 volt charger delivers a full charge in about three hours. Where available, public DC fast charging can bring an i3 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 20 minutes and a full charge in 30 minutes. The i3 BEV features an 81 mile EPA estimated range on batteries. The i3 REx, equipped with an internal combustion range extender that creates on-board electricity as needed to help keep batteries charged, features a 72 mile battery driving range and 150 miles total with the range extender.
Efficiency is a given. EPA rates the i3’s city fuel economy at 137 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and 111 MPGe on the highway, with a combined 124 MPGe. For the REx-equipped model, EPA rates mileage at 117 MPGe combined.
The 2015 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a majority vote of an award jury comprised of Green Car Journal staff and invited jurors, including TV personality and car aficionado Jay Leno plus leaders of the nation’s most high-profile environmental and efficiency organizations. These jurors include Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, President emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The diversity of new car models at showrooms today reflects an evolving and sophisticated market in which a growing number of new car buyers have decided that environmental performance must meet their needs and expectations, on their terms. As it happens, 2015 Green Car of the Year jurors have clearly decided that this year, the electric BMW i3 does it best.
It is an exciting time to be involved with the auto industry, or to be in the market for a new car. The auto industry has responded splendidly to the challenge of new emission, fuel economy, and safety standards. The public is offered a greater than ever selection of vehicles with different powertrains, lightweight materials, hybrids, and electric drive vehicles across many platforms. We see increasing numbers of clean diesel vehicles and natural gas is making a resurgence, especially in the heavy-duty sector.
The positive response by the auto industry to the ever-tightening pollutant emission and fuel economy standards includes tactics such as the use of aluminum in the Ford F-150 and the increased use of carbon fiber by BMW, among many innovations introduced across many models and drivetrains. These evolutionary changes are a major tribute to the automobile engineers who are wringing out the most they can in efficiency and reduced emissions from gasoline and diesel engines. I view this evolutionary change as necessary, but not sufficient to meet our greenhouse gas goals by 2050.
New car ownership is currently down in Europe and is leveling off in the U.S. For global automotive manufacturers, however, this trend is offset by the dramatic growth in places like China and India. The potential for dramatic growth in the developing world is clearly evident: In the U.S., there are about 500 cars per thousand people, compared to about 60 and 20 in China and India, respectively.
How can these trends be reconciled with the environmental and health concerns due to climate change and adverse air quality in the developing world? The evidence for climate change accumulates by the day. Hazardous air quality in many major cities in China has drawn global attention, providing a visual reminder of how far the developed world has come and how much environmental protection needs to be accelerated in the developing world. Damaging air pollution is increasingly seen as a regional and even worldwide challenge. Dramatic economic growth in many developing countries is generating pollution that knows no boundaries. Air pollution from China, for example, fumigates Korea and Japan and is even transported across the Pacific to impact air quality in California and other Western states.
It will take a revolutionary change to provide personal mobility without unacceptable energy and environmental consequences. As a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) document states, it is likely that a major shift to electric drive vehicles would be required in the next 20 to 30 years. Electric drive vehicles, coupled with renewable energy, can achieve essentially zero carbon and conventional pollutant emissions. The NAS report also predicted that the costs of both battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles would be less than advanced conventional vehicles in the 2035-2040 timeframe.
This transition will not occur overnight and we will be driving advanced conventional vehicles for many years to come. In a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation, Dr. David Greene calculated that the transition could take 10 to 15 years, requiring sustained investment in infrastructure and incentives in order to achieve sustained penetration. While this investment is not inexpensive, it is projected that the benefits of this investment will be 10 times greater than the costs.
So where do we stand today on electric vehicles? We are seeing an unprecedented number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles across many drivetrains and models. There were about 96,000 plug-in electric vehicles sold or leased in the U.S. last year and more than 10 new PEV models are expected this year. While the sales fall short of some optimistic projections, it is an encouraging start after many years of more hope than delivery. The FC EV is expected to see significant growth after the initial limited introduction of fuel cells in the 2015-2017 timeframe by five major automobile companies.
It will take many years of sustained increasing penetration into new car sales to make this revolution a success. It is indeed a marathon and not a sprint. The challenge is how to ensure sustained sales of electric drive vehicles in the face of the many attributes of advanced technology conventional vehicles. Electric drive vehicle drivetrains have an affinity with the increasing amount of electronics on board the vehicle, which might ultimately yield very interesting, capable, and competitive vehicles.
