Natural gas, a domestically produced gaseous fuel, is readily available through the existing natural gas distribution system. Whether produced via conventional or renewable methods, this clean-burning alternative fuel must be compressed or liquefied for use in vehicles.
CNG and LNG as Alternative Transportation Fuels
Two forms of natural gas are currently used in vehicles: compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Both are domestically produced, relatively low priced, and commercially available. Considered alternative fuels under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, CNG and LNG are sold in units of gasoline or diesel gallon equivalents (GGEs or DGEs) based on the energy content of a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.
Compressed Natural Gas
CNG is produced by compressing natural gas to less than 1% of its volume at standard atmospheric pressure. To provide adequate driving range, CNG is stored onboard a vehicle in a compressed gaseous state at a pressure of up to 3,600 pounds per square inch.
CNG is used in light-, medium-, and heavy-duty applications. A CNG-powered vehicle gets about the same fuel economy as a conventional gasoline vehicle on a GGE basis. One GGE equals about 5.66 pounds of CNG.
Liquefied Natural Gas
LNG is natural gas in its liquid form. LNG is produced by purifying natural gas and super-cooling it to -260°F to turn it into a liquid. During the process known as liquefaction, natural gas is cooled below its boiling point, removing most of the extraneous compounds found in the fuel. The remaining natural gas is primarily methane with small amounts of other hydrocarbons.
Because of LNG's relatively high production cost, as well as the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks, the fuel's use in commercial applications has been limited. LNG must be kept at cold temperatures and is stored in double-walled, vacuum-insulated pressure vessels. LNG is suitable for trucks that require longer ranges because liquid is denser than gas and, therefore, more energy can be stored by volume. LNG is typically used in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. One GGE equals about 1.5 gallons of LNG.
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