My Year with CNG

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Two-and-a-half years ago I first started to realize the tremendous potential of natural gas vehicles (NGVs). I got a job at a one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States and quickly saw how the fuel was transforming our economy and drastically reducing our emissions. We heat our homes with natural gas and cook our food with it too. Across the country, coal-fired power plants are making the switch. Across the globe, millions of NGVs are on the road, but in the United States, where we have 100-year supply of the fuel below our feet, there are only around 200,000 NGVs on the road. Our mission is to change this.

As a newly minted advocate, it was time for me to walk the walk. So just over a year ago, I converted a 2011 Chevy Tahoe to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). It’s a bi-fuel commuter truck that has an 8 GGE (gasoline gallon equivalent) CNG tank and the 26-gallon gasoline tank that comes standard. It was converted in Okarche, Oklahoma, at a cost of around $9,000. This isn’t including state-incentives that would be available to many of you. To learn more about converting your vehicle, click here.

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CNG is significantly cheaper than gasoline, but there is a conversion cost associated with it. Because of this, we primarily see it being used by fleets — those who put heavy miles on a vehicle and can therefore see a quicker payback (click here to calculate your payback period).  Still, I wanted to see how much I saved over the last 12 months.

I drove 20,816 miles, with an average MPG of 15.68. I used 799 GGE of CNG and 528 gallons of gasoline. I was able to drive 60% of the time on natural gas. In Oklahoma, a state that boasts nearly 70 public stations, finding fuel was never a problem. In other parts of the country, driving an NGV takes some planning. As I traveled to places like Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Texas, I sometimes had to tailor my route in order to fill up with CNG. It was a slight inconvenience, but one that I thought was worth it for the opportunity to get a 50% discount on fuel.

The average price I paid for CNG was $1.74. For unleaded, it was $3.43. I saved $1.69 on every gallon — that’s a total savings of about $1,350. If I had driven entirely on CNG, I would have saved more than $2,200. That would put me at a four-year payback for the conversion. After that, I would cut my fuel cost in half for the remaining life of the vehicle. Not too shabby.

Environmentally, CNG reduces my emissions drastically: CO2 is cut by up to 30%, CO by up to 75%, NOx by around 50% and particle matter by as much as 95%. By driving my natural gas Tahoe, I’m actually reducing my impact on the environment and I’m doing so without being captive to OPEC oil. Win-win!

Some of you might read this and think that it all sounds great, but that the payback period isn’t reasonable. That’s a valid concern, but if we’re ever going to break free from OPEC oil and become an energy-independent country, we need early adopters, energy patriots and strong advocates. We need you to convert your vehicle if it’s economically feasible — and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you can’t afford to convert your current vehicle, write to your favorite auto manufacturers and their local dealers and demand that they build factory-finished cars and trucks that can run on CNG.  That will bring the price down and make it possible for your next vehicle to be an NGV.

If you’re really on a roll,  why not contact your elected officials and encourage them to save tax dollars and support the local build-out of CNG fueling infrastructure by moving government fleets to run on a cheaper and cleaner American fuel — natural gas?

CNG is a viable solution to our energy crisis, and people need to know about it. Get involved by signing up for CNGnow. If you’ve already made the switch, tell us about your experience in the comment section below.


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Comments

Avatar
cheston.cooper
I too have a converted 2012 Tahoe with the combo 8-gallon CNG tank and 26-gallon gasoline tank.  I went one step further and had a home fueling unit installed at our house.  Our local NG provider installed a separate meter so I can accurately detail the amount of NG I use solely for the purpose of my Tahoe.

On average, I spend $42 per month for my CNG.  That includes the cost for electricity to run the compressor as well.  95% of my mileage is commuter miles and I refill the tank overnight about every four days.

When you factor in the cost for the natural gas at home and the electricity, I average ~$1.14 per GGE!  What an amazing resource we have in our own backyard that needs to be more thoroughly utilized!
Avatar
KevinS
I too made the switch converting my 2012 Silverado to CNG. Carrying an 21 GGE tank I am entirely CNG during my travels through OK. I picked my truck up from conversion on 8/4/2012 and have saved a difference of $1,053.00 since that time.