I have little doubt that if we are serious about our energy, environmental, and greenhouse gas goals the revolution in technology will occur. All the major automobile companies seem to recognize this in their technology roadmap, which includes advanced conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery and fuel cell electric vehicles.
In conclusion, the next 20 years promise to be equally as challenging and exciting as the last 20 years. I have little doubt that the automobile engineers are up to the task ahead, but whether we have the political fortitude to stay the course to achieve the necessary air pollution and GHG reductions is far less certain.
Dr. Alan Lloyd is President Emeritus of the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). He formerly served as Secretary of CalEPA and Chairman of the California Air Resources Board.
That changes with the coming 2015 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel Sedan. Like the Civic, the alternative fuel Impala comes straight from the manufacturer – in this case Chevy – without the extra step of fuel conversion by an outside vehicle modifier. Current natural gas pickups and vans from Chevy, Ford, GMC, and Ram are sent to aftermarket suppliers for installation of natural gas components.
The new bi-fuel Impala will be able to run on either gasoline or CNG, addressing the range anxiety issue associated with dedicated vehicles that run exclusively on an alternative fuel. It also allows owners to use the least expensive fuel at the time of fill-up. The system seamlessly switches from natural gas to gasoline if the CNG tank is depleted. Drivers can also choose to run on their fuel of choice with a dashboard switch. Total range with both fuels is an expected 500 miles.
Making a bi-fuel Impala requires changes to the 3.8 liter V-6 engine so it can burn either fuel, plus the addition of regulators, filters, high pressure gaseous fuel lines, and a CNG fill receptacle. A large CNG tank is added in the trunk and does reduce cargo capacity. The system is factory-engineered and fully warranted.
Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6 equipped-150 pickup is now available with a factory-installed, gaseous-fuel prep package, making Ford the only manufacturer offering a CNG/LPG-capable half-ton pickup. The $315 engine prep package includes hardened valves, valve seats, pistons, and rings so it can operate on either natural gas or gasoline through separate fuel systems.
The light-duty Ford CNG pickup is now being offered as a ship-thru option by Michigan-based Venchurs Vehicle Systems, the first of several Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVMs) that will be marketing the 2014 F-150 as a natural gas vehicle. QVMs supply the fuel tanks, fuel lines, and unique fuel injectors. Ford has a rigorous QVM qualification program to help modifiers achieve greater levels of customer satisfaction and product acceptance through the manufacture of high-quality alternative fuel vehicles. Conversions can be financed through Ford Credit.
According to Ford, upfitting to gaseous fuel operation costs approximately $7,500 to $9,500. Ford maintains the engine and powertrain limited warranty (five years or 60,000 miles) while the modifier is responsible for the system component warranty.
Conversions can provide stability against fluctuating fuel prices as well as lower operating costs. CNG sells for an average of $2.11 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, and as low as $1 in some parts of the country. The F-150 CNG/LPG can travel up to 750+ miles on one tank of gas.
Since reintroducing the option in 2009, Ford has established itself as the leader in CNG/LPG engine sales. It is on track to sell over 15,000 CNG/LPG-prepped vehicles this year, an increase of over 25 percent from 2012.
With the F-150, Ford will have eight vehicles running on CNG/LPG. These range from Transit and E-Series vans, wagons, cutaways, and chassis cabs to F-Series Super Duty pickups and chassis cabs.
We are all enamored by the advanced technologies at work in vehicles today. And why wouldn’t we be? The incredibly efficient cars we have today, and the even more efficient models coming in the years ahead, are testament to a process that combines ingenuity, market competitiveness, and government mandate in bringing ever more efficient vehicles to our highways.
It’s been a long and evolutionary process. I remember clearly when PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) technology was first introduced in the early 1990s, a breakthrough that brought near-zero tailpipe emissions from gasoline internal combustion engine vehicles. That move was led by Honda and Nissan, with others quickly following. Then there were the first hybrids – Honda’s Insight and Toyota’s Prius – that arrived on our shores at the end of that decade. Both technologies brought incredible operating efficiencies that drastically reduced a vehicle’s emissions, increased fuel economy to unexpected levels, or both.
