Differing state and federal environmental regulations, and a lack of political will to streamline them, could retard growth of natural gas vehicles (NGV) in the transportation fuel market, according to a white paper by the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center in Pennsylvania.

The concern is focused mostly on conversion equipment added to normal liquid fuel-powered vehicles. Manufactures of dedicated NGVs designed and produced to run exclusively on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural (LNG) indicate their equipment is designed to meet all North American and global requirements.

“There are various state and federal regulations, so our technology is designed to satisfy all of those regulations,” said a spokesperson for Vancouver, BC-based Westport Innovations Inc. (see related story).

Westport’s spokesman told NGI that various environmental and safety regulations are factored in as a normal course of the company’s business. “We stay on top of any of the regulatory policy issues that affect the development of the technology or the manufacturing of the engines. For the most part, the most stringent regulations relate to the emissions side.”

Richard Kolodziej. president of Washington, DC-based trade organization NGV America, said no states oppose natural gas use for transportation, “it is just that some states are more supportive than others.” For emissions, the states vary between EPA and CARB [California Air Resources Board] regulations, and for NGV conversions they vary even more, he said. Equipment makers for the vehicles and fueling stations adhere to a set of national, voluntary standards.

Because it sells worldwide, Westport needs to keep up with the requirements worldwide. “The Euro Zone has its own regulations,” the spokesman said. “Typically, we are satisfying the most stringent rules, and therefore we can sell across the world.”

But Westport is not dealing with conversions, and that is where the Ben Franklin Center white paper predicted the bulk of the U.S. NGV market will be centered on older, fleet vehicles beyond their service lives of eight to 12 years since that can lessen the regulations that apply.

“It is unlikely that this situation will change in the next several years,” said Brian Krier, energy programs manager and author of the white paper.

Concentrating on Pennsylvania and U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) certification requirements dating back to 1997, Krier said Pennsylvania adopted more stringent-than-EPA requirements established by CARB, which he said carry national impact.

The realities of the differing rules, which Krier called a “confusing, daunting set of obstacles,” will likely “require that most NGV technology manufacturers work with an original equipment manufacturer or strategic partner familiar with the EPA and CARB processes.”

Krier concluded that these regulatory factors “will slow and probably cap the penetration of natural gas solutions in transportation. Most manufacturers will sell to off-road niche markets in the United States, or manufacture for fleets and popular vehicle types while pursuing foreign sales in Latin America, Poland and other places that are developing shale gas resources.”

NGV America’s Kolodziej said the biggest challenge is not regulations but the chicken-egg issue of building more vehicles and more fueling infrastructure, which he says is being done, albeit slowly. “We’re growing, adding about 20-25 stations monthly, but there are 1,200 natural gas fueling stations, compared with 150,000 gasoline stations, so we have a long way to go.”

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