LNG – Driving Natural Gas Forward

LNG has recently been in the news a bit more than normal, and seems to be gaining some headway as an alternative transportation fuel, but in the past LNG has seemed to be an uneconomical solution. Natural gas is piped into most communities; all that we have to do is compress it and fill our vehicle with it, why would we be going through all of the trouble to liquefy natural gas? Natural gas is a domestic product, and by liquefying natural gas we can get it into locations where pipelines don’t exist, in addition LNG is becoming a clean energy alternative in the trucking industry.

The main purpose for liquefying natural gas is to make it easy to transport. Once it is transported to its destination the LNG is then converted back to its gas form and distributed into a natural gas pipeline.   This is a cumbersome process that has in the past been too expensive to be economical but as world demand increases and technology advances, LNG is becoming more popular.

While LNG is not widely used for transportation, it has become popular in the trucking industry where Westport is a leading innovator in LNG technology. Recently Westport and Shell began a co-marketing campaign in North America that could insure that infrastructure becomes available along the major trucking routes throughout North America. This could have a significant impact on LNG usage in North America and also fuel a surge in demand for CNG vehicles. Westport has also entered an agreement with GMC to provide natural gas engines for their light duty vehicles, and while LNG is not practical for light duty vehicles, CNG utilization would benefit.

When we consider the economic implications of becoming more dependent on a domestic supply of energy and see how LNG could open up North Americas domestic infrastructure it all starts to make sense. When we see companies like Shell, Westport, and GMC buying into the idea of a natural gas future, the infrastructure to support it shouldn’t be far behind.

Everyone Should Have a Plan

I recently wrote a blog post on how society should be encouraging people powered transportation as a way of decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels, improving air quality, and improving the fitness of our citizens. This made me curious to see if communities were embracing the concept and improving their infrastructure to make this a reality. What I found was that having a Bicycle Master Plan is not uncommon for cities. I found a variety of plans, some appear to be lip service, no real meat to the plans, but others are quite elaborate and outline very specific goals with well thought out plans.

As I started looking through plans and saw how many were out there I decided to look for my cities plan, and lo and behold, there it was, Reno has a bicycle master plan. As an avid cyclist who lives in Reno I was pretty surprised by this. While there are some nice bike paths and lanes built into the city, they lack continuity and are sometimes left in disrepair. When I looked through the plan, it wasn’t too bad but it lacked any real specifics for goals and objectives.

One of the best plans I came across was by the city of Richmond California. It was quite elaborate and specific. It listed specific goals with objectives to achieve them:

Goal : Expand the city’s bicycle routes and parking facilities into an extensive, well‐connected and well‐designed network, and improve and maintain these facilities over time.

Objective:  Increase the number of bikeway miles by 75 percent, complete all gaps in the Bay Trail and double the number of bicycle parking spaces.

Goal : Increase the number of people of all ages and backgrounds who bicycle for transportation, recreation and health.

Objective:  Double the number of trips made by bicycle.

Goal : Make the streets safer for bicyclists, not only during the day but also at night.

Objective:  Reduce the number of reported bicycle fatalities and injuries by 25 percent (even as the number of bicyclists increases).

Goal : Incorporate the needs and concerns of cyclists in all transportation and development projects.

Objective:  Adopt and implement a “Complete Streets” and “Routine Accommodation” policies, and bicycle‐friendly design standards and guidelines for streets and developments.

The City of Richmond also had an elaborate map showing existing routes and planned expansion to meet their goals.

I encourage you to go out and take a look at your cities Bicycle Master Plan and see what your city is doing to improve their infrastructure to accommodate and encourage bicycle and pedestrian transportation. Let your Council Person know that a healthy vibrant community is one where bicycle and pedestrian commuting is safely and thoughtfully integrated into the cities infrastructure.

It’s Time to Give a Crap

One of the things that I find interesting is how there can be almost 7 billion people on this planet, each one dropping a duke every day, and yet the planet is not completely overrun with feces causing disease and deadly bacteria to overrun the planet. It’s pretty amazing that our local water treatment plants can handle this amount of volume, and send clean water back out into the ecosystem. But the thing I find even more fascinating is that we could be using this waste as a source of energy to generate electricity to power local buildings and even feed the leftovers back into the grid to provide electricity for our communities.

The process used at water treatment plants is to assist nature in doing what she does naturally, and that is attacking the feces with bacteria, these bacteria digest the solid waste and the resulting by product is methane gas. A study published by the Federal Energy Management Program estimates that there are more than 16,000 waste water treatment plants in the United States and that only 2 percent of these plants are using the digester gas to produce electricity. A typical wastewater treatment plant processes about 1 million gallons of wastewater per every 10,000 of population and this can generate up to 35KW of energy.

This seems like a renewable energy source that should not be taken lightly, to me it is surprising that only 2% of the treatment plants in the U.S. take advantage of this technology. Many people find it difficult to expend the effort to recycle, walk, bicycle, or use public transportation, but here is a program that even the most apathetic people can take pride in, finally we can all say we give a crap!

Assistance or Annoyance

As I was sitting and watching a football game one afternoon I was hit with an extremely annoying commercial. The actors in the commercial were involved in activities where they should have been standing still, but instead they were jogging in place, and the commercial said “you don’t keep running when you’re stopped, why should your cars engine?” Just as the wheels on a car stop rolling when it comes to a stop, my legs stop turning when I do, but my heart never stops beating or my lungs never stop breathing, this was a very annoying comparison to me. But if advertising is meant to get your interest, this was effective advertising because I had to go out to the internet and see just what the Buick LaCrosse was up to and what the heck eAssist was.