Of course, there were first-generation battery electric vehicles in the mid-1990s that foretold what would become possible years later. That first foray into EV marketing was deemed by many a failure, yet it set the stage for the advanced and truly impressive EVs we have today. Those vehicles may not yet be cost-competitive with conventionally powered vehicles due to very high battery costs, but that doesn’t diminish the genius engineering that’s brought them to today’s highways.
Even conventionally-powered cars today are achieving fuel efficiency levels approaching that of more technologically complex hybrids. Who would have imagined popular cars getting 40 mpg or better, like the Dodge Dart, Chevy Cruze, Mazda3, Ford Fiesta, and many more in a field that’s growing ever larger each year?
VW and Audi have proven that clean diesel technology can also achieve 40+ mpg fuel efficiency while providing press-you-back-in-your-seat performance, and importantly, doing this while meeting 50 state emissions criteria. That’s saying something considering diesel has historically had a tough go of it meeting increasingly stringent emissions standards in California and elsewhere. Yet, with elegant engineering by these automakers and their diesel technology supplier Bosch – plus this country’s move to low-sulfur diesel fuel late last decade – ‘clean’ diesel was born.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention natural gas vehicles. There was a time when quite a few automakers were exploring natural gas power in the U.S., but that faded and left Honda as the lone player in this market with its Civic Natural Gas sedan. Now others are joining in with dual-fuel natural gas pickups and vans, benefitting from advanced engine technologies, better natural gas tanks, and a sense that with increasing natural gas reserves in the U.S., demand for natural gas vehicles will grow. As Honda has shown with its Civic, it’s possible to operate on this alternative fuel while also netting admirable fuel efficiency.
All this advanced powertrain technology is important. It makes air quality and petroleum reduction goals achievable, even ones like the ethereal 54.5 mpg fleet fuel economy average requirement that looms for automakers by 2025. There’s no doubt that advanced technologies come at a cost and reaching a 54.5 mpg average will require the full range of efficiency technologies available, from better powerplants and transmissions to greater use of lightweight materials, aerodynamic design, and answers not yet apparent. But I’m betting we’ll get there in the most efficient way possible.
Ron Cogan is editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and editor of CarsOfChange.com
About a year ago, I gathered all our employees for a meeting and proceeded to make one bold statement, and an even bolder prediction. I shared my deep conviction that we were at the forefront of a historic opportunity within the automotive, trucking, and transportation industry. My prediction: We were on the verge of experiencing near vertical technological innovations within our industry and the next 10 years would usher in dramatic change. So far, so good!
Change and the rapidity of change are hard to predict, but not so when we can turn to the evidence around us and identify well-defined trends and plausible technological pathways. Never before has society experienced such spectacular innovations within the transportation industry. Just in the past five years, the industry has spiritually ushered in battery powered roadsters, plug-in-hybrids, natural gas powered vehicles, fuel-sipping new engine technologies, and never-before seen intelligent electronics andeighting materials. It is hard to believe companies are actually testing vehicles that will drive by themselves. Unreal! And here is the best part – technological breakthroughs and industry advancements will become even more pronounced. The transportation industry is poised to experience Moore's law of near vertical change. The foundation has been set. Everything can and will be challenged.
Traditional drivetrain technologies and fuels have quickly been put on notice. The internal combustion engine is being re-invented. Gasoline and diesel are no longer the only games in town. New powertrain technologies are multi-faceted and incorporate multiple energy sources. Transcending it all are alternative fuels such as natural gas, which is emerging as the smart choice to an environmentally conscious society, economically driven consumer, and job-creation minded country.
Natural gas vehicles will become as permanent as they will be fashionable. This is very predictable and exciting. Every macro-trend and technological advancement points to accelerated adoption of this cheaper, cleaner, and home-grown fuel to run our vehicles. A new generation of technology advancements enables radical growth and broad-scale adoption of natural gas vehicles - innovative direct-injection and engine technologies, ultra light-weight composite materials and advanced processes, unique adsorbent storage materials, and refueling methodologies never before seen or used. These innovations are setting the foundation for real change – a vertical change.
We can all let our imaginations run wild and dream about the future of automotive technology – but that future is now. We are in the midst of a historic transformation within this industry.
