Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel

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Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel – A Cautionary Note

Natural Gas is currently being promoted as a domestic clean, safe, and cheaper alternative to petroleum fuels.

Some thoughts for your consideration.

Natural Gas as domestic source of energy. The US currently imports approximately 16% of its natural gas.  Some comes to us by pipeline and some in the form of LNG via ship. Increasing the use of natural gas to replace petroleum fuels simply shifts our imports from one product to another.

Currently the US uses approximately 22% of our natural gas to create electricity. This is a poor use of a valuable resource for a need that has many other fuel sources available. If this was replaced by wind, solar, nuclear, and a future renewable bio-source (see previous article: The Richards Cycle) you could eliminate our imports.

Natural Gas as a clean motor fuel. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) both reduce certain emissions however they are not as clean as some would have us believe. If you look the whole basket of emissions that come out of the exhaust on an internal combustion engine, a 2010 SCR Diesel engine actually is less polluting than an equivalent CNG or LNG engine.

While I believe you can safely use CNG and LNG, it requires more training and much greater diligence on the part of drivers and operators vehicles and fueling stations. It is important to remember that it can take far longer to fuel LNG and particularly CNG fueled equipment. This long fueling cycle can lead to lack of attention and added expense in fueling equipment.

Natural Gas as cheaper alternative. Many people incorrectly try to compare a gallon of diesel to a gallon of LNG or a gallon of CNG. While the price per gallon of the LNG and CNG may appear to be cheaper, you need to consider the energy in the gallon. For example a gallon of diesel contains approximately 139,000 Btu’s of energy, while a gallon of LNG contains about 73,500 Btu’s, and CNG works to about 34,750. In short it takes about 4 times the space to store an equivalent amount of CNG as compared to diesel.

The other concerns with vehicles powered by CNG or LNG are that they are far more expensive to purchase, for example a school bus built to run on CNG can be $30,000.00 to $40,000.00 more than its diesel counterpart. Also when you purchase a vehicle powered by CNG or LNG you locked into one supplier for all fuel system and some engine components for ever. There is virtually no secondary supplier compatibility.  You limit the range and usefulness of the vehicle due to limited ability to refuel that vehicle away from its domicile. Lastly, you have to be concerned about the value of those vehicles when it comes time to trade or sell them. In many cases this limited resale market can make a used vehicle worthless.

There is an important and growing place for alternative fuel vehicles and equipment. It takes visionary leaders with long term commitment and very deep pockets to make a change to this type of equipment successful.

Please comment here and share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.

Diesel Doctor

Copyright 2009© - William Richards



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Last modified: 04/06/09
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