Advantages of Natural Gas Engines

Join The Motley Fool's Austin Smith for a chat with Sandeep Munshi, director of technology and development at Westport Innovations. Based in Vancouver and with facilities in eight other countries, Westport is the industry leader in natural gas engines and vehicles.

Nat-gas is clean-burning, abundant, and available worldwide. Munshi explains some of the perks of this alternative fuel and the vehicles -- from automobiles to heavy machinery -- designed to take advantage of it.

To watch the full interview, click here.

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Austin Smith: Hey Fools, Austin Smith here with Sandeep Munshi, the director of technology and development at Westport Innovations. Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with us today.

Sandeep Munshi: Thank you.

Smith: Being director of technology at a technology -- and very advanced -- company, it's a tall order. How did you get involved?

Munshi: Well, it's a bit of a long story but I'll make it really short. I've been here for about 13 or 14 years. I studied at UBC and I knew about Westport, so a long time back when a chance or opportunity came, I applied to work here.

Since then, it's been great. It's been a great experience, a lot of good learning, and I really enjoy what I'm doing here on natural gas engines. It's all leading technology, so yes. I consider myself quite fortunate in that sense.

Smith: For those who aren't aware, from a technological aspect, what are the advantages to a natural gas engine compared to any of the other alternatives out there -- maybe traditional petrol, diesel, or electric?

Munshi: Natural gas as a fuel and natural gas engines, both, there are a number of key advantages. If you look at the fuel itself, natural gas is clean-burning, it's abundant. It's also available all over the world.

If you talk about North America, there are large domestic reserves, especially in recent years with the shale gas. The amount of natural gas that's available in the ground that can be economically extracted has grown significantly, so natural gas as a fuel does bring some of these advantages over traditional petroleum fuels.

One of the key advantages also is the market economics. Operationally, it's a lot cheaper to operate a natural gas vehicle compared to, say, gasoline or diesel today, in North America. You're looking at cost reductions -- fuel cost savings -- anywhere from 30%-50%, depending on jurisdiction and concentration.


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  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 1:44 PM, FoolinSD wrote:

    Please pay attention to mixing. Munshi sounds muffled - most likely bad lapel mic placement. You guys are using a mixer right? Munshi is too soft & Smith ended up being too loud.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 3:59 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    Electricity is much better for light duty transport. It is easy to install a charger in your home . . . less than $1000 and works for decades with no maintenance. A natural gas fill station costs much more, uses electricity, is noisy, and requires annual maintenance.

    And electricity can be made from nuclear, wind, coal, geothermal, solar PV, hydro power,natural gas, oil, concentrated solar, waves, etc. Natural gas can be made from . . . natural gas.

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2013, at 11:08 PM, Geodude999 wrote:

    Actually natural gas is much better for light transport. The main reason is that virtually ANY regular gas vehicle can be outfitted to run on natural gas. That means every EXISTING car out there has the ability to run on much cleaner burning fuel for about half the cost of gasoline. Most home already have a natural gas line so it is falrly easy to have a line run to the garage and install a basic filling station. It would make sense to covert every vehicle you have. Natural gas has virtually the same BTU's so your fuel mileage and horsepower are relatively the same. This does not mean they cannot run on regular gas. With the flip of a valve, you can switch back and forth. That means you DOUBLE your range. That would put most people into the 800 mile plus range. Now if you want a 30 mile range, then go get yourself an EV vehicle.

  • Report this Comment On September 02, 2013, at 2:17 PM, kgrahamprinter wrote:

    If natural gas is considered useful then propane should be considered more useful as it is capable of being carried as a liquid at relatively low pressures under 200 psi. . It has a higher amount of commercial fuel locations in the U.S. 2609 vs 602 for natural gas(source http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/). Propane conversions were once common place on carbureted vehicles so lets look at the history of where it all went wrong.

    With fuel injection gasoline vehicles considerably improved their efficiency and reduced pollutants. Diesel has also improved due to removal of sulfur from the fuel.

    As a person converting vehicles to propane in the 70's I saw the introduction of gasoline fuel injection and Diesel motors to pickups, that killed off the first rush to Propane in the late 70's. Propane and now it appears natural gas also have fuel injection so that means any will work leaving to question the weight, maintenance, durability, fuel costs advantages.

    What concerns me is if heavier fuels can be made from Natural Gas feed stocks easily enough then the natural gas powered motor vehicle is the worst vehicle due to the heavy fuel storage system with limited range. A Google search brings up http://www.greyrock.com/ which makes that very claim of portable Natural Gas to Diesel conversion. This may have missed the Motley Fool radar because it doesn't appear to be on the stock market, the same as propane conversion equipment makers don't appear to be on the stock market.

    Now if a company like www.Greyrock.com is installing systems, not just advertising them, and assuming it may be even more logical to produce propane from natural gas then we have many options.

    Sulphur free diesel is the best for heavy equipment due to not requiring spark plugs. Propane has been used in warehouse forklifts for decades and could be best suited for frequent motor stop conditions as mentioned its tank while heavier than for gas or diesel is still reasonable and affords greater protection in a crash, though the fuel injection system of propane has the requirement of a small heat source (electric) in sub freezing weather to act in place of a fuel pump to assure fuel gets to the injectors.

    Alas the only place I see for Westport is to make propane injectors and benefit from far greater availability of propane stations, unless government subsidization of fuel conversions to natural gas skews the market.

    Ken Graham

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