My company, Quantum Technologies, has been a leader in advancing alternative fuel storage technologies over the past two decades, hard at work innovating solutions to store compressed hydrogen at 10,000 psi for fuel cell vehicles or deploying high strength carbon composites for natural gas storage tanks. Case in point, we recently introduced the next generation fuel tanks (Q-Lite™) using ultra-lightweight and lower-cost materials. These advancements are impressive and enabling. While gaseous fuel storage technology has progressed steadily over the past 10 years, advancements over the next five years will be more remarkable. Dramatic change in any industry opens up an abundance of opportunities to shape the future.
The next generation compressed gas fuel storage systems will be defined by advances in materials, high precision manufacturing processes, and optimized topology with built-in diagnostics. Future compressed fuel tanks will be dematerialized, lighter in weight, and volumetrically efficient, storing gases in ways and pressures that were not possible five years ago.
My meeting with the employees was not overly long, but rather direct and pointed. Although they were keenly aware of our company's contribution to these emerging technologies and took pride in reflecting on their own pioneering accomplishments, I finished with one last thought: Companies that are merely reactionary to the technological changes may not survive. Successful companies will need to anticipate the future of change, shape it, and lead it!
Brian Olson is CEO of Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, a company specializing in the development and production of natural gas storage systems and the integration of advanced vehicle control systems and drivetrains.
Clean Energy Fuels has been hard at work building out a network of natural gas fueling stations along major trucking corridors across the country. The goal is to enable long-haul 18-wheelers to travel coast-to-coast, border-to-border on liquefied natural gas (LNG), a clean-burning and mostly domestic alternative fuel. To supply LNG for these trucks, Clean Energy has completed its initial phase with 70 LNG stations in operation and is moving ahead with another 80 planned for 2013. Many will be co-located at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers. Pilot-Flying J operates the greatest number of truck stops in the U.S.
Why is this nationwide fueling network important? Truckers could save as much as 25 percent on their fuel bills while cutting CO2 emissions and helping meet the national goal of energy independence. These are three major transportation goals being addressed with a single strategy.
Joining in this effort is GE Oil & Gas, which is supplying its MicroLNG plants to produce LNG from pipeline natural gas. These plug-and-play modular plants can rapidly liquefy natural gas, producing between 50,000 to 250,000 tons-per-year while using a minimum of real estate. This compares to half a million tons, or more, of LNG annually produced by large LNG production plants, usually for international export.
Initially, Clean Energy is purchasing two GE MicroLNG plants that can produce up to 250,000 gallons-per-day, an amount sufficient to fuel about 28,000 heavy-duty trucks. This could displace more than 139,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 7,000 trucks running on diesel fuel.
The two GE MicroLNG plants are planned to begin operation in 2015 at locations yet to be determined. As more fleets adopt LNG and demand for this natural gas fuel increases, plants could be expanded to produce up to a million gallons-per-day. Clean Energy plans to use a standardized design for these MicroLNG plants to facilitate building additional plants in the future.
Beyond applications as part of this nationwide fueling vision, MicroLNG plants can also provide small-scale LNG production for remote industrial and residential use. A MicroLNG plant can liquefy natural gas at any point along a gas distribution network. GE’s Micro LNG plants are also simple to install, operate, and maintain, and can be customized to meet a wide range of needs and site requirements.
Engine and truck manufacturers Cummins-Westport, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Navistar, Freightliner, and Caterpillar are all expected to have engines and Class-8 trucks available to use LNG. In 2013, four of the nation’s major truck manufacturers will offer the Cummins Westport 12-liter ISX12 G LNG engine as an option in long-haul Class 8 trucks.
Compared to compressed natural gas used in light-duty vehicles, LNG provides significantly longer driving range without compromising payload, making use of this fuel a very viable option.
Natural gas vehicles are popular in Europe with nearly 100,000 on German roads. Italy has about 800,000 due to a favorable tax advantage plus rebates on new car purchases, exemptions from certain traffic rules, and an extensive, subsidized natural gas station network. Most European automakers offer at least one compressed natural gas (CNG) model. Volkswagen offers the Caddy 2.0-liter EcoFuel, extended Caddy Maxi 2.0-liter EcoFuel, Touran 1.4-liter TSI EcoFuel, Passat and Passat Estate 1.4-liter TSI EcoFuel, and now the eco up! Next year, these will be joined by an EcoFuel version of the VW Golf.
