Rhode Island's Smart Choice

A recent article in the Providence Journal caught my attention:

Another fuel to power your car arrives in R.I.

Some excerpts from the article:

May 24--WARWICK -- Hate the gas-guzzling SUV? Worried about greenhouse effects and smog? Fearful that we'll someday run out of oil? Rhode Island's eco-conscious, your day has come.

Environmentalists have long offered the benefits of compressed natural gas vehicles as a solution to all of these problems. The engines burn immaculately clean. Vehicles powered by CNG produce only 10 percent of the carbon monoxide and particle discharge of gasoline-powered engines, and half the nitrogen oxides. Carbon dioxide discharge is reduced by 30 to 40 percent.

The fuel, which is primarily methane, is cheaper than gasoline -- at T.F. Green, the natural gas will retail for $2.69 for the equivalent of one gallon -- and natural gas-powered cars get better mileage.

The article continued:

According to the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, there were 130,000 natural gas vehicles operating in the United States and 5 million worldwide as of last year.

The states have been the leaders in buying them: In 2005, Governor Carcieri signed an order mandating that 75 percent of all new state vehicles purchased use some sort of alternative fuel -- CNG, hydrogen, ethanol, biodiesel, or others. Rhode Island chose to use CNG.

"Initially, Rhode Island invested very heavily into natural gas," said David R. Sheldon, principal engineer with the Department of Administration's Environmental Compliance Unit.

While the gasoline-powered Civic GX gets an average highway mileage in the high 20s, the CNG version will average in the mid 30s, officials said.

I have long maintained that converting vehicles to natural gas (NG) makes more sense than converting that NG to diesel via the gas to liquids process (GTL) or ethanol via the corn to liquids process. Note that Brazil, which we immediately associate with ethanol, has over 8 times the CNG fleet of the U.S., despite having a population 100 million less than the U.S.

Consider the options for NG. If we convert it to diesel, we are going to consume about 40% of our initial BTUs in the conversion process, as shown here. But, since the diesel engine is around 35% more efficient than the combustion engine, we have an approximate wash. We will get around the same ultimate fuel efficiency from directly burning the natural gas as we will from processing it into diesel. (But, of course the advantage of GTL is the ability to develop stranded gas reserves).

If we convert it to ethanol, the BTUs in and out are close to a wash. According to the 2002 USDA study Estimating the Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol, it takes 77,228 BTUs of fossil fuel inputs – primarily natural gas - to make 83,961 BTUs of ethanol (and a BTU co-product credit of 14,372 BTUs). This is a gain of 8% for fossil fuels in and ethanol out, or a gain of 27% if we include the co-products. But to earn that modest energy gain we mine the topsoil, apply herbicides and pesticides – some of which end up polluting waterways, and we have to build an ethanol refinery.

Also note that the Union of Concerned Scientists report that CNG vehicles “achieve green house gas emission reductions in the range of 5 to 25 percent compared to conventional passenger gasoline vehicles.” The above article from the Providence Journal reported a 30-40% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Corn ethanol is reported by Daniel Kammen (the Berkeley ethanol advocate interviewed on the recent 60 Minutes piece on ethanol) to achieve a reduction of 10 or 15 percent over gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas production. So, natural gas is at least as good as ethanol with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, but probably better as a whole for the environment when you consider the environmental aspects of corn farming.

Natural Gas Sources

As I indicated in my essay on XTL, the estimated 3,000 trillion cubic feet of stranded natural gas is enough to produce 300 billion barrels of fuel. However, if we were to burn this gas directly in CNG vehicles, instead of converting it into fuel via the GTL process, we could expect that stranded gas to provide the energy equivalent of over 500 billion barrels of fuel. At current world energy usage rates of 84 million barrels/day of oil, that is enough BTUs to supply us for over 16 years. Consider that if ¼ of the world’s BTUs came from stranded natural gas, the stranded natural gas could contribute to the world energy portfolio for over 60 years at today's consumption rate. Also remember, we are only talking about stranded reserves. There are another 3,200 trillion barrels that are not considered to be stranded.

