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Compressed Natural Gas as an Alternative Fuel for Vehicles Fleets Makes Sense: Low Cost Creates Untapped Demand that U.S. Suppliers Can Fill Today (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)

August 11, 2010

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series 

I apologize for the interruption of this discussion, but to get back on track this is the 2nd part of the series.  For a refresher,  you may find it advantageous to go back two days to read Part 1.

Corn based ethanol and biofuels suffered a setback as a result of last year’s market dynamics and arcane reports such as that by Lester Brown, President and Founder of the Earth Policy Institute. Ethanol production is market driven and requires that corn be competitively priced. As the price of corn increased, the cost advantage for biofuels diminished, leaving nascent companies to defer or cancel operations. Much of the public outcry for corn based biofuel emanated from an intangible concern for the reallocation of a universal feedstock to fuel-stock. In reality, the upward pressure in corn prices was as much a function of rising fuel and transportation costs as the combined effect of skyrocketing global demand and production shortages from dry weather conditions. Needless to say, the use of corn as a biofuel became uneconomical and unpopular. Though on the horizon there is a vast array of elegant and promising biomass and cellulosic ethanol technologies, which down the road can satisfy the ever increasing demand of the transportation industry.

However, natural gas lacks many of these problems and is an extremely viable candidate to supplement America’s reliance on foreign liquid fuel. In the U.S., 64% of the petroleum used is from a foreign source versus natural gas which is 97% North American based. Overall natural gas is clean, affordable and abundant in the U.S. It can save dollars, is renewable, has a lower carbon footprint than liquid petroleum, is clean with near zero emissions and reduces greenhouse gas emission, is a domestic resource and is a bridge to ultimately cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen. Today and within the conceivable future, natural gas is a commercially and economically viable alternative fuel for the large and relatively untapped transportation market, which uses less than 3.0% of all natural gas produced in the U.S. and accounts for less than 0.5% of all fuels.

Natural gas is an inherently clean fuel since it is mostly methane having one carbon atom per four hydrogen atoms or 60% by weight carbon (diesel – C14H30 is 74% carbon; gasoline – C8H18 is 73% carbon: Propane – C3H8 is 70% carbon, by weight). Also, natural gas has less NOx, soot and greenhouse gases than petroleum fuels. Safety wise, natural gas is lighter than air, dissipates when released, has a high ignition temperature of 1000 – 1100F, has a limited range of air/fuel combustion ratio of 5 – 15%, does not leak into ground water and is governed with proven fuel tank, vehicle and station codes. Converting one refuse truck from diesel to natural gas is the equivalent of taking as many as 325 cars off the road in terms of pollution reduction.

Air quality issues are gaining added political traction as health toll and economic impact is tallied. A large percent of the population lives in what is considered non-compliant areas and by 2010, 320 counties in the U.S. are likely to be deemed non-complaint. Fleet operators are feeling the impact of EPA’s 2004, 2007 and 2010 requirements. Due to these regulations, 2004 diesel powered vehicles suffered a 3 – 6% decrease in fuel economy with further declines anticipated in 2008. In addition, complex exhaust after-treatment technologies are expensive and maintenance intensive. Finally achieving the 2010 NOx reduction to 0.20 g/hp-hr presents an unresolved dilemma.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2010 8:14 PM

    To Barry and @ all:
    To answer to this thread in one sentence is rather difficult.
    Please have a look at my thoughts on:

    Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Advanced Technology Vehicles (Examples)

    More:
    http://www.hydrogenambassadors.com/background/alternative-fuel-vehicles.php

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