Before we begin, I just want to make it clear that we’re not talking about a fart powered car, even though that would be AWESOME. Also, I’m setting the over/under of fart jokes at 3.5. Get your bets in now. Meanwhile, let’s talk about whether you should conver your car to natural gas.
Let me update you on the natural gas market. We’re swimming in it. Thanks to a new drilling technique, called fracking, natural gas companies can extract more gas from the ground than ever before, and faster too. They inject a fluid into the rock, which opens up new channels in the rock. These new channels let the gas escape faster. Think of it like eating beans. THAT’S ONE. Fracking has increased production across the board, and natural gas supplies have been pushed to all time highs.
As supply flooded the market, demand actually dropped. The main use of natural gas is to heat and cool our homes, so it’s mostly in demand in the winter and summer. Last winter was a pretty mild one across North America, which wasn’t good for natural gas demand. But, on the plus side, I got away with not wearing my long underwear, which isn’t very sexy.
Natural gas prices dipped down to $2 per million BTUs earlier in 2012, and have settled in the $2.75 range. This is a far cry from 2005, as prices shortly after Hurricane Katrina soared to over $14, probably because George Bush hates black people, at least according to Kanye West. Either that or there was damage to the natural gas facilities in the region. It’s hard to say.
As gas prices went down, so did the price of natural gas stocks. Companies are trying to create demand for the product, so they’ve started to introduce natural gas filling stations, hoping to convince people to convert their cars to natural gas. Yeah, I know, it sounds a little crazy. But is it a good investment?
Many cities have ran natural gas powered buses for years. Bus companies build all sorts of buses with natural gas engines already in place, and these fleets of buses haven’t experienced any major problems that I could find on Google. But since cars don’t roll off the lot with natural gas engines, you’ll have to convert yours. And it’s gonna cost ya.
Thanks to this fancy Popular Mechanics article, I now know all about it. Rather than converting the engine straight to natural gas, they basically add another engine right alongside the existing gasoline one. The vehicle uses gasoline to start and then switches to natural gas once the engine is warmed up. If you lived in cold, cold, Canada, this is an important feature.
At this point, the cost to convert your engine is anywhere from $6,500 to $12,000, and that’s without getting your very own home filling kit, which costs another $3,500. You can save some money if you can do it yourself, but the fines for messing up can be steep. Bascially, the only change is the natural gas gets pressurized inside the car’s tank, and then needs to be depressurized before you can feed it to the engine. Add in some parts that do that and you’re good to go.
There’s the slight little problem of finding natural gas at the right pressure. Natural gas fueling stations are popping up across the continent, but they’ve hardly got the concentration that gas stations have. If your town doesn’t have one, you’ll have to shell out a aforementioned $3,500 to buy your very own natural gas compression machine.
Okay, that sounds expensive. But natural gas is cheap, right? Prices vary, but most people should be able to fill up their natural gas car for the equivalent of $1 per gallon – or 26.4 cents per liter if you prefer the metric system. That’s cheaper than the last time I took a girl out for a date using an expired 2 for 1 coupon. Surely you can make back the cost of conversion. It’s number time, yo.
Assume you drive 10,000 km per year. Your car gets the equivalent of 30 miles per gallon, which is 7.84 liters per 100km. If gasoline costs $1.20 per liter, you’d be spending $940.80 each year on gas. If your natural gas car got the same mileage, you’d be spending $205.92 on gas. That’s a savings of right around $735 per year, which is an 11.3% return on our (best case scenario) $6,500 investment.
If you drove 15,000 km per year, the savings get bumped up to $1,102 per year and if you’re driving 20,000 km per year you’re saving $1,470 annually. These represent returns of 16.9% and 22.6% respectively. Now we’re talking. I can get excited enough about those returns to accidentally fart a little. THAT’S TWO. Maybe the commuting hottie should invest in this.
One final note. It’s not like this is really all that new. Back in the 1980s, all sorts of people converted their gasoline engines to propane. Propane was cheap, gas stations already sold it, and the numbers made sense. There were just a couple of problems. The tank needed to be huge, meaning it took up pretty much your whole trunk if you converted a car. Most of the conversions I’ve seen were of light pickup trucks. Plus, the engine burned hotter, meaning the engine’s life was reduced. It looks like these problems have been fixed with natural gas.
This confirms what the city bus conversions should have already made obvious. If you put on a lot of miles on your car, a natural gas conversion begins to make sense. If you’re a bus, or a cab driver, or some sort of professional driver, then I’d say it’s time to take a look at converting. If not? I’d wait until the automakers start coming out with natural gas cars of their own and do the comparison again. There’s a future in this, it’s just not now.