However, if you are concerned about global warming, as I am, converting all of that natural gas into carbon dioxide may not be too appealing. Fortunately, natural gas can also be renewable if we make if from biomass. Natural gas is created by the anaerobic decomposition of biomass. It can be made from sewage sludge, municipal solid waste, or biomass crops grown specifically for that purpose.

According to the company Gas Separation Technology, between 450 and 650 billion cubic feet per year of methane leeches out of landfills into the atmosphere. This is the energy equivalent of around 75-100 million barrels of oil, floating up into the atmosphere each year. While this is only equivalent to about 1% of U.S. oil demand, according to the EPA methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. By capturing some of this landfill gas, we can make a small contribution toward our energy requirements while trading methane emissions for carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a good potential source of natural gas, and 395 landfill energy projects are already in place, demonstrating the feasibility of the technology.

Of course we are going to need more methane than we can get from landfills. As I mentioned above, we can generate methane from sewage sludge, any waste source of biomass, or from crops grown specifically for methane generation. It is unlikely that we will be able to generate enough methane to maintain our current levels of consumption, but with a major conservation push, methane can be a nice fraction of the energy pie.


Ah, but what about the EROI? That’s an obvious question, and I don’t have a good answer. I simply haven’t found a good energy analysis. But due to the fact that biogas consists mostly of methane and carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide has a much higher solubility in water than methane, the separation should not have a high energy requirement. If anyone knows of any literature on this, I would be interested in reading it.


Note that I have used methane and natural gas interchangeably. Natural gas consists primarily of methane (~92-97%), but natural gas from gas wells can contain nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ethane, propane, and even trace longer chain hydrocarbons.

Finally, I want to note that the article above says that the price of NG right now is $2.69 for a gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE). To put that in perspective, a gallon of ethanol on the CBT today closed at $3.41, and is around $3.70 in California on the spot market. On a GGE basis, this would be $5.00-$5.50 a gallon – twice the price of the NG.

I still think we'd be better off saving all that natural gas in order to heat our homes for the decades ahead and find a way to get by without passenger cars.


Yeah, I recently suggested using NG and or Propane in the"off demand" summer monthes and was pretty much kicked around here for saying it.

My argument is still this:  If you are going to use nat gas in transportation, (and it it's available, we will) it is better to take out the massively expensive and environmentally damaging middle steps, that is, using nat gas fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol and waste it PLUS waste water and topsoil....or waste nat gas in the tar sand industry, and create a mightmare in carbon release and wasted water and wasted prestine landscape, or, waste nat gas in assisting coal to liquid, AND waste water and create carbon release.....finally, you just have to say, IS IT NOT FAR MORE EFFICIENT AND ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE TO BURN IT DIRECTLY IN TRANSPORTATION AND LEAVE ASIDE THE HUGE DAMAGE.  (CAPS for emphesis and not for shout)

Due to the North American problem on nat gas production, i.e. peak nat gas, we would have to be very clever not to just waste it, however, and look for ways to reduce electric demand/heating demand in homes and business to free up enough without sending nat gas prices out of sight and then being in no better shape then before.

I have my doubts on this, being clever has not been a hallmark of American energy use.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

If you are going to use nat gas in transportation, (and it it's available, we will) it is better to take out the massively expensive and environmentally damaging middle steps, that is, using nat gas fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol and waste it PLUS waste water and topsoil....or waste nat gas in the tar sand industry, and create a mightmare in carbon release and wasted water and wasted prestine landscape, or, waste nat gas in assisting coal to liquid, AND waste water and create carbon release.....finally, you just have to say, IS IT NOT FAR MORE EFFICIENT AND ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE TO BURN IT DIRECTLY IN TRANSPORTATION AND LEAVE ASIDE THE HUGE DAMAGE.

That is exactly correct. We are already using natural gas, and will continue to do so, on inefficient schemes like ethanol production. It would be far more efficient to burn it directly.


