Cars run on gasoline. At least, that is what most of us were taught for many years. However, due to various energy demands, alternative fuels have been a hot topic for automotive use. Comic books, movies, and popular science books have suggested dumping our bio-degradable garbage scraps into a car for fuel.
Many vehicles on the roadways today are being powered by batteries, fuel cells, natural gas, and much more. Recently, Chevrolet furnished a sedan using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for a full week of testing.
The CNG-equipped car was a 2015 Chevy Impala. The Impala has been a major player in the Chevrolet line-up for many, many years. It is a proven vehicle for commuters as well as families. It continues to maintain that status, but now is adding the option for running on natural gas. Actually, the test-drive sedan was call ‘Bi-Fuel’ because it offered CNG and regular gasoline. There was no noticeable difference in the driving, handling, or performance during the week.
The power plant is a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that is specifically designed to run on either gasoline or CNG. The engine features hardened valves and valve seats. This improves the durability and wear resistance if you use the compressed natural gas. Again, this Bi-Fuel is an option and not in every Impala. The engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive.
The tank for holding the CNG is mounted in the trunk, so yes, it does take up a small amount of cargo space, but not too much. The Chevy Impala has always featured a huge trunk area. The CNG tank will hold an amount of fuel equal to 7.8 gallons of gasoline. The driver has the option to push a button to switch from gasoline to CNG or vice-versa. A light appears on the instrument panel that indicates if the CNG is being used. Without the driver pushing the button, the car will automatically run on the CNG first, then automatically switch over to the gasoline.
Driving the Bi-Fuel Chevy Impala around East Texas was no different that driving the standard Chevy Impala, except I filled the car with regular gasoline rather than CNG. Availability of CNG in 2015 has not reached easy access outside of major metropolitan areas. As more drivers become aware of the advantages and cost savings, the infrastructure will increase and CNG will be more accessible.
CNG is one of the cleanest-burning fuels available, so this Bi-Fuel car produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Once the car switches over to regular gas, that benefit is lost. Typically, the cost of the CNG versus regular gasoline will save an approximate $1.00 per gallon driving equivalent.
The cost of the Bi-Fuel Chevy Impala is set at $38,210 which includes the delivery charges. That is about $10,000 higher cost than the standard Impala. Approximately 200 of the 2015 models have been produced for sale, but that number is expected to increase for 2016. The CNG tank has a range of 150 miles. The gasoline tank has a range of 350 miles. Combined, the sedan has an approximate range of 500 miles between re-fueling stops. There are several vans, trucks, a Honda Civic, and some others that run on CNG. Most of the car manufacturers are seriously experimenting with it, so CNG definitely in our future.
During the test-drive, teenage grandchildren loaded down the trunk with musical equipment to go to a church worship service. They were surprised at the amount of gear that could be loaded into the trunk and had argued that a larger van would be required. They never suspected that the car was running on natural gas rather than regular gasoline.
CNG is here, but not yet widespread. CNG is a mixture of Biogas and methane gas. Many folks utilize compost bins and piles for their gardens and those produce methane . Throwing our garbage scraps into a third fuel tank in a car may not be far behind. Bottom line: The 2015 Chevy Impala was a joy to drive. It handled well and was easy to maneuver. The Bi-Fuel feature was simply an addition to help save our planet, save on fuel costs, and offer an alternative. It worked well and many consumers look forward to having more of these on the road.