Planet Gore reader Philip Marston offers a few observations on the infrastructure requirements for T. Boone Pickens’ proposal to make natural gas our primary transportation fuel.
If the miles per tank for CNG cars is, say, half that of the average of gasoline cars, that means we will also require twice as many re-fueling stations as those for gasoline. That means transforming some shuttered Starbucks or the like and converting them into natural-gas stations.
Worse, unless the technology has changed from when I looked at all this some ten years ago, for self-service refueling, it is done at low pressure and therefore takes a long time (as the Journal article you linked notes). Can’t remember how long, now, but it was something like 30 minutes or the like. You can refuel much faster than that if you use high-pressure, but that requires trained technician (which I believe is how it’s done with fleet vehicles and buses).
Years ago, a friend (who will remain anonymous because he is quite well known in the gas industry) bought a CNG/gasoline hybrid. But he happened to live very close to the fleet refueling station of the local gas distribution utility and they were happy to fill him up. Joe Sixpack can’t refuel at the utility’s fleet vehicles location and will want to fill it himself. If the average time required for filling a tank were just twice as long as to fill a gasoline tank, then you have another doubling of the density of the distribution infrastructure — now we’re up to four times as many stations — four times the land use, need for space for cars to come in, wait in line, etc.
I’m as big a fan of the natural gas industry as there is, having studied it in law school in the 1970s, watched the Carter Administration declare it dead in 1977, helped open up the industry for the Reagan Administration in the 1980s and worked for years representing industry participants of various stripes — but CNG is a niche fuel for fleet vehicles only, not for the mass market.