Agreed. You're just as dead if you were run down while crossing the street, by a "green" powered SUV as by one that's powered by panda pelts.
Actually, wouldn't panda pelts [from a sustainable infestation of the cute little beasties] be considered to be "green" [I admit to being color blind in that part of the spectrum.]

BTW, I picked up your comment on screen names the other day ... and yours is a lot more obscure to me than mine is to you. :-) !!!

Oh, yeah, I was into pocket knives as a kid, what kid wasn't, and I remember looking at one of those knife collector books on them, and seeing this strange blade called a "fleam". It's found on old-old pocket knives, for letting blood. Somehow that gave me an impression that's never left me, that the past, even a mere 100 years ago, compared to our modern, plastic, antiseptic life, was weird.
Boone Pickens has a thriving CNG business in the Dallas area, but they are primarily targeting comemercial and government fleet markets.
Cool, I had thought that the Honda GX had dropped out of production, but there it is again, on the Honda web page
I drive a CNG vehicle occasionally, at work.  (My employer has a fleet of them.  For environmental reasons.  It was that, or force the employees to carpool, and CNG vehicles were seen as the lesser of two evils.) We also have some electric cars, and one hydrogen vehicle.

The CNG vehicles drive pretty much like normal cars.  The drawback is limited range.  Maybe 150 miles, which means 75 mile radius, assuming a round trip.  That's enough for many trips, but not for all.  Wouldn't be too much of a pain, except it's not easy to find places to refuel.  

And the range is seriously impacted by load.  Much more so than with gasoline-powered vehicles.  If you've got more than one person in the car, have heavy equipment in the trunk, or run the air conditioner, the range drops sharply.  Takes some getting used to.  


Good info. Thank you.

Electric vehicles were deemed 'impossible': now the streets of London are full of them (built in Bangalore, retail for £8000 each).  

And the roads are full of Toyota and Honda hybrids which are electric vehicles (at urban speeds).

In the early days of automobiles, the steamer car looked like a real competitor.  To kill them off, the internal combustion engine makers had to pull some very dirty tricks (commissioning articles about car boilers exploding), the Stanley brothers were very uncommercial, and there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease one summer (closing all the cattle and horse troughs, so no water to refill).  A steamer would probably run CNG much more efficiently than an ICE car?

The key was all these alternatives were to some extent 'purpose built'.

Whereas CNG vehicles are simply converted ICE vehicles.

I wonder if by actually building from the ground up a CNG vehicle, we could get much improved performance and range?

Heck I drive one of those cute toyota hybrids but I'm under no illusion that the only sustainable way to get around is my own two feet, animal power, or mayyyyyyyyyyyybe a bicycle.
You point out that methane is far more powerful greenhouse gas than co2.  Since much of it will go up into the atmosphere anyway, we should find a way to burn it.  Assuming that was a direct substitute for, say oil, that would be helpful with respect to GHG.  

However, my question is, if you burn methane, do you end up with the same impact with respect to GHG compared to simply letting it flow unburned up into the atmosphere?

No, you get CO2 instead.
My understanding is that methane is around 23 times more potent a GHG than CO2, but is less persistent.  CH4 has a 10 or 12 year mean residence time in the atmosphere.  While I can't find a similarly simple persistence figure for CO2 right now, I understand that it's much longer - I remember reading a figure of 100 years somewhere (perhaps in Flannery's book "The Weather Makers").

I don't know the current opinions on how those two factors balance out, but I expect it won't be a simple answer given the radically different paths these two chemicals take through the world, and the complexity of the reactions they are involved in (especially CO2).

CO2 has a lifetime of about 330 years versus 7-8 for methane.  The 22x greenhouse potential of methane accounts for the difference in lifetime.  While it is in the atmosphere methane absorbs approximately 900x the energy as CO2.
maybe this is okay for other countrys
but USA is pretty much at peak gas. Production has been flat for 5 years now ?

Any extra demand is going to cause havoc on the price of NG.