The eco up! features Volkswagen’s newly developed three-cylinder, 1.0-liter gasoline engine. Here, the lightweight, aluminum 12-valve engine was designed to operate on natural gas, but can run on unleaded premium gasoline as well. Driving on natural gas, it produces 67 horsepower and 66 lb-ft torque, a combination that motivates this four-place urban car from zero to 60 mph in about 16 seconds with a 102 mph top speed.
Natural gas is stored in two subfloor tanks near the rear axle. This location means they don’t reduce useable space, although they do displace the normal spare tire recess. The eco up! has a total range of 373 miles – 236 miles on natural gas and another 137 miles on the reserve gasoline tank.
According to Volkswagen, the new eco up! is currently the world’s most fuel-efficient natural gas passenger car with consumption of just 2.9 kg of natural gas per 100 kilometers. This equates to roughly 56 U.S. mpg. Helping achieve this fuel efficiency are low vehicle weight, good aerodynamics, low rolling resistance tires, BlueMotion Technologies Stop/Start system, and regenerative braking.
A major benefit for natural gas cars like the eco up! is that they are not limited to just natural gas, but can also operate on alternative fuels such as renewable biomethane. When produced from straw, animal and biological wastes, or plant byproducts, biomethane does not compete with food crops, which is currently the case with biodiesel and ethanol. Biomethane is also CO2-neutral since the car only emits as much CO2 during combustion as is absorbed by feedstock plants while growing. Today, biomethane is blended with traditional natural gas at a quarter of Germany’s natural gas stations and is available as pure biomethane at about 100 stations.
Natural gas vehicles can additionally run on e-gas, also known as ‘power-to-gas.’ Electricity produced by wind or solar power is used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis, and in a second step the hydrogen is converted to methane to be used in vehicles. As fuel cell vehicles become economically practical, the hydrogen can be used directly in vehicles. Importantly, e-gas represents a way to store overcapacities from renewable sources in the form of methane or hydrogen for use in vehicles or electrical generation plants when wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.
It is a pretty amazing car, built alongside its conventionally powered cousins on the same line, but with the unique components that enable it to operate on clean compressed natural gas (CNG) – a high-compression engine with hardened valves and other natural gas- specific hardware, special lines and fittings, a pressure vessel instead of a gas tank, and so on. It may be equipped with different components, but in the end the natural gas variant drives like the gasoline Civics that leave the plant.
This is a good thing since ‘transparency’ is important. While most drivers may want environmentally-conscious vehicles, they tend to also want ones that are familiar in most ways. The 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas – Green Car Journal’s 2012 Green Car of the Year –has been showing us how well Honda has accomplished this job since it began operating as part of our long-term test fleet in 2012.
The natural gas variant’s 1.8-liter engine delivers 110 horsepower – 30 less horsepower than the gasoline version – although the difference isn’t really noticeable during the daily drive. The thousands of miles we’ve now spent behind the wheel bear this out.
The CNG version Civic is not only mainstream-stylish and comfortable, it’s also fuel efficient. We averaged better than 36 highway mpg on a recent tank with another tank in city driving averaging 26 mpg. This was done in ECON mode, with Honda’s ECO Assist system engaged to modify engine operation and other power-using systems to increase driving efficiency. Our combined mpg readings have been averaging 30.8 mpg combined fuel economy, right where it should be considering EPA’s 31 mpg combined estimate.
We've found that engaging the ECON function helps mpg but does diminish throttle response, so entering interstates may be best done with ECON off. With ECON on or off, though, the Civic Natural Gas provides the kind of solid driving experience we can appreciate.
Honda mounts the Civic’s 3600 psi tank between the rear wheels, a position that also places it partially in the rear of the trunk behind a finished panel, resulting in a substantially smaller trunk volume than conventional Civics. The tank holds the equivalent of about eight gallons of gasoline, depending on ambient temperatures during refueling since temperature can influence fill volume. Our range at fill-ups typically shows about 220 to 240 miles on the car’s distance-to-empty gauge.
The Civic Natural Gas test car we’re driving offers an array of welcome features including Honda’s navigation system, which bumps the price up $1,500 from this model’s base MSRP of $26,155 to $27,655.
In the 1990s amid all the activities surrounding electric vehicles, there were natural gas vehicles (NGVs) being sold by automakers, primarily pickups and vans aimed at fleets. It was a good start for natural gas.
