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CNG fill-up

Filling up with compressed natural gas (CNG), or ‘metano’ as the pumps say in Italy, is cheap and easy

GOING to fill up with fuel is never pleasant. And with the seemingly incessant rise in fuel prices, keeping a car filled up sometimes feels like you need a second mortgage.

But what about alternative fuels, the ‘green’ fuels? There’s plenty about with LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) perhaps the best known and used widely in taxis.

CNG is barely on the radar here in the UK where we have just 5  refilling stations

Then, there’s Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a fuel that’s also been around a long time and, like LPG, has one big and particular attraction to the motorist – low cost.

CNG is chiefly about two things – cheap fuel bills and low CO2 emissions. Which sounds like music to the ears of many company car managers, of course.

Unfortunately, CNG is barely on the radar here in the UK where, I’m told, we have just 5 CNG refilling stations. But in Italy and in Europe, the CNG cause is gathering pace.

I was in Milan last week to try Fiat’s Panda TwinAir turbo CNG and learn how CNG is sourced and supplied. And the verdict? The UK is missing out on something….

First off, CNG is a clean, readily available energy source. CO2 emissions are 20% lower than petrol, I’m told. Filling up also costs peanuts and in Italy, which has even higher pump prices than we do, that’s all one pretty big incentive.

CNG nozzle

The CNG nozzle is right next to the petrol one on the Fiat Panda. Filling up is a piece of cake

Fiat already has quite a sizeable CNG fleet on the go in Italy, for both private and corporate buyers. VW, Opel, Mercedes and Volvo are also on the Euro CNG case. 

True, there’s the cost of converting the engine to CNG and installing the CNG tanks. You also lose a bit of power and zip with CNG which on the Panda calls for a 2000 Euro premium over a comparable petrol version.

But over time and distance and with cheap filling costs in the equation (we topped up for 8 Euros over some 120km), it does start to add up.  No range anxiety or “diesel penalty”, either. You also get a massive driving range, on both petrol and CNG tanks, with the car switching seamlessly between the two. 

What about filling up? Piece of cake. As somebody who once (nervously) filled up a hydrogen RX-8 in Tokyo while braced for some nasty Hindenberg-type reaction, I can tell you the CNG process is miles simpler and easier.

With CNG in the UK, the lack of infrastructure is always going to the major stumbling block. On the other hand, there’s no need for expensive batteries or motors in the car and it’s all based around existing, proven, low cost technology.  Car space and packaging is also…normal.

As with any alternative fuel, there are plusses and minuses. First time out with CNG, it seems to me there are plenty of the former and rather less of the latter.

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