Investing in CNG Vehicle Technology

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 15, 2013

The explosive use of fracking and shale production has resulted in an abundance of natural gas, and nowhere is that more true than right here in the good ole U.S. of A.

Experts say that there is enough world supply to last us for the next 250 years. Here in the U.S., we’re producing more than anywhere else in the world, making the use of natural gas very appealing.

CNG FuelingSo compressed natural gas (CNG) has started popping up on our radar. CNG is essentially just methane gas stored at high pressure; it is often used in place of gasoline, diesel fuel, and propane gas.

The best part is that while we may not see it much here in the states, the technology is already proven and thriving in other parts of the world.

If we go to China, 90 percent of the taxi services in major metropolitan areas run on CNG. China’s natural gas fleet of vehicles is expected to hit 1.5 million by 2015. Worldwide, that number will be exponentially bigger, already reaching 15 million in 2011 and climbing 30 percent annually.

It’s been slow going in the U.S., but companies seem poised to make the most of natural gas production, and we should expect to see CNG used more frequently. Companies big and small are already starting to embrace it, from powering whole fleets of vehicles to your household lawnmowers.

And the advantages are clear. CNG presents much less stress on the environment, creating far less smog-producing pollutants and drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The reason many American consumers shy away from CNG is because while it does hold an approximate $1 savings advantage over gasoline, it’s also less energy dense by volume – meaning CNG powered vehicles require bigger fuel tanks, which in turn means less trunk space. And you know how important your trunk space can be.

Other problems include its current limits in design and storage capability. The purchase price of a CNG vehicle is also a bit steep – roughly $7,000 to $9,000 more its their gas-powered counterpart.

Still, some companies believe they can overcome these disadvantages.

Chrysler Group LLC

Chrysler says it has addressed all of these issues with patent-pending technology. It’s expanded fuel tank capacity and conformed its design to better suit a vehicle. This way, all of us Americans can have the space we so desperately need.

Chrysler likens its new technology to that of the human lungs – the alveoli in particular, which a person uses to expand his or her lung capacity. The same approach is used to package Chrysler’s CNG tanks.

Chrysler already has a CNG vehicle available. Its CNG Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup truck has a range of up to 255 miles powered by CNG, with a reserve 35-gallon tank that extends its total range to 745 miles, according to Automotive News. The engine is a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 capable of burning both CNG and gasoline with ease.

Right now, the CNG Ram, like other CNG vehicles, has its CNG stored in a large reinforced cylinder in the truck’s bed. But the new tank technology will make this less bulky and more able to fit the vehicle.

Beyond Chrysler

CNG use is spanning across many sectors – telephone companies are using CNG for some of their fleet vehicles; so are airports and mail delivery services, and waste management has embraced CNG and duel-powered technology for its trash trucks, signing on for multi-million dollar investments.

As for the consumer auto industry, Ford’s (NYSE: F) natural gas F-150 is the closest thing to what Chrysler is doing. The 2014 F-150 seems to also handle some of CNG’s major problems.

Like Chrysler’s Ram, the new F-150 can run on natural gas and regular gas, so you’ve got plenty of range to get you where you’re going. As for the large fuel tank, it goes in the bed under a workbox – problem solved there!

When it comes to price, you have to consider that at the very least, you will be saving $1 per gallon, but probably more like $2 or $3, when you use CNG. That means that if you’re going to shell out a premium price for a truck like the Ram 2500 or Ford’s F-150, you’ll have your return on investment in a couple years’ time.

Ford is also boasting that its natural gas F-150 is the only one of its kind on the market. Ford gave its F-150 a 3.7 liter V6 engine that can travel up to 750 miles and average 23 miles per gallon.

For Investors

Today, nearly all of U.S. natural gas is produced domestically, and someday soon that will likely be 100 percent. As production continues to go up, by embracing CNG and natural gas as a whole, we will not only help support local and national economies, but we will have the chance to stuff our pockets, as well.

The numbers never lie. CNG achieves nearly identical mileage when compared to unleaded regular gasoline and will likely save you 20 to 30 percent when refueling.

Not only is natural gas a more earth-friendly alternative, but in order to entice users to go for it, there are federal and state incentives, grants, and various agencies on the national and state levels that are doing things to promote the use of natural gas.

In Europe, we’re starting to see real solid growth for the first time; I already mentioned China, and others are catching on, too. So now it’s time for the U.S. to jump on board.

It’s what we all want – a cheaper, more efficient vehicle that is good for the environment.

That’s why I’m saying we should take a look at automakers and see what they’re doing with natural gas, and we should continue to look further down the scope of things – from pipelines and infrastructure to terminals and engine manufacturers.

The time is now.


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