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Biofuels NatGas for Vehicles

Published on May 13th, 2014 | by Susanna Schick

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ACT Expo / NGV Conference Summarized | Driving With Gas

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May 13th, 2014 by  

NatGas for Vehicles

Photo Courtesy of ACT Expo

At the ACT Expo / NGV Conference, I learned more about natural gas than I ever thought I’d want to know. The morning of day 2 began with a presentation by ExxonMobil on the rosy future of the fossil fuel industry. It was like watching a stork with his head in the sand trying to tell you that the sand is where it’s at. Only that stork is representing a multi-billion-dollar, publicly-held company, which happens to have given a presentation that makes it seem as if it thinks that fossil fuels are still all that matters. And will be all that matters for the foreseeable future. The ExxonMobil representative presented slides from this forecast, which you can peruse if you want.

In many other sessions, and on the show floor, I got to see quite a different reality emerging. Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is becoming increasingly popular. T Boone Pickens, who knows a thing or two about investing wisely, has invested deeply in RNG, as a board member of Clean Energy. Yes, he’s also got his money on other methods, but it was neat to see him behind biogas. What was really exciting was this slide shown by Clean Energy’s Harrison Clay, which compares GHG from clean diesel, CNG, Landfill CNG, and Cow Poop CNG. It’s amazing what a little methane capture can do!

NatGas LCFS GHG differences

Image Credit: Susanna Schick / CleanTechnica

Clean Energy is America’s #1 vendor of natural gas, as I learned from one of the presentations. 76% of natural gas sold in America is through small, independent vendors. 14% is through Clean Energy, and the remaining 10% is shared among 2 or 3 other vendors. Its RNG product, Redeem, is currently a small portion of their total business, but it’s growing rapidly. I interviewed Clean Energy’s President of the Renewable Fuels division, Harrison Clay. Here he talks about the market potential for biomethane, the cost of production, the value of carbon pricing, and the environmental impact of biomethane vs fracking.

There were presentations from a number of companies that are currently operating W2E biogas plants where they convert waste into natural gas clean enough to just join the pipeline to your stove. Harrison Clay said in the interview that US landfills alone have the potential to produce the equivalent of 140 million gallons of gasoline.

There were also some nifty EREV trucks, namely Wrightspeed and VIA. You can see my test drive of the Wrightspeed on Gas2. What was very underrepresented was hydrogen. Honda and Toyota both had HFC cars on the show floor, alongside some of their BEVs, but hydrogen seemed to have zero interest for the trucking and fleet industry. CNG works just fine and already has a great infrastructure and supply. It just isn’t quite as fun to drive as ICE or BEVs. While everyone at the show swore it’s equal to gasoline and diesel in power, the Honda CNG I tested at their Fit EV launch event was painfully weak after driving the peppy EV and the FCV.

While publicly-accessible CNG stations are popping up across the country, it still remains to be seen if people would rather pay half as much for fuel available at fewer stations, or just switch to a car with twice as much (or more!) MPG, like a PHEV or an EREV. Considering passenger cars comprise over 50% of the US’s fuel consumption, that’s the market which really needs to cut back. However, fleet vehicles need to manage their costs, so having a fuel with a stable price, like natural gas, is crucial when forecasting costs. It’s also lower maintenance, as it’s a cleaner-burning fuel, and it has better range than a BEV. Trucks with a GVR over 10,000 lbs sip only 27% of the total 169 billion gallons vehicles in the US consume. (Full chart up to 2009 from Census Bureau downloads from here.)

While nobody at the conference was really interested in talking about the elephant in the room, fracking, I did get one tip. Someone told me to look at what Colorado is doing in terms of legislation, as they are leading the way. These articles seem to be most informative: CleanTechnicaBloomberg, and Clean Water Action.

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About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.



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