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Where Does the Future Lie, Natural Gas Vehicles or Electric Vehicles?

Natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, and is much cheaper. It could certainly help reduce carbon emissions in the short term. In fact many people are lobbying for natural gas powered vehicles as the future of clean (well, cleaner) transport that reduces dependence on foreign oil. President Obama recently gave a speech in Las Vegas, where he pitched some new energy policies such as; giving tax breaks to firms who buy natural gas-powered trucks.

Very admirable! Yes natural gas-powered vehicles will obviously reduce consumption of crude oil, and due to the cleaner nature of the fuel it will also reduce carbon emissions….but is it the most efficient use of natural gas?

Not according to a 2009 MIT study entitled “The Future of Natural Gas”, which predicted that natural gas would be better suited for long-haul trucks and the electricity sector. The report stated that electric utilities could rapidly cut carbon emissions by up to 22 percent without major capital investments, just by switching from coal to natural-gas. Electric Vehicles (EVs) could then use this cleaner electricity in a much more efficient way than gas-powered vehicles, because the combustion engines in cars and trucks waste more energy than the modern-day combined-cycle gas turbines that produce electricity.

However EVs have their own problems. They are expensive to produce and very hard to scale up. They would also require a new and expensive charging infrastructure in place of the current network of petrol stations.

So, another great option for reducing oil consumption is to shift the majority of bulk transport from trucks to rail. Analysts estimate that America could reduce its oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels by using rail-based goods transport. The only problem is that this idea does not have the support of marketing gurus and expert manipulators of the media, like EV or natural gas-powered vehicles, and so gets very little attention.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • Martin H. Katchen on January 30 2012 said:
    It may be easier to switch to natural gas then we might think. Iran has converted 15% of it's private vehicle fleet to natural gas as a way of beating UN sanctions and the percentage continues to grow. Israel is looking at either natural gas conversion or domestic oil from oil shale, of which Israel has a great deal for it's size apparently. And Australia converts cars to natural gas. The only reason Americans aren't converting cars to natural gas is that the EPA refuses to develop pollution standards for conversion of existing models of cars to natural gas, thus rendering converted cars illegal. So far, only Toyota Tundra trucks can legally be converted to natural gas, at least in California, where the Honda GS is sold to private owners who want to go that route, and who must refuel at places like police stations and sewage treatment plants. Yes, long haul trucks are the place to start. And yes, investment in rail could lead to major energy savings, particularly if the government lends it's eminent domain powers to build straightened track that will enable railroads to build maglev tracks that can carry not only passengers but containerized freight at over 300 mph (ore and grain apparently are too heavy to run on maglev economically though it would require a lot of neodymium to build those maglev tracks. But I suspect that natural gas vehicles would quickly work their way down the size chain if the EPA would bestir itself and create the pollution standards that would enable those vehicles to legally run on US roads.
  • Neil Clapp on February 01 2012 said:
    Development is underway now of fuel cells that utilize hydrocarbon fuels plus atmospheric oxygen, rather than the hydrogen-oxygen aerospace cells of a half-century ago. Feeding natural gas (primarily methane) to a hydorcarbon fuel cell, rather than a heat engine, and the electrical output to the vehicle's drive system (and everything else in the vehicle) would eliminate a nation-wide charging infrastructure, capacity problems with the electrical grid and power plants (almost all of which are heat engines), high capacity, short-lived, heavy and expensive vehicle storage batteries, all while approximately doubling propelsive efficiency and halving carbon emissions. Incremental improvements in heat engines after over two centuries of development only confirms what Sadie Carnot noted in 1830: inherent limitations in making heat do useful work. In other words: We've maxed 'em out and it's time to move on to better stuff. Fortunatly human ingenuity is up to the task.

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