The price of crude oil is getting higher and higher. This has a direct impact on our economy because higher oil prices mean costlier gasoline. For most Americans and their families, car fuel is one of the biggest expenses the pay and it can easily reach over $400 per month. Sure there are opportunities for mass transit, expensive new hybrids, and other alternative fuel vehicles. However, most of these are not practical for the vast majority of Americans. Most people just need the ability to control or reduce their transportation costs.
The US has been using Compressed Natural Gas aka "CNG" ("methane") in homes for decades. It burns very clean, is relatively inexpensive, and we source this fuel domestically in the USA. In fact, most countries in Europe and Asia have also been using CNG as an alternative fuel for vehicles for many years. Other countries use CNG "bi-fuel" engines (runs on either CNG or gasoline) in their cars and trucks. The US is now facing increased gasoline prices and drivers are searching for ways to avoid traditional fossil fuels. To make CNG even more attractive, natural gas prices are near record lows! Gasoline prices are over $4.00 per gallon and CNG less than half that price in most areas. The typical middle class driver can't afford to just sell his/her car and then buy a brand new NGV (natural gas vehicle) for $30,000 (not to mention the vehicle is probably a compact!). This is where the CNG car conversion kit becomes of interest.
CNG car conversion kits have been around for decades and the technology is very reliable. There are two main types of systems: 1) Sequential electronic fuel injection kit- usually the most efficient and technologically sound for OBDII vehicles (1996 and later car models), and 2) The "venturi" or "mixer" system which is cheaper, does not use a computer, and bypasses the injectors. There are also four basic components of the CNG car conversion kit:
1. The CNG cylinder (high pressure tank)
2. Regulator (reduces from high pressure to low pressure)
3. ECU (electronic control unit)
4. Injectors (for sequential fuel injection OBDII kits) or the mixer (for "venturi" or carburetor kits)
The CNG cylinder is typically the single most expensive component of the conversion system, and they are classified as type 1 through 4. Type 1 cylinders are made of heavy steel, and are the most common... mainly because they are most affordable. Type 2, 3, and 4 are composed of steel and/or carbon fiber. Typically, the higher the type, the lighter the weight and the more expensive the cylinder will be. A brand new type 1 CNG cylinder can reach as much as $1500 depending on the volume, while type 4 cylinders can be four or five times as much.
The regulator will bring the 3600 PSI high pressure gas down to a level your engine can utilize. Injectors will then spray the appropriate amount of CNG inside the manifold of your engine for ignition. This process is all controlled by the computer, or "ECU". The ECU will make sure CNG levels are accurate and safe for your engine. Too much CNG can burn your valves since CNG burns at about 120-130 octane. The ECU is connected to your vehicle's OBDII computer and calibrated by software (which will come with a good CNG conversion kit). Bi-fuel CNG conversion kits like this will allow the driver to operate on gasoline or CNG. The kit will have a small switch to install on your dash which will allow the driver to change fuel types even while the engine is running. Your original gasoline fuel system is not damaged in any way (if installed correctly). A benefit of bi-fuel CNG conversion kits is they allow the driver to utilize CNG while commuting or driving around town and CNG pumps are usually more convenient, but they also allow the driver to use traditional gasoline on longer road trips where CNG may not be available. The CNG infrastructure is growing each day, so if CNG is not convenient for you then it soon should be!
CNG conversion systems can cost anywhere from $1,000 up to several thousand dollars for newer EPA certified kits. This price does NOT include the cost of the cylinder. In a state like California, the CARB won't let you legally install anything but an expensive EPA certified kit. Further, you can only install the kits on certain vehicle and engine types.
A CNG conversion kit can be installed within four to eight hours on most vehicles. You should try to find a mechanic with CNG experience or at least use an ASE certified mechanic.
Not all CNG conversion kits are equal. Please be aware of exactly what your are buying. Also, your local government rules and regulations can be very confusing and maybe even restrictive to certain CNG components.