The ceiling price of gas in the US will be the global LNG price.

What needs to be built is the import infrastructure.  New England is increasing the capacity of the Nova Scotia plant, and bringing the gas over the border to fuel the power plants.

The world has the gas, just not in the right places.

I don't think this will be the case. There will never be sufficient supply of globally trade LNG for it to be more than the marginal supply. The US price will reflect domestic US supply and demand (or better..North American supply and demand), and that price will determine whether we can compete cargoes away from the Middle East (Atlantic) or from Australia/Russia (Pacific) against other importers. Only Trinidad LNG is naturally more competitive to the US than to Europe or Asia. That is more likely to result in LNG being the FLOOR of US prices, not the ceiling.
maybe this is okay for other countrys
but USA is pretty much at peak gas.

LNG will continue to grow, and will continue to bring gas into the U.S. We can use this gas inefficiently to produce ethanol or diesel, or we can burn it directly.

As far as causing havoc on energy prices, diminishing sources of all kinds of fossil fuels are going to play havoc on all fossil fuel prices, except for maybe coal (for a while).


Lets see:  We have coal-to-liquid projects, tar sands projects, and ethanol-from-corn projects all increasing demand for natural gas.  Now some people want to increase the use of compressed natural gas for cars. There is only one direction domestic natural gas prices can go.

I for one would rather cope with a gasoline shortage (I can forego a lot of driving in the winter) than a natural gas shortage ( I rather not forego keeping warm in the winter).

While burning CNG as automotive fuel has some benefits re reducing greenhouse gas, I'm not convinced it's a good idea.

By the way, the amount of methane that can (and often is) produced by the anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge is usually barely enough to run some of the on-site equipment at the sewage treatment plant. While this is a good thing, it hardly represents a new source of energy in the conventional sense.

And many of the larger landfills in the US and EU are already recovering methane from landfills and mostly using it on site or for highly localized usage. However, methane recovery from small (often poor constructed) landfills) is usually not considered economically feasible.

You can build houses that don't need external heating, that keep warm entirely from passive solar heating and the heat put out by human beings and their activities.  Even in Canada's climate this has been done.

A heat pump will meet the heating needs of most houses (open question of how the electricity to power it is generated, if by gas, then we haven't solved the problem*).

there isn't a 'freeze in the dark' danger from using gas for transport purposes.  Not at least in the next 20 years.

The key is to get the least CO2 per unit of energy produced.  There is the energy cost of LNG ((about 20% of the energy in the LNG I think) but that is still a better tradeoff than GTL, Tar Sands etc.

*it's entirely feasible to have the electric power generation capacity of pretty much any developed country 30% by renewables- -be it wind, tidal, etc.  You need a baseload which is 100% reliable (probably nuclear), plus technologies for smoothing peak demand (eg the utility shuts off air conditioning at peak) and, again, there are huge efficiency savings which can be realised (just redesigning the 'instant on' features on tvs, pcs etc. could save 5% of consumption).

OK, what is the cost to retrofit that amount of insulation to an existing house?  Let's assume a typical modernish home, not some old stone thing like mine.  It would seem to me you've got to increase the thickness of the walls - shall we go out or in?  If you expand outward, you need to remove and replace all the siding - you'll need new windows, but that would probably be required anyway.  If you expand inward, you've lost room (which might be manageable), but you have to replace wall covering and trim, modify the electrical outlets & switches, etc.  Still probably need to do the windows.

Regardless, we're talking big effort and cost, with just about every house being custom.  I'd be concerned about the moisture/vapor issues in a retrofit application also.  As the housing market falls apart, and the equity in everyone's homes drops significantly, where is the money going to come from to do this?  

There's no doubt you can build this way, and if I were building a home now that's how I would go.  But we didn't build this way in the US, and it does not seem feasible to change it in a short time period now.

I think that figuring out how to economically retrofit existing houses to reduce heating (and cooling) energy requirements is a big challenge and a very important one.  We won't have the money (energy) to build all new houses.  All you young engineers reading this, go to it...

