Compressed natural gas (CNG) is obtained through compression of natural gas to less than 1% of the volume it generally occupies at normal atmospheric conditions. Globally, CNG is used primarily as a clean transportation fuel with significantly lower emissions compared to either gasoline or diesel. Of late, the adoption of CNG as the preferred choice of automobile fuel has increased significantly. Global consumption of CNG directly depends upon the number of CNG powered natural gas vehicles in operation. CNG powered natural gas vehicles can be broadly segmented into light duty (LD) vehicles, medium duty/heavy duty (MD/HD) buses, medium duty/heavy duty (MD/HD) trucks and others. The others segment comprises three-wheeler CNG powered vehicles such as autos and tuk-tuks. These are generally prevalent in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. Increase in the number of each of these vehicle segments is likely to determine the growth in CNG consumption in the near future.
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There is no direct source of CNG. Therefore, the source of CNG and natural gas has been assumed to be the same. Currently, there are three primary sources of natural gas: associated gas, non-associated gas and unconventional gas. The non-associated gas segment occupied the majority of the market, with nearly 90% share in 2013. The associated gas segment is anticipated to exhibit a moderate decline in market share by the end of the forecast period. Gradual slowdown in crude oil production activities and aging of existing oil wells are among the major factors for the decline in market share of the associated gas segment. The non-associated gas and unconventional gas categories are estimated to be the most promising segments for production of CNG in the near future. Large production of CNG from non-associated gas is projected in the Middle East and Russia in the near future. Currently, the U.S. is the only country in the world that has successfully exploited its shale gas reserves. The shale gas boom in the country coupled with declining prices has led to a surplus of natural gas in the domestic market. Production of shale gas in China towards the end of 2016 is also likely to result in a similar scenario in the country by the end of the forecast period.
LD vehicles accounted for nearly 93% of the global CNG vehicle fleet, but only 50.2% of the global CNG consumption in 2013. This is ascribed to large consumption of fuel by medium and heavy duty vehicles compared to light duty vehicles and passenger cars. Consumption patterns of medium and heavy duty vehicles are also relatively constant in nature. This has prompted various governments to target conversion of existing bus and truck fleets to CNG. The dynamics of CNG consumption indicate significant variation regionally. The CNG market in Latin America mostly focuses on light duty vehicle consumption, while Asia-Pacific exhibits a healthy mix of consumption for all vehicle segments. Dominance of consumption by the light duty vehicle segment can also be observed in the Middle East & Africa, where incentives and mandates to support conversion of buses/trucks to CNG are yet to take shape. With surplus of domestic natural gas, North America is likely to emerge as one of the most attractive markets for CNG in the near future. This would especially be driven by the U.S., where availability of cheap domestic natural gas provides attractive incentives to large bus/truck fleet owners to convert to CNG.
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Other external factors such as the expansion of the Panama Canal are also likely to play a major role in adoption of CNG globally. Owners of long haul vehicles are finding it increasingly advantageous to shift to CNG as a fuel due to the attractive payback period it provides. With China gearing up for commercial shale gas production by the end of 2016, a downward pressure on gas prices in Asia-Pacific is expected. This would further be boosted by the completion of expansion of the Panama Canal, resulting in higher export of shale gas to Asia-Pacific from the U.S. Gradual decoupling of natural gas and crude oil prices is anticipated to further drive the growth in consumption. Substitution threats from other clean fuels, such as autogas in the light duty vehicle segment and LNG in the long haul heavy duty vehicle segment, exist for CNG. However, such threats are not likely to be realized unless there is adequate development of LNG refueling infrastructure and significant reduction in LPG prices globally.