What I found was that the Buick Lacrosse is kind of a weak hybrid. It uses hybrid style technology to run the vehicle, but the electric motor is just too weak to provide a lot of assistance to the vehicle in the driving mode. The electric starter/generator is primarily used to start the vehicle once it has turned off at a stop, eliminating the need to idle. The main reason it is not called an electric hybrid vehicle is that the small electric motor doesn’t offer enough assistance while driving to warrant it. According to a review from Hybridcars.com, the LaCrosse does offer an increased miles per gallon, 25 city and 37 hwy, but falls short of the vehicles that label themselves as hybrids. On the plus side, this vehicle can be purchased with a couple of options, a 6 cylinder engine without eAssist or a 4 cylinder engine with eAssist at the same starting price of about $30,000, less than other hybrids. I still find the commercials annoying, but the technology might have some merit, though I think my preference would lean towards a technology that provided more electric assistance.

Oil is for Fossils

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, he is a very well educated and intelligent guy, and at some point our conversation turned to the idea of an infrastructure run on electric vehicles. He began to discuss the shortcomings of an electric infrastructure. He had some good points, but I simply countered with “we don’t have a choice” fossil fuel will not last forever.

In an interesting article from the July 2011 issue of Popular Science, Paul Roberts discusses some of the cold hard facts about our oil future. First he makes the point that oil is very efficient form of energy, that when we can get to “easy oil”, it has one of the highest ratios of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). But we are quickly burning through the easy oil. As we have to extract oil from the more difficult sources, such as shale, coal, and heavy oil, the costs will go up substantially and the EROEI will go down.

The article discusses that if we moved to an alternative energy source today and started replacing vehicles at our current rate to run on this new energy source, it would take 15 years to swap out the world’s fleet. If we were to do this, it is estimated that we would reach peak oil consumption sometime in the 2030’s and it would take about two trillion barrels of oil over the next four decades to meet this demand, this is double the 1.2 trillion barrels that have been used thus far.

There is still quite a bit of oil on our planet, it is estimated that there might be 8 trillion barrels of oil. But most of these reserves are difficult to get to, expensive to extract, and have poor energy returns on energy invested. Oil will sooner rather than late become too expensive to run the worlds economy. The sooner we get started on our transition to a renewable alternative, the brighter our futures will become.

Dodge PHEV

I recently had the opportunity to take one of the new Dodge Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) 1500 4×4 pickup truck for a test drive. The PHEV is a trial unit that Dodge testing in different markets around the country. It is a bit different because it runs on the electric motor more frequently than a regular hybrid vehicle and also has the capability to generate electricity and back feed the grid.

The first thing I noticed about the Dodge PHEV was how quite it ran. When moving at a low rpm range the vehicle ran completely on the electric engine; I could hear the gas engine idling in the background, but it was disengage from vehicle operations. As the need for acceleration increased, the gas motor kicked on nicely and provided the extra horsepower that I needed, but as soon as I backed off of the accelerator and dropped the rpm’s, the gas motor reduced its efforts and allowed the electric motor to take over again. This same standard held true while driving at highway speed. I was cruising comfortably and quietly at 70 mph, but when I needed to pass, the gas motor kicked in and gave me plenty of horsepower to do the job, but as soon as I returned to highway speed, a nice quiet ride resumed. I truly enjoyed driving this truck.

Another really nice feature with this unit is its 6.6kW generator which is capable of back feeding to the grid; but for a more practical application this can be used to run power tools right off of the back of the truck.

The specifications below are from a USA Today article ran back on May 28th 2011.

Ram 1500 PHEV specs according to Chrysler:

A 12.9kWhr lithium ion battery pack under the second-row seat. It’s liquid- cooled for consistent temperature.’

Full regenerative braking.

A 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine and a two-mode hybrid transmission. The Hemi shuts off half the cylinders at highway speeds. For better mileage, the front axle also can be disconnected when not needed.

A 6.6 kilowatt (kW) on-board charger for AC power generation for electric tools and for the “reverse power flow.” A 240 volt/30 amp four-prong outlet and 120 volt/20 amp duplex outlet power strip in the bed can power on-the-job tools.

Helga’s Golden

I have talked about how my life long passion for outdoor activities has been my inspiration for a philosophy for life that treats our planet with respect, but you can only get so far into the backcountry on your own, at some point you need some help.  A big strong girl can help out; one that will carry your gear, and has the heart to kick it into four wheel drive and climb anything in front of her.  The need for this kind of loving has brought out a dark side in me, because at some point I fell in love with an evil woman who took me places no other woman had ever taken me, and I just can’t let go.

I met Helga about 15 years ago when I moved to Reno. I knew I wanted to have a big hefty girl that could take me on exotic adventures that no skinny little fuel sipper could possibly go. So I started looking in the classified ads to find my perfect match, that’s when I met Helga, she was for sale by owner, she looked a bit beat up and probably hadn’t been treated with the respect she deserved, but I knew with a little TLC she would be a fine woman, more than capable of satisfying my needs, and the price was right.

Helga has taken me on adventures that I could only have imagined before she came into my life. We regularly go places that most girls wouldn’t even try to go, and she not only gets me there, she carries my gear, and provides ample protection from the elements too. I know that Helga is not popular by some of today’s standards, and people sometimes look at me funny, maybe even with a bit of disgust as I feed her, but those who appreciate a strong woman often compliment me on her beauty and some will even reminisce about how they once had such a woman, and how much they miss her now. The memories I have built with Helga will last forever, and even though she’s a bit tired now, I feel I owe it to her to make sure she is well taken of in her golden years.

Helga is now and always has been a recreation vehicle, she averages about 1,400 miles per year.