One obstacle that has held natural gas vehicles back from mass production is the lack of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling stations across our nation. Without an infrastructure in place, this segment of the marketplace is hindered. In a new industry like this, we encounter “the chicken and the egg” scenario. Which comes first? Do we need more CNG vehicles in place to get the infrastructure, or do we need to get the infrastructure in place to merit the production of more natural gas vehicles? The introduction of CNG bi-fuel pickups and vans may be the link that helps bridge this gap, and ultimately increase the production of natural gas vehicles. In comparing gas vehicles to bi-fuel vehicles, both run on gasoline. The new element added, is the bi-fuel has the ability for the engine to operate equally well on either gasoline or natural gas. Getting more vehicles on the road that run on natural gas, will then encourage the production of fueling stations.
Natural gas cars, trucks, and buses are a good economic and environmental investment. Natural gas is a very clean burning fuel, in great abundance, right here in the good ole USA, and is very inexpensive. An increase in natural gas production could spell hundreds of thousands of new jobs, which could also solve many of the financial wows we now face.
A bi-fuel vehicle, utilizes two fuels that are stored in separate tanks. The engine only runs on one fuel at a time, but is compatible with both fuels. The two most common bi-fuel mixtures are compressed natural gas (CNG) / gasoline, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) / gasoline. Hydrogen is also used at times, for the alternative fuel, in a bi-fuel vehicle. As more bi-fuel vehicles hit the road, the more need there will be for additional infrastructure. As more fueling stations are added, the more viable CNG fueled vehicles will become. These bi-fuel pickups are certainly a step in the right direction.
Ford took the lead with bi-fuel pickup trucks along with bi-fueled vans. Beginning in May of 2011, they began offering the bi-fuel E-250/350 vans, along with their F-250/350 pick-up trucks, in partnership with BAF Technologies. BAF Technologies, Inc. is a subsidiary of Clean Energy Fuels Corp. This was the first company to receive the designation as a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM). This proprietary bi-fuel conversion was designed by BAF specifically for these Ford vehicles. The process takes “already manufactured” pickup trucks and vans, and modifies the fuel system to include CNG use. The process BAF uses meets OEM standards for quality.
When Ford and BAF struck this deal, John Bacon, President of BAF Technologies made the following comment, “The ability to offer Ford QVM bi-fuel vehicles to the marketplace is a huge step forward. Not only will our new BAF bi-fuel models provide commercial and municipal fleets with increased flexibility in deploying their vehicles, they will move us another step closer to getting CNG vehicles into the hands of consumers as the fueling infrastructure continues to develop.”
In late 2011, Ford entered into another partnership in their development of bi-fuel pickup trucks. Westport Innovations Inc., who has been an industry leader in manufacturing CNG engines, has developed a fully-integrated, cost-effective solution which is available in light-duty vehicles. This advanced, integrated, bi-fuel (natural gas/gasoline) system is called the Westport WiNG™ Power System. It is designed for fleet customers of both passenger and commercial vehicles. The WiNG™ Power System meets both EPA 2015 and California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2015 standards. The WiNG™ system will be used with the Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickup trucks, which will be sold and serviced through authorized Ford Dealers.
These bi-fuel pickup trucks will have twice the driving range of regular gasoline trucks; which is about 600 miles. The bi-fuel truck always starts up with CNG, and then switches to gasoline, for extended range. Ford’s new 6.2L hardened engine platform, is used.
Ian Scott, President of Westport LD said, “We’re seeing strong customer interest across the spectrum, from fleets of all shapes and sizes for a factory-validated product, as more and more owners understand the economic and operational benefits of a cleaner fuel that’s sourced right here in North America.”
The North American Vehicle Programs Managing Director, at Westport LD, John Lapetz, stated, “Our customers will benefit from the best natural gas technology in the industry along with the confidence and quality of the Ford name and the strength of their dealer network.”
For more than 30 years, the F-Series has been the bestselling truck line in America. Ford is pushing for this to continue as they offer their bi-fuel version. The WiNG™ systems will be engineered and installed at Westport’s new technical facility in Plymouth Michigan. Some of these pickup trucks should already be on their way to Ford Authorized Dealers across the country, as this article is being written.
There is a clear advantage to the use of natural gas, in that, it is a much cleaner burning fuel than gasoline or diesel, and is about half the price of regular gasoline. It is estimated that the fuel savings with a bi-fuel pickup, over a three year period, could be as much as $10,000, depending on the number of miles driven and one’s driving habits.
