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RVers May Be Driving With Natural Gas Someday

Discussions of alternate fuels for vehicles tend to focus on electric-powered vehicles and hybrids. However, one idea that has remained quietly in the background until fairly recently is compressed natural gas as a fuel for transportation. While the use of compressed natural gas, or CNG, to fuel vehicles today has a much wider function in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and Pakistan, it has not thus far seen widespread use in the private sector within the United States. Whether that’s due to change in the near future remains to be seen and has been the subject of much debate within political, economical, and environmental circles.

Proponents of the use of CNG as a vehicle fuel point out the lower purchase cost of CNG when compared to the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, the cleaner burning capacity that results in lower emissions from the vehicle and longer engine and oil life (even more so important in RVs), and the fact that the majority of natural gas used within the United States is domestically obtained, creating the opportunity to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

However, opponents are quick to point out the higher cost of either purchasing a vehicle that is ready-made to run on CNGs or having a vehicle retrofitted for this function, the scarcity of available fueling stations that provide CNG, and the challenges of dealing with methane leakages that are purported to be a side effect of the refining process. This last point remains a hotly contended.

The currently lower prices of CNG as opposed gasoline can be mainly attributed to breakthroughs in the technologies used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which have created an abundance of available natural gas within the U.S. in recent years. Depending upon the source, it’s been estimated that CNG could cost as much as 30 to 50 percent less per gallon equivalent when compared to gasoline. However, it’s also worth noting that fuel prices are generally volatile at best and have been known to fluctuate widely and relatively rapidly. With cooler months ahead, and the power companies increased usage to provide electricity to homeowners for heating purposes, chances are natural gas will soon see at least a small price raise.

In addition, while the cost of fuelling your vehicle with CNG may be less than with gasoline, vehicles that are either made or retrofitted to use this fuel can be several thousands of dollars more expensive than their more widespread counterparts. Because of this, CNG has been used mainly in fleet vehicles and in the trucking industry within the United States, as such vehicles are generally driven a lot more than standard passenger vehicles and will see the initial higher cost for the vehicles offset much more rapidly through cheaper fueling costs than would the typical private owner and commuter. This factor may work to the advantage of RV owners, given the long distances generally involved with operating a recreational vehicle.

Another issue that’s been raised is the scarcity of fuelling stations that can supply compressed natural gas and the challenges of delivering a sufficient supply to such stations if they were to be built. Natural gas is transported through pipelines rather than more conventional methods such as with trucks or trains, and the infrastructure of such pipelines is not currently widespread enough to ensure the supply of increased private CNG-powered vehicles. Companies that use fleet vehicles powered by CNG tend to have their own private fuelling stations, eliminating this problem for their own operations.

Overall, the option for more widespread use of CNG as a vehicle fuel remains on the table for discussion. If some of the challenges of making the natural gas safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively available to a more widespread consumer base can be overcome, we may eventually see more CNG-powered vehicles on the road as predicted within the next few decades.

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