Unfortunately, the changing whims of federal regulations and alternative fuel implementation saw these well-executed light-duty trucks fall by the wayside, leaving only Honda in the factory-produced NGV market with its natural gas Honda Civic sedan.
Now that’s changing. Ford, GM, and Ram Truck have new natural gas vehicle offerings that are better than ever. Plus, major independent companies are retrofitting new fully-certified pickup and van models to natural gas in increasing numbers. Clean Energy Fuels subsidiary BAF, for example, recently completed its 20,000th NGV conversion.
Ford has developed F-250 and F-350 trucks equipped with the Westport WiNG Power System. These Super Duty pickup trucks feature this advanced, integrated, bi-fuel system on Ford’s 6.2 liter V-8 gasoline engine so it can operate on either CNG or gasoline.
What’s really surprising is the natural gas range of these pickups. Behind-the-wheel experience with a bi-fuel Super Duty pickup has achieved a natural gas driving range greater than 300 miles with an expected total driving range of 650 miles on both CNG and gasoline.
General Motors has been offering Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana CNG cargo vans with its Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 engines modified to operate on CNG only. It has now added dual-fuel CNG Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra 2500 HD commercial pickup trucks to its natural gas choices for fleets and consumers.
Priced $11,000 above the base vehicle, the GM pickups’ CNG and gasoline tanks have a combined range of 650 miles. The bi-fuel pickups use a CNG dual-fuel delivery and storage system developed and installed by supplier IMPCO.
Dodge Truck builds its new Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG pickup on the assembly line rather than having the final stages of conversion completed off-site by a contracted converter. The pickup is powered by a specially modified 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 that runs on natural gas by default and then automatically switches over to gasoline when the on-board CNG supply is exhausted.
The bi-fuel Ram pickup incorporates two compressed natural gas storage tanks and an eight gallon fuel tank for gasoline, providing a combined 367 mile driving range. This formerly fleet-only vehicle is now being sold to retail customers.
This is all good news. Natural gas vehicles offer reduced CO2 and tailpipe emissions, achieve fuel efficiency nearly identical to gasoline counterparts, and use a domestic fuel that can cost a third less per gallon-of-gasoline equivalent.
Eaton Corporation, a company involved in electric vehicle charging, is now on a mission to develop a next-generation home refueling station for natural gas vehicles. The company is aiming to solve one of the vexing challenges for commercializing natural gas passenger vehicles for general consumers: affordable at-home natural gas refueling.
Home refueling allows natural gas vehicle owners to fuel up at home with a wall-mounted vehicle refueling appliance, similar to charging an electric vehicle. The appliance uses the natural gas source available at most homes and many businesses, compressing the gas to the 3600 psi required by a natural gas vehicle.
In operation, the fueling appliance’s fill line is connected to the vehicle’s CNG fueling inlet with a compression fitting, and then the tank is slow-filled overnight. In the morning you’re ready to go with a full tank of fuel that’s considerably cheaper, and cleaner, than gasoline.
The most high-profile example for home refueling has been the CNG appliance manufactured by FuelMaker, once marketed by Honda as ‘Phill,’ an option to accompany its natural gas Civic model. This vehicle refueling appliance is now manufactured by BRC FuelMaker and marketed in the U.S. through IMPCO Technologies. While convenient and easy to use, the challenge for consumers has been one of cost – simply, refueling appliances are not inexpensive. The natural gas industry recognizes this and is focused on developing competitive refueling appliances that will overcome the cost issue.
Enter Eaton with a development project partly funded with $3.4 million from the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E). The goal: No less than developing a production prototype home vehicle refueling station that will retail for about one tenth of the cost of currently available systems, which currently come in at about $5,000 to $10,000. Eaton is targeting a production price of $500 with a prototype available by the end of 2015.
VW is adding a natural gas version of its 2013 Golf to its offerings in Europe. The bi-fuel EcoFuel Golf has two CNG cylinders mounted beneath the floor providing a range of about 260 miles. A 13 gallon gasoline tank delivers an additional driving range of 540 miles, for a noteworthy total range of 800 miles between fill-ups.
The natural gas Golf, electric Blue e-Motion Golf variant, and their conventional counterparts are based on the automaker’s MQB architecture that standardizes component parameters among many models. The strategy allows the use of common components across brands, vehicle classes, and even diverse models produced for European, American, Chinese, and growing Indian markets.
