CARLAB, a vehicle-development consultant firm, has developed four prototypes of natural gas/gasoline bi-fuel vehicles which essentially operate as extended range vehicles by switching from natural gas to gasoline power automatically.

While natural gas is a cheaper fuel source than gasoline (and can be conveniently supplied right in a consumer’s home), natural gas vehicles have traditionally been limited by one factor: the amount of space that fuel storage tanks occupy. Natural gas is stored in high-pressure tanks, often located in the trunk, load bay, or pickup bed of a vehicle. These high-pressure tanks can take up a significant amount of cubic space.

That’s precisely the limitation that CARLAB has addressed with their newly-developed natural gas/gasoline bi-fuel vehicles. The company’s prototypes feature smaller high-pressure tanks, which free up storage space, but still allowing the vehicles to run on natural gas for 50 to 75 miles. Once a vehicle runs out of natural gas, the gasoline-powered engine automatically switches on, extending the vehicle’s range just like a conventional plug-in hybrid.

CARLAB’s prototypes were revealed on June 25 at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Washington, DC. The four prototypes that were revealed include the BMW X3 compact crossover utility vehicle, the Ford Mustang GT sports coupe, the GMC Acadia large crossover, and the Hyundai Sonata mid-sized sedan. Each vehicle automatically runs on natural gas before switching over to gasoline power and can travel anywhere from 55 to 77 miles on natural gas before the switch. Total vehicle ranges (during which the vehicle runs on both natural gas and gasoline) span from 375 miles for the Mustang GT and 574 miles for the Hyundai Sonata.

August 2013 CARL 1

The CARLAB’s gasoline-natural gas hybrids use small natural gas tanks that fit beneath the floor of the car’s cargo area. Credit: NAFTC.

CARLAB estimates that the technology will cost vehicle manufacturers an additional $2,600 to $2,900 at a volume of 20,000 vehicles per year. Although that cost will be passed on to consumers, it is less than a 10-percent price increase for each of the prototyped vehicles.

Consumers will also have the option of purchasing a home fueling station, which might cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.*

Actually purchasing natural gas for the vehicles will be cheaper than purchasing gasoline—on average, natural gas currently costs $2.10 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, according to the April 2013 Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report.

This summer CARLAB will promote the natural gas/gasoline bi-fuel prototypes by travelling to regions of the country that are rich in natural gas, such as West Virginia.

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