As Chad stated you must plan out of state trips around CNG fill-ups but that small inconvenience  is worth the savings. I rarely use unleaded, purchasing approximately 14 gallons since August 4th.

Natural Gas creates thousands of jobs in Oklahoma including mine how can you not support  All-American CNG!

Avatar
jetboatjohnny
I made the switch a little over 6 years ago. I went from 375$ a month in gas to 125$ a month on CNG with a used '99 Civic GX, commuting 620 miles a week.
Four years ago I bought a new '09 Civic and enjoy $1.89 fuel here in Hemet CA.
On my drive to Orange county I fill in Riverside for $1.22/GGE. For commuters in Southern CA these cars are a no-brainer!
Avatar
skip21al
Excellent case study. Wondering why it cost so much though? Maybe you had to put an EPA certified kit? Any vehicle more than 2 years old doesnt require the EPA cert number anymore (per their website "intermediate age vehicle"). I have seen very nice premium kits like www.SkyCNG.com (Italian systems) for less than $1500. Then about $900 for the type 1 tank, then I have priced installers around $1500 for the installation. So that puts it at less than $4,000. The payback is MUCH faster than your case study. I think consumers should realize you dont have to buy some of the expensive/overpriced kits pushed by many installers.
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chadosko
@Cheston - What a great success story. $1.14 is a price point that could be realistic most of us, but unfortunately the upfront cost isn't always practical. I'm personally excited for more state incentive and a less expensive home fueling appliance.
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chadosko
@Kevin. Fantastic. I'm jealous of your 21 GGE tank. Mine is great for commuting, but as you know, 21 GGE allows you to drive almost exclusively on our favorite American fuel. And $1,000 saved in a couple months is no joke. Congrats!
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chadosko
@Jetboat - Amen to that. Plus you get to drive in the POV lanes. As former SoCal resident, I know you can't beat that.
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chadosko
@Skip - thank you. There's certainly problems with the EPA certification process, but we always encourage drivers to be held to the same standards and only use EPA-certified kits.
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midmountian
Just got a Ford F150 cng from a government auction Payed 3500 for it This is my first cng truck will see how it goes All ready saving money I have worked construction for years and need a truck but gas prices were killing my pocket book. should have got a cng truck about 10 years ago O well live and learn. One ? does any body now a cng mechanic in las vegas nv. Would like to have this truck inspected to make sure every thing is in good working order Thanks
Avatar
ChristianMiller
How does one submit an article for this blog?
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David.Phillips
I'm on my second Honda Civic.  Bought a 2009 Honda GX in Edmond back in 2009.  Sold the 2009 GX in 2011.  Bought a 2012 Honda NATGAS in November 2011.  Get great gas mileage on both Hondas. Used to have 2 cng pumps available in the north OKC area.  Now have at least 8 options in the same area.  So wanted to says Thanks to OnCue Express and other stations that have installed CNG pumps over the last 3-4 years.
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exLeaf
I got my Civic NG also in Nov and I am in Edmond also. Any chance to get together and compare notes?
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CNGhopeful
The gap between the promise of CNG and the delivery on the promise in Indianapolis Indiana is wide.  We have a Honda plant making Civics specifically for CNG just one hour away from Indianapolis, however, we have only three stations available to the public.  One of them, ironically, the Citizens Gas Station is out of operation about 75% of the time that I try it.  We have one station (32 miles for me roundtrip from home) that is inexpensive per gallon and has never been out of operation and one more that is across town from me but cost twice as much as the functioning station.  I have a 10 gallon capacity (maximum fill ever has been 8.5 gallons in winter). I use one gallon of that to get gas.  One would think that the market would create more opportunities.  It does make me wonder whether other influences are attempting to delay CNG as a common and easily available alternative.
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