A Case For Natural Gas In Transport And Power Generation

It is vital to consider sensible schemes to mitigate the continuing increase of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We are still adding carbon dioxide and other green house gases at a rate which vastly exceeds their removal by natural processes. This can lead to significant additional global warming even in the short term. One strategy ready for implementation focuses on the increased use of natural gas as a power-generating fuel for both power plants and vehicles while at the same time improving their efficiency.

Methane is a prominent component of natural gas on which we would do well to focus. Increasingly, it is found over a warming world. In locations where it is not deliberately captured, it may either be burned off as it is at the well-head while harvesting oil or it simply escapes into the atmosphere. Escaping gas also comes from piles of decomposing biomass, many kinds of agricultural emissions, and increasingly from warming permafrost. We would do well to burn our natural gas everywhere we can, as the combustion products represent far less of a global warming burden. Another reason to move faster than we are moving currently is to offset the increasing escape of natural gas from warming regions of the Earth.

In general, burning natural gas represents less of a burden going forward than does burning oil, and further, even oil is better than coal.  Many existing coal plants should be also converted to natural gas usage. Some older power plants might be better brought offline and replaced with nuclear, wind-turbine systems or solar power alternatives, all of which are suitable depending on region and power generation requirement.

In the intermediate term many vehicles on the roads can be retrofitted to burn natural gas while new truck engines may be or in some cases are already being built to allow natural gas only or may possibly have a natural gas-gasoline tank switching system. Large back-end holding tanks for natural gas in small to large trucks are available.

Harvesting and storage of natural gas in liquified form seems to be facilitating the transition to natural gas for both transportation in heavy automobiles and trucks. Multiple strategies for powering small cars should ease the transition to a natural gas infrastructure for larger vehicles and trucks. For other cars fuel efficiency is improving significantly with the development and use of electrics, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and vastly improved conventional gasoline powered vehicles, which can also continue to be partly or increasingly fueled by regenerated biomass-derived fuels. Increasingly improving efficiency for smaller vehicles could diminish their release of carbon dioxide by half or more over the next several years, but importantly would not require major changes in the infrastructure for handling such vehicles on the roads other, than for charging-stations for increased numbers of electrics and plug-in hybrids.

Major firms like General Electric already seem closely focused on charging devices. In addition, at one point commercial firms like Wall Mart discussed the possibility of plug-in charging of electric or plug-in hybrids in parking lot stalls where electricity is generated by solar systems, in a charge-your-car-while-you-shop scheme. This does, of course, represent a kind of expanded infrastructure for travelers, but certainly not one that would be difficult to manage.

New infrastructure for natural gas driven vehicles seems more difficult. Presumably it would start with liquified natural gas filling stations located at first along a defined truck route and later expanded. Major oil companies also handle natural gas and likely the transition will be smoother than we may now contemplate.

In tandem with these developments more efficient carbon sequestration programs will be a likely outcome, notably in the vicinity of modified coal plants. Large scale algae growth plants or plants growing other organisms for use in biomass fuel generation, and other large scale greenhouses are a natural for combination with localized carbon capture system for short term storage of carbon dioxide preliminary to its integration into longer term biological  storage.

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