Wednesday, July 22, 2009

U.S. House Reps Vote $150 MM for Natural Gas Vehicles

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- The House overwhelmingly approved a $150 million program to research natural-gas powered vehicles.

By a vote of 363 to 35, the House passed the bill that authorizes the Energy Department to conduct a five-year program of natural gas vehicle research, development and demonstration, authorizing $30 million annually starting in the 2010 budget year.

The research program is to aid "the continued improvement and development of new, cleaner, more efficient light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty natural gas vehicle engines." The bill also seeks to improve the reliability and efficiency of natural gas fueling station infrastructure and boost the use of natural gas engines in hybrid vehicles.

The bill was written by Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla.

"The vehicle fleet of the future will include a diverse range of fuels and vehicle technologies," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. "And since it is both cleaner than petroleum and domestically available, natural gas will likely play an important role in a more sustainable transportation sector."

Earlier this month, Senate leaders, joined by Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, unveiled a bill to jumpstart the production of vehicles that run on natural gas.

The legislation, dubbed the NAT-GAS bill, was introduced by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Robert Menendez, D-N.J. It would increase tax credits for buying a natural gas-powered vehicle from $5,000 to $12,500, boost grants to create additional natural gas filling stations and create grants for light- and heavy-duty natural gas engine development.

While there are about 10 million vehicles worldwide that run on natural gas, only about 142,000 of them are in the United States.

Automakers haven't shown much interest in building or selling natural gas vehicles in this country.

Honda Motor Co., whose Civic GX runs on compressed natural gas, is the only automaker that builds and sells a natural gas vehicle in the United States.

Honda moved production of the CNG Honda GX to Indiana from Ohio in May. But in the first nine months of the model year, it had sold only about 1,700 models in the United States

A similar bill was introduced in the House in April.

According to the California Energy Commission, greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are 23 percent lower than diesel and 30 percent lower than gasoline. Natural gas produces virtually no particulate emissions, making it cleaner than diesel.

But unlike solar or wind power, natural gas is not a renewable source of energy and some environmentalists oppose expanding its use.

Municipal bus systems have used using compressed natural gas for decades. About 20 percent of public transit buses in the U.S. run on compressed natural gas. (202) 662-8735$150-million-natural-gas-car-program

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