The number of natural gas vehicles (NGV) worldwide will nearly double between now and 2020, according to a report released last week by Navigant Research. NGVs on the roadway will increase steadily from 18.2 million now to 34.9 million by 2020, Navigant said.

The news preceded an announcement Friday that Westport Innovations Inc. is acquired BAF Technologies Inc. from U.S. NGV fueling company Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (see related story).

The market growth in NGVs driven mainly by a combination of low-cost gas supplies and sustained higher prices for gasoline and diesel, according to Navigant’s Market Data report.

“Today’s growth in the market is being fueled less by negative external events and more by positive industry developments,” said Navigant’s principal research analyst Dave Hurst, who added that a brief surge in NGVs popularity occurred in the ’70s as a result of the 1973 oil embargo.

Hurst thinks there are more positive drivers now, such as increased vehicle availability, stronger focus on the largest users of fuel in new regions and “greater openness” generally to alternative fuel vehicles by individual consumers and fleet operators.

Interest in NGVs has grown more widespread in recent years with the surge of low-cost natural gas supplies, Navigant noted. The market for natural gas as a transportation fuel is gaining “increased traction” in many regions of the globe. The report acknowledges that NGVs have been in service in large numbers for decades in some countries, but this is now widening considerably.

Separately last week America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA) unveiled a campaign pushing six dual-fuel demonstration vehicles at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Washington, DC. The ANGA/AGA demonstration is designed to showcase technology that fits a diverse set of vehicles without altering their performance.

Offered at the ACT Expo were a BMW X3 small SUV, Chrysler 300, Ford Mustang GT, GMC Acadia, Honda CRV and Hyundai Sonata, all converted to run on natural gas and gasoline. ANGA CEO Marty Durbin said the mixture of vehicles “demonstrates what is possible” in terms of NGVs, noting the gas industry wants consumers to “think beyond their city buses.”

The bi-fuel vehicles previewed at the ACT Expo are being billed as “range-extended NGVs, or RENG-Vs,” and are tied to efforts to promote new home fueling equipment for the individual vehicle owner. Some of the six vehicles were previewed in late May in Southern California.

Vehicles range in engine size from 2.4 liters in the Sonata to 5.0 liters in the Ford Mustang GT, but each can start and run on natural gas with ranges varying from 55 to 75 miles, noting that national statistics indicate an average use of 40 miles daily for personal vehicles. With the gasoline option, the vehicles’ overall ranges varied from 375 miles for the Mustang to 574 miles for the four-cylinder Sonata.

The vehicles are being promoted as prototype NGVs that have gasoline as a range-extending backup, but they are looked at on a day-to-day basis as primarily running on natural gas. Eventually, the economic viability of these RENG-Vs will depend on the cost of home refueling, and that is still an issue to be worked out by future technology advances.

Ahead of the ACT Expo, Ryder Systems Inc. expanded its commitment to lease more natural gas-powered trucks (see NGI, May 21, 2012) to include light- and medium-duty CNG vehicles in California with 20 Greenkraft cab-over vehicles and 19 Navistar International TranStar trucks. Meanwhile, Landi Renzo USA is offering dual fuel engine conversions on 12.7-liter Detroit Diesel S60 truck engines in Freightliner trucks.

Also last week, Chicago-based Trillium CNG said it plans to build 101 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations spread over 30 states, specializing in fast-fill technology for heavy-duty fleets. A unit of Integrys Transportation Fuels LLC, part of the Integrys Energy Group, Trillium is following a strategy of securing a fuel purchase agreement with an anchor customer for each of its new station locations.

Twenty-eight of the stations are slated for oil and gas-rich states Texas (14), Ohio (8) and Pennsylvania (6). Other states slated for CNG stations are Alabama (2), Arizona (2), Arkansas (2), California (3), Colorado (1), Florida (7), Georgia (4), Illinois (6), Indiana (5), Iowa (2), Minnesota (5), Mississippi (1), Missouri (2), Nebraska (1), Nevada (1), New York (4), North Carolina (2), North Dakota (1), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (4), and Wisconsin (5).

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