Natural Gas Vehicles: Everything You Need to Know

Michelle Heath
Natural gas vehicles

Gas demand as a transport fuel using natural gas vehicles is expected to grow at an average rate of 3.3%, between 2021 and 2028 (Research and Markets), with the growing use in the Asia Pacific of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) for cars, trucks, busses and three-wheelers.

The transportation sector accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions and is under mounting pressure to adopt cleaner vehicle technologies.

According to the World Bank annual passenger traffic is expected to exceed 80 trillion passenger-kilometers by 2030, a 50% increase over 2015.  Global freight volumes are expected to grow by 70% and the number of cars on the road another 1.2 billion, doubling the volume today. 

Gas demand as a transport fuel is expected to grow at an average rate of 3.3%, between 2021 and 2028 (Research and Markets), with the growing use in the Asia Pacific of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) for cars, trucks, busses and three-wheelers.

Worldwide NGV Statistics

The global automotive natural gas vehicle market demand is expected to reach approximately 38.9 million units by 2028, up from about 29.8 million in 2020. (Research and Markets).

There are three types of Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs): dedicated, designed to run only on natural gas; bi-fuel, with two separate fueling systems so they can run on either natural gas or gasoline; and dual–fuel which have fuel systems that operate on natural gas but use diesel fuel for ignition assistance.

In countries where natural gas is abundant and widespread distribution infrastructure available, natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are well suited for high-mileage, centrally fueled fleets; however, for long-haul vehicles where fuel stations are sparse, liquefied natural gas (LNG) provides greater energy density than compressed natural gas (CNG).

The first five months of 2021 have seen U.S. and Canadian Class 8 natural gas truck retail sales rise 19% year-to-date, compared to the start of 2020 (ACT Research).  However, ACT noted a continuing decline of total natural gas stations while electric charging stations were on the increase.

U.S. Natural Gas Fleet Survey Results – Natural Gas versus Diesel

Hundreds of fleets surveyed ranked emissions reductions as the top benefit to NGVs and fuel cost savings second.

In Canada, the transportation sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, next to oil and gas. 

Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector (2019)

Light–duty passenger vehicles account for more than half of Canada’s transportation emissions but continue to decrease. On-road heavy-duty freight vehicles, on the other hand would benefit from cleaner technology, having tripled emissions output from what they were in the mid-90s.

Emissions by Vehicle Type in Canada (2016)

According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the total vehicle fleet has increased by 42% since 2005, most notably for trucks (both light- and heavy-duty). 

The acceleration and horsepower of NGVs are comparable with equivalent conventionally fueled vehicles and produce less greenhouse gas emissions but the driving range is less as the energy density of natural gas is lower than diesel fuel or gasoline.

Comparing Options Available for Emissions Reductions Across Medium and Heavy Duty Vehicle (MHDV) Applications Relative to Diesel

NGVAmerica has pledged that by 2030, 80 percent of natural gas vehicle on-road motor fuel in the U.S. will be derived from renewable sources (landfills, wastewater treatment plants, commercial food waste facilities and agricultural digesters), rising to 100% by 2050. 

The potential of GHG reduction from NGVs continues to be examined with some studies showing benefits of up to 25%.   However, constraints to NGV market development include the lack of refueling stations, the relatively high vehicle cost and the need for vehicle-fuel systems to continue to evolve and become more efficient.


B5 – 5% biodiesel mixed with 95% diesel

B20 – 20% biodiesel mixed with 80% diesel

CNG – compressed natural gas

LNG – liquefied natural gas

IEA – International Energy Agency

MHDV – medium and heavy-duty vehicle

NGV – natural gas vehicle

NGVAmerica – the national organization representing the natural gas in transportation industry in the United States (U.S.)

RNG – renewable natural gas; bio-based natural gas which when processed to meet purity standards is usable as a transportation fuel in the form of CNG or LNG