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calendar   Sunday - April 08, 2012

The Other Approach

Natural Gas Cars And Trucks?

The Road Less Traveled By?

Ha, This Road Barely Even Exists Yet!




America is swimming on a sea of natural gas. We have so much of it we don’t know what to do with it. The gas companies are running out of places to store it, and shutting down exploration and drilling rigs all over the place. The price of natural gas is dropping like a rock, and may fall below $1/Mcf. Why in heaven’s name don’t we run our vehicles on this stuff? It burns clean too; far cleaner than gasoline or diesel even with the best catalytic converters and scrubbers we can design.

The U.S. natural gas market is bursting at the seams. So much natural gas is being produced that soon there may be nowhere left to put the country’s swelling surplus. After years of explosive growth, natural gas producers are retrenching.

The underground salt caverns, depleted oil fields and aquifers that store natural gas are rapidly filling up after a balmy winter depressed demand for home heating.

The glut has benefited businesses and homeowners that use natural gas. But with natural gas prices at a 10-year low — and falling — companies that produce the fuel are becoming victims of their drilling successes. Their stock prices are falling in anticipation of declining profits and scaled-back growth plans.

Some of the nation’s biggest natural gas producers, including Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips and Encana Corp., have announced plans to slow down.

“They’ve gotten way ahead of themselves, and winter got way ahead of them too,” says Jen Snyder, head of North American gas for the research firm Wood Mackenzie. “There hasn’t been enough demand to use up all the supply being pushed into the market.”

So far, efforts to limit production have barely made a dent. Unless the pace of production declines sharply or demand picks up significantly this summer, analysts say the nation’s storage facilities could reach their limits by fall.

That would cause the price of natural gas, which has been halved over the past year, to nosedive. Citigroup commodities analyst Anthony Yuen says the price of natural gas — now $2.08 per 1,000 cubic feet — could briefly fall below $1.

Natural gas burns much cleaner than either gasoline or diesel, and produces far less CO2. So why not use it to power our cars and personal trucks? Any number of cities now use NG powered buses. Why not cars too?

Did you know that there is only one natural gas powered car for sale in the USA? Honda makes it. Of course. It’s the Honda Civic GX. It sells for several thousand dollars more than a regular Civic, and at full tank pressure it has a range of about 250 miles. It also has a trunk so small that it’s volume is only envied by Corvettes and Miatas; you’ve got room for a couple bags of groceries and a briefcase, and that’s about it. And given an equal engine size, it only makes about 2/3 the power of a gasoline engine.

That’s the problem - or one of the problems - with natural gas powered vehicles. Gasoline and diesel are pretty energetic mediums. Natural gas only has 65% of the energy of gasoline, 58% that of diesel. And it’s a gas, not a liquid. At maximum pressure, 3600psi, which only a few of the rather rare natural gas filling stations can provide, natural gas is just under 4 times the volume of liquid gasoline (3.92:1). So to get a vehicle with the range of 15 gallons of whatever gas powered car you’re driving, you would need a tank that could hold the same volume as 60 gallons of gasoline. And built tough as a scuba tank as well. And to match the power, you’d need an engine about 25-35% larger. So your 2.5L 4 cylinder would have to become a 3.2L V6. So for the tiny little cars our masters in government want us to drive, it just doesn’t make much sense, unless you NEVER take a drive more than 100 miles round trip. For mid-size vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks though, natural gas could work. These vehicles are larger to begin with, often sit higher off the ground, and usually have pretty big gas tanks. Some of them come from the factory with two gas tanks. And most of them are already available with a selection of larger engines. So they could be built to run on natural gas, with a tank big enough to give them a reasonable range. People would have to stop thinking in terms of miles per gallon, and start thinking in terms of dollars per mile. Or 100 miles. Whatever. It’s an apples and oranges thing, but the bottom line is that while gasoline seems to cost more every day, natural gas gets cheaper by the hour. And you could fill up you NG pickup for about half the cost you’re now paying for diesel ($4.15/g down the street here). And you’d be making any rational hippies smile (forgive me that oxymoron), creating far less pollution than even one of those PZEV cars you see zipping around.

All you need is a place to fill them up. Or invest several thousand in a home compressor to use the natural gas your house runs on (assuming that gas is clean enough for your state’s CARB equivalent). Too bad Obama did all his alternate energy investments in unicorn circle jerk companies, and not in the one field that we actually have a major advantage and a tremendous abundance in.

GM, Chrysler to Launch Natural Gas-Powered Pickups

As gasoline prices continue to climb, automotive manufacturers GM and Chrysler are transitioning to natural gas-fueled heavy duty pickups. Among the top U.S. compressed natural gas (CNG) companies, Clean Energy Fuels (NYSE: CLNE) supplies its customers with CNG equal to a gallon of gasoline for $2.59, while the current national average of gasoline is $3.79 a gallon. Americans haven’t seen gas prices even close to $2.59 since late 2009.

Honda is currently the only manufacturer of a CNG fueled car, selling roughly 2,000 of its Civic GX natural gas models last year in a limited number of states. Honda is expanding this year to offer the Civic GX in 50 states, expecting to double sales nationwide.

But with soaring gas prices and heightened interest in clean-burning, domestically produced natural gas, Detroit automakers join Honda in recognizing the potential gains in manufacturing CNG fueled vehicles.

At the 2012 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, General Motors disclosed its plan to produce its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra bi-fuel pickups later this year.

Chrysler followed suit with the launch of its Ram 2500 heavy duty pickup that can run on both CNG and regular gasoline. The bi-fuel Ram 2500 costs roughly $12,000 more than a gasoline-powered pickup, Chrysler assures buyers that the initial higher payout costs of a natural gas powered pickup will create “significant cost savings over the life of the truck”.

While GM and Chrysler’s success in expediting the shift toward making natural gas fueled vehicles a mainstream reality is a significant step in the right direction, further progress is crippled by environmental concerns about natural gas extraction methods and limited access to refueling stations.

I would want some decent engineers to take a look at a variation on this approach. Natural gas may not be the best thing for reciprocating engines; gasoline and diesel are petroleum products, so in addition to burning they also provide a bit of lubrication to the upper cylinder area. You don’t get any of that with natural gas. Perhaps the best approach is for a steady RPM gas turbine that drives a generator that powers electric motors that drive the vehicle. Kind of like turboprop aircraft, which are extremely efficient as long as you don’t want to fly too fast, too high, or too far. Run the generated electricity across just a couple of smaller batteries, so you’d have some cranking power around to start the vehicle in the morning, and the ability to limp home a dozen or so miles if you ran out of fumes. Could it work? Try it and see. Even Paris Hilton knows that the best approach is all approaches. Well, assuming those are genuine approaches, and not phony money laundering payback schemes for your big money bundlers.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 04/08/2012 at 05:02 PM   
Filed Under: • Oil, Alternative Energy, and Gas Prices •  
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