These days, auto makers are striving to create vehicles with engines alternative to the classic internal combustion engine. Both electric engines and engines that run on natural gas (as opposed to gasoline) have been introduced.
While an internal combustion engine uses a mixture of gasoline, air, and tiny explosions to produce energy that moves the wheels. Electric engines, however, are simply charged and use electricity to move the vehicle. Because natural gas engines operate like internal combustion engines, vehicles can be converted to run on gasoline or natural gas (bi-fuel) or just natural gas (dedicated).
Current and Future Numbers
Right now there are over 16 million natural gas-fueled vehicles in the world, compared to about 200,000 electric vehicles. Both engines, however, are expected to gain in popularity. The International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles (IANGV) estimates that by 2020, around 6.5% of vehicles on the road will be natural gas and major electric car companies (like Tesla and Nissan) predict anywhere between 13% and 20% of vehicles being electric by then.
No one car company makes an all-electric vehicle and a natural gas vehicle, but on average: Ford’s electric Focus costs about $39,000 (but you may receive tax credits that bring the cost down to about $32,000). A regular Focus costs between $16,500 and $22,000 (say $20,000 average), but can be converted into a natural gas engine for about $10,000, so you can get one for about $30,000.
When comparing electric and natural gas, electric vehicles are more efficient. According to a report by MIT, 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas has a range of 224 miles in a natural gas vehicle. The same 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas converted to electricity has a range of about 457 miles in an electric vehicle.
If you filled up the 15-gallon tank of a natural gas vehicle and drove it until it was empty, you’d be able to go about 300 miles. Most electric vehicles, however, can only go about 100 miles on a full charge.
Filling Station Cost
To put it into perspective, a gas station costs about $50,000 – $150,000 to build. Natural gas filling stations can cost anywhere from $400,000 to $4 million (depending on whether the gas is compressed or liquefied), and a level II commercial chargers cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to build. (A DC quick charge station, however, is between $20,000 and $60,000.)
On average, electric vehicle owners pay about $1.14 for a “gallon” of electricity, whereas natural gas vehicle owners pay about $2 per gallon of natural gas.
So which vehicle do you think will become the most popular?