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Bi-Fuel Cars May Be The Future Of The Auto Industry

Experts are saying we may finally be on the verge of a new dawn in the automotive industry, born of the difficulties caused by the recent surge in fuel prices. At the moment, it’s a very quiet revolution. But it could end in the manufacture of tens-of-thousands of cars and trucks, all equipped with “bi-fuel” technology. Bi-fuel is a delivery system that works with natural gas and regular gas, delivering tremendous cost savings and terrific mileage.

S80bifuel_schematic

When fuel prices soar, as they have in past months, a lot of owners of big pickup trucks have little choice but to park them.

Some of the trucks cost almost $200 to fill up. The same model in a bi-fuel truck would cost about half as much.

A bi-fuel truck has a tank for natural gas and a tank for regular gas, and the engine automatically shifts seamlessly between them. Using both tanks, the trucks have a range of about 650 miles.

When there is no natural gas available, the trucks will run exclusively on regular gas. The new models of bi-fuel trucks are now being rushed to market. Six models of sedans may follow close behind.

The bi-fuel trucks are an unusual design. The CNG (compressed natural gas) tanks for the factory-built Dodge Ram are located just behind the cab in a large metal box that is also “load bearing.” The regular gas tank has its usual placement.

Natural gas models of the Ram Heavy Duty and two heavy duty pick-ups from GM will hit the local GO Automotive showrooms late this summer. They will compete with the fleet of Ford CNG trucks which have been on the market since 2009.

With natural gas prices in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah ranging in price from $1.49- to- $2.59 a gallon, the savings are dramatic.

To give you an idea, 9NEWS spoke with David Padgett. Padgett owns a Honda Civic CNG sedan, a car that Honda has sold for years that runs exclusively on natural gas.

Padgett says he wouldn’t drive anything else.

“It’s costing me one-third of the cost of commuting with gasoline as it does to commute with natural gas,” he said.

He fills up at a public pump just outside of Denver that charges $2.59 a gallon for natural gas.

“If I was buying gasoline, it would have cost me over $30 to fill up this car,” Padgett said. “The actual cost of the natural gas was about $12, and if I do it in my garage, it’s going to be about $4.”

Filling-up in his garage involves a home-fueling station that connects to the gas line at his house and hangs on the wall. At just $4 a fill-up, Padgett says, he believes the bi-fuel sedans will be a big hit with consumers.

“You’ll burn natural gas when you can, and if you need to back it up with gasoline, it’s there for you as well. Same engine – no difference,” Padgett said.

Many industry experts believe bi-fuel provides the kind of savings for consumers that may result in the same kind of automotive revolution that has resurrected the latest class of hybrid electric cars. American consumers purchased 52,000 gas-electric or all-electric cars in March, a number that represents 3.64 percent of all sales.

Dr. Jennifer Miskimins, a professor in petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, says the new technology is a game changer. She says it could drive a huge new segment of the economy, simply because we have so much natural gas and it’s so much cheaper than gasoline.

She points to the thousands of active natural gas wells in Weld County and on the Western Slope. She says those wells offer a hint of the enormous domestic reserves available to power a new natural-gas economy.

“The energy needs of the world are expected to go up something like 50 percent over the next 20 to 25 years,” Miskimins said. “Hydrocarbons will still make up about 80 percent of that energy demand and that energy supply. Natural gas is clean burning. It’s something people are starting to get a lot more comfortable with, so you’re going to see those car systems and everything else start to continue.”

Miskimins points out that there are the downsides to extracting fossil fuels, not the least of which is the controversy surrounding fracking. There’s also the possibility of disasters at well heads, and the release of what are called “orphan emissions” from wells which are potential leaks of other noxious gases.

But in a country that thrives on a low-cost drive, she’s fairly convinced that the bi-fuel vehicle offers an increasingly attractive alternative.

Americans spend more than $1 billion every day on foreign oil, more than half of which is used to make gasoline and diesel to power our trucks and automobiles.

That’s an equation that may be about to change.

When you look at natural gas from methane hydrates, the numbers are staggering. It’s often said that the energy from the methane hydrates in the U.S. vastly exceed the energy found in all the coal, oil and conventional natural gas in the U.S. combined. One estimate of U.S. methane hydrates is 200,000 trillion cubic feet – close to 9,000 years of supply at current U.S. consumption levels.

9 News, 3 May 2012