04 Oct 2011
FIAT Doblò Natural Power on Test in Ireland
FIAT Doblò Natural Power vehicles arrive in Ireland for assessment. Vehicles fitted FIAT Powertrain’s latest dual-fuel 1.4 T-Jet engines. One passenger and one commercial vehicle transported specially from Italy. FIAT Doblòs will be on display at NGV Ireland conference in November.
FIAT is of the opinion that most affordable and easily-implemented interim method of substantially reducing vehicle emissions, particularly in urban areas, is to power vehicles by natural gas. While great strides have been made in improving petrol and diesel efficiency, natural gas has the highest energy-to-carbon ratio of any fossil fuel and therefore produces 23 percent less CO² per unit of energy, while there are no particulate emissions and NOx emissions are reduced by 90 percent compared to diesel or 50 percent compared to petrol. Unburned hydrocarbon emissions are almost 75 percent lower than those of petrol engines.
Natural gas can power a conventional internal combustion engine with relatively few modifications and the latest "Natural Power" engine produced by FIAT has been designed so that power and torque outputs are identical regardless of whether the engine is running on petrol or natural gas. There are no additional safety concerns either - CNG tanks are located centrally where crash intrusion is usually at a minimum and these latest-generation tanks are designed to withstand the severest of impacts. Moreover, the gas itself is lighter than air so in the unlikely event of a tank rupturing it usually disperses rapidly and harmlessly into the atmosphere.
FIAT has been a pioneer of natural gas technology for more than 10 years and has sold almost 400,000 vehicles equipped with factory-fitted systems in Europe to date, making it the market leader by some margin. FIAT's Natural Power range now comprises 10 models, both passenger and commercial vehicles, and the success of these vehicles has helped FIAT maintain its position as the most environmentally-friendly mainstream car brand in Europe for the past four years. In 2010, FIAT vehicles had an average CO2 emission level of 123.1g/km compared to the market average of 140.9g/km.
It is also important to point out sustainable nature of natural gas. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a by-product of numerous naturally-occurring processes and in many cases these can be harnessed relatively easily to produce a carbon-neutral energy source. In the meantime, tapping into Ireland's own indigenous natural gas supplies could help reduce this country's unusually high dependence on oil (all of which is imported), which accounts for 56% of our total energy needs, compared to 36% worldwide and 41% across Europe, as well as 99% of our transport energy requirements.
The FIAT Doblò Natural Power
The FIAT Doblò Natural Power is fitted with a Euro-5 compliant 1.4-litre turbo-charged engine which is has been specially developed to run on both petrol and CNG. The two fuel systems are fully integrated at the production stage so the Fiat Doblò Natural Power is indistinguishable from a conventional vehicle terms of appearance, finish and driving experience. Technical revisions include a redesigned cylinder head with hydraulic tappets; intake and exhaust valves made from special materials; unique valve geometry optimised for methane operation and a unique injection system that is integrated directly into the intake manifold. The gas itself is stored in special, impact-resistance tanks which are hidden under the vehicle floor and the refuelling point is located alongside the petrol filler neck, hidden behind the fuel-filler flap.
In the instrument binnacle there is a small digital fuel gauge which indicates CNG levels and in the centre console, near the handbrake, there is a switch which allows the operator to alternate between petrol and gas power as desired (in high-demand situations petrol power will offer marginally better performance). A fuel-pump graphic appears in the instrument binnacle to remind the driver when the vehicle is running on petrol.
The vehicle always starts in petrol mode but will switch to gas-power (if in gas mode) after a few seconds. It will automatically switch to petrol power as soon as gas levels dip below a certain minimal level but the process is almost imperceptible and occurs while on the move requiring no input from the driver. The FIAT Doblò Natural Power passenger vehicle has a maximum combined range of around 625km, although this varies depending on how the vehicle is being used, naturally.
The New Doblò Cargo CNG offers two gas storage system, one similar to the that of the Doblò Passenger and second with an additional 35 litre tank which is available on long wheelbase versions, boosting the overall range to 750km. Its payload of up to 980kg also means that the Doblò Cargo CNG is no less versatile than its conventional siblings.
The Future of Natural Gas Vehicles in Ireland
On November 17th, 2011, Natural Gas Vehicles Ireland, supported by Bord Gáis, is hosting a special event in Croke Park to explore the possibilities of natural gas vehicles in Ireland. There is currently no refuelling infrastructure in place in Ireland and CNG vehicles do not benefit from any of the tax breaks that were enjoyed by bio-ethanol vehicles in the past and by electric vehicles at present. However, given the obvious benefits of natural gas as a source of sustainable transport energy it is hoped that this conference will encourage the government to allow natural gas vehicle fuel gain a foothold in Ireland. For its part FIAT, a world leader in natural gas power, has arranged for two of its latest-generation Natural Power vehicles to be present at the event, both for display and test drive.