MQB, an acronym for the German phrase Modularer Querbaukasten that roughly translates to ‘Modular Transverse Matrix,’ will first be used by the Golf and the successor to the Audi A3. Audi, SKODA, and SEAT A- and B-segment cars will ultimately use the common MQB design strategy. Future VWs using MQB include Polo, Beetle, Scirocco, Jetta, Tiguan, Touran, Sharan, Passat, and CC models.
The key ingredient of the MQB concept is a uniform mounting position for all engines, initially starting with the new EA211 and EA288 modular engine families. This allows a variety of transverse, front-engine, front-wheel drive models to be designed using the same set of components. In addition to standardizing conventional internal combustion engines, the MQB can be used with current alternative drive concepts including hybrid and battery electric vehicles.
Outputs of EA211 four-cylinder engines range from 54 to 148 horsepower. Among them is the world’s first four-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation. The natural gas EcoFuel variant uses a 1.4 liter engine that makes 109 horsepower. There is also the EA288 MBD (modular diesel engine system) rated at 88.5 to 188 horsepower.
VW's engine and gearbox variants in the MQB system will be reduced by about 90 percent. In the future, both high-volume and niche models of different brands could theoretically be produced on the same assembly line, even if they have different wheelbases and track width. An additional benefit is enabling the use of luxury class technologies in lower cost, high-volume models. As just one example, VW plans 20 such innovations in the areas of safety and infotainment. These, until now, were reserved for more upscale models.
Natural gas pickup choices are growing with the addition of a CNG powered pickup from Ram Truck. The dual-fuel Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG pickup, offered exclusively as a Crew Cab 4x4 model on a 169-inch wheelbase, is designed to run on either compressed natural gas or gasoline.
The transition from natural gas to gasoline is handled automatically. Unlike the natural gas pickup offerings from Ford and GM that are available to both fleets and consumers, the fully assembly line-built Ram CNG pickup will initially be offered exclusively to fleets at an MSRP of $47,500, plus a $995 destination charge.
To run on both fuels, the Ram HD CNG’s 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 is modified with redesigned cylinder heads, CNG compatible valves and valve-seat materials, a second CNG-specific fuel rail and CNG injectors, new spark plugs, and a new powertrain control module. A pair of 4.6 cu.-ft. CNG tanks located in the 8-foot pickup bed hold the gasoline gallon equivalent of 18.2 gallons. They are fueled through a CNG filler connection located next to the standard gasoline fuel neck, accessed through the Ram’s fuel filler door. An 8 gallon gasoline tank adds 112 miles of range to the pickup’s 255 range on natural gas.
Keeping track of fuel level is straightforward with a CNG-specific gauge adjacent to the conventional gasoline gauge in the instrument cluster. The CNG pickup’s considerable functionality is retained with a 1,580 lb. payload rating, 7,650 lbs. of towing capability, and a 4 ft., 8-in. usable cargo bed length.
Powered by propane autogas (LPG), the Maxximus LNG 2000 has set three new world records at South Georgia Motorsports Park, according to Fisher Island, Florida-based Centaur Performance Group. These latest record attempts follow additional world records set in January with the car running on liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The project, headed by financier Bruce McMahan and Indianapolis-based designer Marlon Kirby, set its latest records on LPG with the car achieving 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds, 1/4 mile ET of 10.28 seconds, and 1/4 mile speed of 134 mph. The records set in January running on LNG were 0-60 mph in 1.96 seconds, 0-150 mph in 9.21 seconds, 1/4 mile ET of 9.63 seconds, and 1/4 mile speed of 159.9 mph. The car was driven by Marlon Kirby. The company points out that these achievements make the Maxximus the fastest powered supercar ever created using both LNG and LPG.
The Maxximus LNG 2000 uses self-pressurizing fuel tanks and is capable of running on propane autogas, liquefied natural gas, or compressed natural gas with on-demand adjustments. The car features a carbon fiber body.
Massive power is provided by a 1600+ horsepower twin-turbocharged, all-aluminum 7.0-liter V-8 with gaseous fuel injectors, boost reference gaseous regulators, and cryogenic chilled intercoolers. Amazingly, Centaur says the Maxximus is also 50-state emissions legal.