Transportation may be the key frontier natural gas will have to conquer if it is going to dramatically change America's energy future. Traditionally, changing people's driving habits – convincing them of the virtues of alternative-fuel vehicles – is not an easy task. Just look at how many electric vehicles are on the road today, after years of promised "revolutions."
Yet natural gas vehicles are catching on, particularly in the one area where alternative-fuel experimentation usually starts – trucks and commercial fleets. Last year, almost 40 percent of the trash-hauling trucks and 25 percent of the transit buses purchased in the US were fueled by natural gas, according to NGVAmerica, a trade group in Washington. During the past few years, billions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure such as wells, pipelines, and natural gas fueling stations, to support them.
On car lots, the new Honda Civic Natural Gas Vehicle, now available in 38 states, is selling briskly. Chrysler has sped up development of CNG medium- and light-duty trucks; the bifuel vehicles will be available later this year. General Motors will be offering NGV trucks in 2012 as well.
Still, no one should necessarily rush out and trade in their conventional Malibu or Mountaineer just yet. Overall, 112,000 natural gas vehicles now ply US roadways, which represents less than 1 percent of the country's total vehicle fleet. One problem remains setting up the network of fueling depots that can support a growing fleet of CNG vehicles.