The new Honda Civic GX compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile has thrown down the gauntlet towards hydrogen cars. For the fifth year in a row the Honda Civic GX natural gas vehicle has won the ACEEE “Greenest Vehicles” award.
The Honda Civic GX CNG beats out the Toyota Prius with a green score of 57 vs. 53 on the ACEEE Greenest Vehicles of 2008 chart and is the greenest car certified by the EPA running 90-percent cleaner than most gasoline-powered automobiles in service today.
The Honda CNG car uses a 4-cyliner 1.8-liter engine that is rated at 113 horsepower, so it doesn’t have the same getup and go as a similar gasoline-powered version with 20-percent more horsepower. But, what it lacks in oomph it makes up for in greenness. The Honda Civic CNG also has a driving range of about 220 – 250 miles.
Okay, so where does one to go refuel the CNG vehicle? For those in California, there are an abundance of CNG stations. Major cities on the East Coast and a smattering of locations in the Midwest also have CNG filling stations as indicated on this map.
But, Honda has done the corner filling station one better by bringing the CNG refueling task inside the home. Honda has rolled out its natural gas refueling appliance that it is called Phill (pictured above). Honda owners can put Phill into their garages, tap it into the home’s natural gas line, the same line that powers the stove or dryer and Phill will refuel the CNG car.
Now, Honda has pitted the Civic GX CNG against their own FCX Clarity hydrogen car, which is due out this summer for testing in the Southern California region. In support of refueling it’s line of hydrogen cars (or any hydrogen cars for that matter) Honda has developed its Home Energy Station IV.
The Home Energy Station IV also taps into the home’s natural gas supply line and uses this to steam reform the natural gas and create hydrogen. It is important to note that hydrogen is created from both the natural gas and the steam in this process.
In the book “The Hydrogen World View” by Dr. Roger E. Billings, Dr. Billings talks about how hydrogen run through a fuel cell is so much more efficient that natural gas run through an internal combustion engine. On page 131 he states, “As a fuel, the natural gas will provide 209 kilometers (130 miles) of driving and will release 282 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. By reforming the same amount of natural gas, into hydrogen for a fuel cell vehicle, the range is extended to 547 kilometers (340 miles) and the carbon dioxide is reduced to just 108 grams per kilometer.”
So, although, CNG cars are a step in the right direction and can use an infrastructure that is much further along than that of hydrogen cars, they do not offer the same range or environmental benefits as do hydrogen cars. But, because the perfect is sometime the enemy of the good, one must not dismiss the Honda CNG altogether as this is exciting transitional technology that will get people used to driving compressed gas cars, refueling at home and making sure their GPS locators are filled with a database of refueling stations nationwide.
This will be necessary for CNG vehicles and it will be necessary for hydrogen vehicles in the years to come.