Natural gas is a naturally occurring fuel that burns much more cleanly than petroleum products such as gasoline or diesel. This is because it has much less carbon in it than these other fuel types. When used properly in a vehicle that has been calibrated for natural gas use, it produces fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants as emissions. This reduction is even greater if production of the fuel is taken into account. Producing gasoline and diesel from petroleum produces a lot of these byproducts. Refining natural gas into a fuel does not. Not only do natural gas vehicles emit fewer hydrocarbons, oxides of carbon, oxides of nitrogen, and sulphur, it is also non-toxic. In other words, natural gas will not harm either soil or water, or the life in them, if it is spilled.
Currently, natural gas engines are starting to replace standard petroleum-fuelled engines in small vehicles such as forklifts and riding lawnmowers, in order to increase fuel efficiency and reduce costs. However, there are an increasing number of natural gas powered cars and lorries in use. They have cruising speeds, acceleration, and power that are comparable to similar gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. Natural gas also tends to be cheaper than standard fossil fuels. The one disadvantage of natural gas powered vehicles is that they do not have quite the same range as the more common types. This is because natural gas does not contain as much energy per unit volume as those other fuels do. To overcome this problem extra tanks can be purchased. Alternatively, liquid natural gas can be used in place of compressed natural gas, which is a little more efficient.
It is also possible to convert existing vehicles to run off of natural gas, using a qualified system retrofitter. Although the retrofitter is expensive, it will still save money over the life of the vehicle, and is cheaper than buying a new natural gas vehicle. However, the conversion is not a simple process, and cannot be done at home by the ordinary gear head. Instead, it requires an experienced and specially trained mechanic to do the job.
An alternative to both new and converted vehicles is the bi-fuel vehicle. This kind of vehicle uses natural gas to run on, but regular gasoline for ignition. These vehicles are slightly more fuel efficient than purely natural gas driven vehicles. However, a fuel system that is designed to handle two different types of fuel is complex and bulky, as well as expensive.
Besides the advantages of reducing pollution and operating costs, natural gas vehicles have larger implications for national security and the economy. Currently the nation is heavily dependent on other countries for its supply of petroleum fuels, and as they grow more scarce competition for them increases, as do prices. Natural gas is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic waste. In other words, it can be produced from garbage. Although this technology is still in the developmental stages it holds out the hope of less dependence on other countries for critical fuels, and a stronger economy. As a byproduct it could also significantly reduce the size of landfills and the garbage problem, ushering in a whole new age of recycling.
Although the infrastructure for a nation of natural gas powered vehicles is not yet in place, it is on the way. Reserves of petroleum based fuels will not last forever, and natural gas is the leading contender to replace them. The infrastructure is already being built, and every new natural gas vehicle that is put on the road will speed the process along.