WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 - Because the transportation sector accounts for nearly a third of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions, the Department of Energy continues to research alternative fuels in order to “provide consumers with cutting-edge vehicle technologies that optimize fuel efficiency, minimize transportation emissions and improve energy security.”  President Obama and DOE, along with many major automotive producers, propose that abundant U.S. natural gas can be leveraged as a low-carbon transportation fuel that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The average gasoline-powered vehicle produces roughly 4.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, says DOE. More than 258 million light cars and trucks are on the road today, and annual light-duty vehicle emissions have grown to approximately 1.2 billion metric tons per year.

Although natural gas has been primarily used to fuel large commercial vehicle fleets or heavy-duty vehicles, it is increasingly being considered as a fuel for light-duty passenger vehicles.

DOE says that natural gas currently fuels 40,000 cars, 70,000 light trucks and 40,000 heavy trucks in the U.S., as well as 15.2 million vehicles worldwide.

The DOE proposes three ways the U.S. could leverage domestic natural gas as a transportation fuel:

  •  In a compressed natural gas vehicle that uses a conventional internal combustion engine,
  •  In a fuel cell electric vehicle, where natural gas is converted into hydrogen at a steam methane reforming plant, which is then turned into electricity by the fuel cells to power the electric motor, and
  •  In a plug-in electric vehicle that uses batteries recharged by electricity generated from natural gas power plants and powers the electric motor. 

The energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and ranges of the three proposed natural gas passenger vehicle configurations are compared in a new DOE brochure, using analysis by Argonne National Laboratory and its GREET Model (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation).


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