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Are natural gas cars a real alternative?

Last updated on 29 March 2021

Cars powered by CNG emit fewer fine particles and less CO2 than petrol or diesel cars. CNG is also cheaper than these fuels.
But for a truly sustainable approach, you can also opt for an electric car.

There are currently more than 20 million vehicles in the world running on natural gas. In Belgium, around a 22,500 cars run already on CNG. What’s more, in early 2021, CNG pumps have appeared in over 147 of the country’s service stations.

What is CNG?

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), is the same as the gas used to heat our houses. Natural gas is a resource that is very widely available in the world and is less polluting than petrol or diesel.

Not to be confused with LPG

  • CNG is our ordinary gas, the gas we use for heating. It is compressed between 200 and 300 bars and consists mainly of methane
  • LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is a blend of propane and butane compressed between 5 and 7 bars.

CNG has several advantages over LPG:

  • it can be stored as a gas at ambient temperatures.
  • unlike LPG, it is lighter than air. So vehicles that use this gas are not subject to the ban on access to underground car parks.

How much does it cost?

New vehicle: €500 to €8,000 more than a petrol or diesel model

These days, many car manufacturers are offering CNG cars in an increasing range of models. CNG is stored in gas bottles which are fitted into the car’s chassis.

You will pay on average €500 to €8,000 more than the same petrol or diesel model. They usually come with a dual fuel tank. This enables them to switch to petrol if the CNG tank is empty.

Depending on the model, you can drive 300 to 800 kilometres on natural gas. The total range of CNG cars with dual fuel tanks can sometimes be over 1,000 km.

Find here all car makes and models running on CNG (in French)

Grants and tax advantages 

  • The Government offers favourable conditions for CNG cars as regards the annual road tax and the initial registration tax (BIV). More information on the tax advantages
     
  • The Flemish Region offers exemption from registration tax for cars with a taxable horsepower of less than 11 (engine capacity of less than 2.1 l). In Wallonia, vehicles powered by CNG are exempt from the surcharge if their CO2 emissions are lower than 146 g/km.
     
  • The Wallonian distribution network managers, Ores and Resa, provide an incentive discount for every private individual living in Wallonia when purchasing a CNG car.

Installing CNG on your car: €4,000 to more than €10,000

Conversion of a petrol vehicle is possible, but – depending on the model – may involve a loss of boot space. This is however not done very often and can cost around €4,000 to €6,000 (not counting tax and other advantages).

Converting a diesel car is possible, though difficult and very expensive: over € 10,000.

View the list of recognized CNG fitters (in French)

Fuel stations

The number of CNG fuel stations has grown considerably in recent years. Currently there are some 147 CNG filling-stations in Belgium. With the growing success of the CNG car, many new fuel stations will surely follow.

In the Brussels Region, two filling stations are available: Anderlecht and Auderghem, as well as filling stations in the Flemish periphery. There is a motorway filling station at Heverlee on the E40.

View the list of all existing and planned CNG fuel stations (in French)

In addition to these, our country also has two L-CNG stations, which distribute both LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas and CNG.

Installing a filling station at home

It is possible to get a 'slow fill' gas filling station installed at home. This installation connects to the domestic gas network and lets you fill up the car, but it does take several hours. It’s best to do it during the night, in the same way as electric cars.

Advantages of CNG 

  • 77% less particle emission than a diesel car1
  • 11 % reduction in CO2 emissions1 (that is, if you don’t take the extraction method into account; see below)
  • 90% less nitrogen oxides1
  • up to 35% cheaper than diesel2
  • about 75% lower price than petrol2
  • as quick to fill up as with conventional fuels, which is a plus compared with the recharging time for electric vehicles
  • CNG lessens the wear and tear on engines because it produces less combustion residue
  • a CNG vehicle can also run on biogas, obtained from the decomposition of organic waste, which increases the environmental benefit.
  • Natural gas is suitable for all the traffic segments: cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping.
  • City buses and taxis running on CNG offer a solution for the low-emission zones in big cities
  • Natural gas is transported via the underground transport and distribution network, which could significantly reduce the number of trucks on the roads.

(1) Study reviewed by Mobi and Marc Pecqueur (Thomas More) and validated by Ghent University.
(2) CREG study on the cost-effectiveness of natural gas (CNG) used as fuel in cars

Calculate your benefits (in French)

Disadvantages of CNG

  • Natural gas may be a pure fuel, but if you also take the extraction method into account, this fuel scores much more poorly. For example, for the most part, natural gas consists of the greenhouse gas methane. A part of this always leaks away invisibly during the extraction process.
To avoid the problem of methane leaks, CNG vehicles should switch to 100% biomethane as soon as possible. This does not come from the earth’s soil, but from green fermentation plants. The possibilities are there, but for the time being, there is one filling station in our country that runs entirely on biomethane.
  • there is only a limited number of fuel stations supplying CNG. There will be many more in Belgium in the near future.
  • vehicles powered by CNG are not allowed in the Eurotunnel and some ferry companies impose administrative restrictions.
  • it is possible to convert your present car, but this is quite expensive (about €4,000). It’s therefore more worthwhile to invest in a 'native' CNG model.

More about environmental impact of CNG cars (in French)

Inspection and control

All vehicles powered by CNG must bear a CNG label in regulated format on their rear face.

The usual inspection of the car (first after 4 years and then annually) must be carried out by a GOCA inspection centre. This is the same procedure as for diesel and petrol cars.During the vehicle inspection, a brief CNG check (leak detection) will take place.

In addition, there is a 4-yearly inspection of the CNG tank. At the moment, only a few companies are authorized to do this (further information available from your fitter or garage). More and more automotive fitters/mechanics are following the Educam training. Eventually, therefore, the specialist dealers themselves will be authorized to carry out these checks.

Map of all the CNG fuel stations in Belgium


Show all CNG fuel stations in Belgium on a bigger map 

For a list of all the planned CNG fuel stations, go to ngva.be

More information on natural gas-fueled cars is available here.

(See also: 'What different types of electric car are available?')

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