General Motors has also committed to production of a bi-fuel option on their Chevrolet 2016 Silverado 2500 HD and the GMC Sierra 2500 HD. They will rely on aftermarket suppliers to install the CNG component. GM will build the trucks in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and then ship them to a nearby IMPCO Technologies Inc. plant, where the conversion is made for their bi-fuel system. These pickup trucks are available not only for fleet use, but for the individual consumer. GM is expecting to produce approximately 2,500 of these bi-fuel units in the fourth quarter of 2015.
There are some drawbacks, however with these bi-fuel vehicles; the biggest being the price tag. GM recently released their pricing for this bi-fuel pickup, which will add an additional $11,000 to the price of the vehicle. This is about $1,250 higher than the comparable Ford bi-fuel systems. Another disadvantage of a bi-fuel pickup is the reduction of useable bed area, caused by the added CNG tank. Here is a good video featuring some of the features of the Silverado bi-fuel pickup.
Video - Chevrolet Silverado CNG Bi-Fuel Pickup
Video - Chevrolet Silverado CNG Bi-Fuel Pickup
Another slight disadvantage of the bi-fuel vehicle is a loss in power. While in CNG mode, the GM trucks are estimated to deliver 12% less power, than in gasoline mode. The Ram pickups are estimated to have a 15% loss in power in CNG mode. Westport is estimating the loss of power in the Ford F-Series to only be about 5%.
The bi-fuel option will be available on all GM heavy-duty truck configurations. This includes their extended cab models as well as their four-wheel drive unit. One advantage the GM pickup trucks have over the Ford, is an additional 50 miles driving range. Estimated total driving miles on both gasoline and CNG is about 650 miles.
It was recently announced by Chrysler that it is offering a factory-installed compressed natural gas option, for their 2500 Heavy Duty Ram pickup. Their system is engineered and developed by Fiat Spa, Chrysler’s managing partner. According to company representatives, Fiat Spa has produced about 80% of the CNG trucks that are in operating in Europe. Their bi-fuel system will be installed on trucks at their assembly plant, in Saltillo, Mexico. This makes Ram the only bi-fuel vehicle that is manufactured and installed by the automaker.
The 2500 HD CNG uses a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 modified with a dual fuel delivery system. It has redesigned cylinder heads, valves and valve-seat materials and injectors. It has two CNG tanks with a total gasoline equivalent capacity of 18.2 gallons, in addition to an 8-gallon gasoline tank. The total estimated travel range is about 360 miles. The truck utilizes gasoline to start the engine, and then automatically changes to CNG. It then runs on CNG until empty, and then changes over to gasoline. The CNG tanks are secured in the truck bed, under a steel cover.
Ram is available only in a Crew cab 4x4 version in the ST or SLT trim style. The retail price is approximately $47,500. According to company officials, by having the bi-fuel system factory installed, it saves up to $6,000 of the cost of sending it out to an installer. Chrysler’s first bi-fuel pickup trucks should be delivered by July of 2015. Chrysler is committed to producing approximately 2,000 of these pickup trucks in 2015.
Monitoring which fuel is being utilized, is accomplished differently with each design. Chrysler Ram pickups have twin analog fuel gauges with an LCD display on the main instrument panel. Westport mounts a CNG fuel gauge on the Ford center stack. The blue display goes dark when in gasoline mode. The GM trucks display a four light LED readout in the center stack; one light for each quarter of a tank of natural gas.
GM offers a manual override system to switch between fuels while the Ford and Ram pickups don’t offer this feature. GM also offers a lighter weight CNG tank, which also maximizes available bed space which isn’t offered by their competitors.
A concern you may have when it comes to natural gas vehicles is the safety of the CNG fuel system. The aluminum tanks that are used are not only light in weight, but very strong in construction. Extensive testing has been conducted concerning the safety of these CNG tanks. Watch the following video which demonstrates many of the tests that have been conducted and the conclusion that these tanks are actually much safer than our regular gasoline tanks.
Video - CNG Tanks Pass Rigorous Testing
Video - CNG Tanks Pass Rigorous Testing
The auto industry is clearly one step closer to the mass-production of passenger cars powered by natural gas. Three different automakers have arrived at the same general point almost simultaneously, but from different directions in the production of bi-fuel pickup trucks powered by CNG. Two of the automakers have partnered with independent companies to accomplish their task, while one was able to complete their creation from within. All have proven that CNG bi-fuel vehicles are legitimate. In the process, they bring mass production of pure CNG vehicles, closer to a reality. With the Honda Civic GX doubling in production this year, it may not be that long until it’s common to see these CNG vehicles housed in garages all across the nation.
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comparing natural gas vehicles to bi-fuel vehicles.
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