Toyota Launches New CNG Vehicle
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Toyota is expected to announce today that it will be reexamining an alternative fuel technology which it had previously dropped: compressed natural gas.
Currently, only Honda manufactures a CNG-powered car; the company plans to produce double the number of these CNG Civics for the American market next year as it has produced in 2008.
Toyota plans to show off a pre-production version of a hybrid CNG-electric Camry in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Toyota has not as yet committed to production, but the new vehicle is timed perfectly to meet with an increased interest in CNG-powered cars.
“With this concept, we are confirming our interest in pursuing CNG,” says Irv Miller, a vice president for the U.S. arm of Toyota Motor Sales. Miller touts CNG’s lower cost, higher availability and lower emissions as compared to gasoline. A Toyota-sponsored press conference here advanced the argument that natural gas is much less scare than are oil reserves, warranting a second look at CNG as an automotive fuel.
Toyota is “testing the waters,” says John O’Dell, senior editor for Edmunds Green Car Advisor. “They want to be ready” if CNG seems set to make a comeback.
Toyota’s announcement comes as natural gas is being promoted as an important energy source. T. Boone Pickens, the Texas energy tycoon has promoted natural gas and wind power as the central elements of his “Pickens plan” for U.S. energy independence. One of the U.S.’s largest natural gas producers, Chesapeake Energy, has been using advertisements to promote CNG as an alternative fuel.
Toyota’s new focus on CNG “demonstrates there is a great deal of attention at progressive auto manufacturers who are looking at the opportunity to use a clean, abundant, affordable, American fuel,” says Chesapeake Energy Senior Vice President Tom Price.
Almost ten years ago, there were several auto manufacturers offering CNG powered cars; however, when public interest waned, these models were quietly withdrawn from the market. CNG vehicles historically have had the disadvantages of having less trunk space than gasoline powered cars due to the larger fuel tanks required and less mileage per tank of fuel.
There is also the disadvantage that there are a mere 1,000 CNG fuel stations in the world, only half of which are available to average consumers, making it difficult to refuel a CNG vehicle.
However, climbing gasoline prices have sparked enough interest among the public that Honda says there is a months-long waiting list for the CNG-powered Civic. The company plans to produce 2,000 CNG-powered Civics next year. The CNG-powered Civic GX will be priced at $25,090, about $7,000 more than gasoline powered models.
The GX is only being sold directly to consumers in the states of California and New York at present – as gas prices have risen, so has demand, says Honda spokesman Chris Martin.
Martin continues by stating Honda’s support for CNG-powered vehicles from other manufacturers: “We think it helps acceptance” of natural gas as an automotive fuel to have models available from many different makers.
By Roger Harrabin
BBC News environment analyst
Gas from waste creates less pollution than incineration, says the report
Gas from waste could heat almost half the homes in the UK, according to a new report from National Grid.
It says obtaining more gas from waste will help cut carbon emissions, improve energy security and compensate for the shortage of landfill sites.
Renewable gas from landfill sites and sewage works provide 1% of the UK’s gas at present.
Today’s report says an extra £10 billion investment could increase that to between 5 and 18%.
The cost would be similar to that of other forms of renewable energy.
It says biogas could deliver up to two thirds of UK renewable energy targets by 2020. Critics believe the report is over-optimistic and seeks to capitalise on National Grid’s control over the UK’s gas pipelines.
Today’s report will contribute to the growing debate about heat, which produces 47% of the UK’s CO2 emissions – much more than electricity or transport. The government will soon launch a consultation on a heat strategy.
Renewable gas is currently obtained through anaerobic digestion (microbes) or by super-heating waste to drive off the gas. The report says both these processes create much less pollution than incineration.
Renewables subsidies mean renewable gas is currently used to generate electricity. But the report says this is much less efficient than using the existing gas grid to pipe the gas to heat homes.
The report says there are no insurmountable technical or safety barriers to delivering the gas, as the technology is already used in many other countries.
The key to delivery is government policy, including:
A commercial incentive for producers to inject “green” gas into the grid rather than generating electricity
A strategy to ensure each waste stream goes to the most appropriate technology to maximise energy recovery and recycling
A change in the rules about the amount of oxygen allowed in gas pipes
Continued support for research and development of renewable gas.
“As we look forward to 2050,” the report says, ” it is important to recognise that delivering 80% emissions reductions is going to require a very sizeable contribution from heat which only renewable gas is able to deliver without significant inconvenience to consumers and other residents of the UK.”
National Grid says the beauty of renewable gas is that it utilises existing infrastructure. Competing technologies like combined heat and power, or CHP, require new pipes to deliver the heat.
The report says instead of transporting wood chips by lorry to be burned in CHP plants it would be more efficient to gasify the wood chips and then transport the gas.
Will homes be heated using gas waste from landfill sites and sewage works?
Renewable gas is slightly less powerful than gas from fossil fuel but the report says consumers could be compensated through lower bills.
Critics point out that reliance on renewable gas locks the UK into a high-waste economy when the government is urging people to waste less.
Gas heating also allows less flexibility than electric heating which allows the heat in each room to be programmed easily.
Methane leaks could also be damaging – the greenhouse gas is more than 20 times more powerful than CO2.
Graham Meeks from the Combined Heat and Power Association said: “Renewable gas has an important role to play in the decarbonisation of the economy, but on its own it is no panacea. The low carbon agenda needs another silver bullet like a hole in the head.
“Any suggestion that this could displace the need for technologies such as district heating is extremely unhelpful. In fact district heating and CHP are the perfect complement to renewable gas production.”
[Submitted by Celtic Shaman]