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NGV Sector Moves to Defend CAFE Standards

Natural gas vehicle (NGV) advocates are rallying around the need to continue federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for new vehicles operating in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) are reviewing the 2022-25 standards and deciding whether they should be scrapped and if so, how.

However, alternative fuel advocates want the CAFE standards "strengthened and modernized" rather than eliminated. Some studies point to the CAFE standards as a way to help reduce oil imports.

The Council on Foreign Relations has calculated that without strengthening the standards, which took effect in 2007, U.S. oil demand could be 2.6 million b/d higher by 2030. Moreover, two-thirds of the vehicles now purchased in the United States are light duty or sport utility vehicles, reinforcing the need for robust standards to reduce dependence on petroleum, according to the NGV supporters.

Meanwhile, Westport Fuel Systems earlier in May agreed to sell its compressed natural gas (CNG) compressor business in Cherasco, Italy to Snam SpA, a leading European gas utility, for 12.5 million euros ($14.4 million). Westport is streamlining to focus on supplying alternative fuel vehicle components and systems to the transportation industry.

Westport CEO Nancy Gougarty said the CNG unit "will be in good hands as they will be able to grow the CNG fueling infrastructure further, which will ultimately benefit our core business” of making NGV fueling equipment.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has chosen the University of Houston (UH) to lead a $2 million project to develop and optimize a catalyst to eliminate unreacted methane. UH’s Michael Harold, chairman of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is to work with associate professor Lars Grabow and researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Virginia and CDTi Inc., an Oxnard, CA-based emissions technology company.

A key to the research is that natural gas combustion produces less carbon dioxide (CO2) than gasoline or diesel combustion. The research team plans to analyze the so-called “four-way catalyst,” building on the three-way catalysts used with gasoline and diesel engines that simultaneously convert nonmethane hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. The new catalyst will also convert methane.

Harold said a critical aspect of the work is to reduce the use of precious metals to lower the cost. Traditional vehicle exhaust catalysts rely on platinum, palladium and rhodium, which are effective but expensive.

And in Mexico, Energía y Combustibles (Enco) this year plans to invest about 130 million pesos ($6.7 million) in natural gas refueling stations, with 40 million pesos allocated to the state of Nuevo Leon to construct a refueling station and a self-service station in the Monterrey metropolitan area.

Enco officials said in news reports the two facilities would be added to the six now in operation. In addition, Enco plans to carry out other projects, which include converting existing gasoline or diesel stations to CNG for local companies and public transport vehicle fleets.

In April Chinese automaker BAIC began commercializing a D20 sedan for Mexico that was adapted to operate on both gasoline and natural gas. The model is one of the first three that the brand sold in Mexico. Local company Gazo has installed a 34-liter CNG tank in the trunk of the vehicle, allowing the engine to run on both fuels.

“The performance offered by natural gas is similar to that of gasoline,” said Grupo Picacho’s Samuel Echeverría, operations director. The company distributes BAIC vehicles in Mexico.

“In the case of the vehicle, it can cover about 12 kilometers per liter. The model is available to any client, and we believe it can be a good option for taxi drivers or for corporate fleets.”

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