Automakers Rev Up for Frac’ing

Natural gas, whose price is at record lows thanks to a shale-drilling boom, is gaining traction as an alternative energy in the United States, with automakers jumping on the bandwagon.

The use of natural gas instead of oil-based gasoline to drive the country's cars and trucks "is definitely starting to take off," said Mark Hanson, an analyst at investment-research firm Morningstar.

"The economics seem to work," he said, noting it's "just a question of what pace" the necessary infrastructure will take to develop.

Natural is in focus as a potential engine fuel because "it is tremendously good fuel," said David Cole, the chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research.

Unlike gasoline, whose rising prices are causing pain at the pump for consumers, natural gas is cheap in the United States as supplies bulge from production in the country's vast shale-gas formations.

In addition, natural gas burns while emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline.

There are several forms of natural gas used to power vehicles. Compressed natural gas is pressurized gas stored in a similar way to a vehicle's gasoline tank.

Liquefied natural gas is produced by chilling natural gas to about minus 260 degrees F (minus 162 degrees C). It can be used as engine fuel for heavy ground or maritime vehicles.

In Europe, the fuel of choice for automobiles is liquefied petroleum gas, typically a mixture of butane and propane made from refined crude oil or natural gas.

Natural gas has already afforded the U.S. so many opportunities in the form of employment and potential energy independence. It's exciting to see yet another good thing coming from this alternative energy boom.