Somebody told me: blown-in cellulose insulation.  I doubt that's the general solution, because:

  • if the walls are not made thicker, is it much better than other kinds of insulation (if they are already installed)?
  • I've read horror stories of how blowing insulation into the walls tends to have some small particles leak into the interior of the house, causing health problems.  (This is true for all blown-in insulation types, not just cellulose, but note that the treatment they give the cellulose to make it fire-retardent is toxic - it's not simply shredded newspapers!)
  • In many houses the major heat leaks are around and through windows and doors - a different challenge.
I always figured money would be a good insulator.  You know, the paper currency that will be worthless when the petrodollar collapses.  ;-)
Somebody told me: blown-in cellulose insulation.  

Naw.   I'd say the 'solution' is to construct a lattice on the OUTSIDE of the home and use polyureathane, then cover with stucco.

If you can gut the inside, polyureathane on the inside.  

No matter what is done, one should plan on putting in an air excanger.

eric blair

Thank you for mentioning polyurethane. I did a number of industrial & commercial buildings with spray urethane roofs back in the late '70's. Many of those structures have had no heating costs whatsoever since. They stay cool in the summer too.
It is just astonishing to me that informed people (most everyone on this board is, I believe, much better informed than average) still ponder blown cellulose.

Industrial buildings are a little easier to work with than residences. If you spray insulation over a 250,000 sq. ft. roof the building is insulated and other factors don't much matter. You just made a cave.

I have no favorite link to recommend but googling "passivhaus' (Germans waay ahead on this as they contemplate  supply disruption) or simply 'passive house' you will see that a zero heating bill is no fantasy.

On new construction passive is already completely cost-effective. On older structures it will vary a lot, most owners are going to do it because they believe in it or believe energy prices are going up

My biggest question would be whether American contractors can work meticuously and thoroughly enough to make the passive house concept work. Back when I was in it the on-site urethane production was technically problematic to say the least. Most all the contractors working with the stuff should simply have bowed out and found something else to do. Instead they went ahead and made millions of squares of godawful problems. Ruining the business.

Insulation helps, but passive solar has far more to do with:

  • windows oriented wrt sun angles to allow winter heat gain and daylighting
  • minimize windows with no direct sunlight to avoid winter heat loss
  • trombe walls behind glass that heat up during the day and release heat at night
  • overhangs or brise-soleil to prevent summer heat gain
  • non-solar walls built into hills or berms
  • cross-ventilation or clerestory windows for low-to-high ventilation

Most of this is best planned in advance.  
As far as winter-heat loss, many people do little or nothing to insulate their windows at night.  Fabrics are available to quilt into decent reflective/air-pocket insulators that look/work like drapes or curtains, and there are simple designs for making rigid foam insul. into window inserts to bring that R-3 to 6 up into the teens at least.  Care needs to be taken that windows that get direct sun are top-vented or reliably opened in the morning, as enough heat can collect to break the windows and do other damage.
Yeah, my wife made some simple window quilts out of burlap.  They help a lot.
I called a local insulation company by me and they told me that if your house already has existing fiber glass insulation, blown-in cellulose insulation can not be added.

My Northern Ohio house was built in 1997 with 2x4 construction and R-13 for the walls, which is the minimum requirement.  I'd love to go to a higher R rating, but you really need 2x6 construction.

I was told that adding blown-in cellulose insulation to increase the R factor is not an option for my situation.  

I don't like blown-in anyway. I've found that they leave gaps.

You could furr out your inside walls and add rigid insulation between the furring, but it would affect all your door and window casings, and it would leave your rooms that much smaller.

You could also put EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) on the outside of your house. EIFS is basically fake stucco over rigid insulation boards. It isn't cheap, but it would add insulation without sacrificing interior area.  I suppose you could put clapboard or shingles over the rigid, too.

I understand that isocynate or urethane foam has about twice the R value of fiberglass.  I wonder how difficult it would be to do something like arthoscopic surgery for your wall, sucking or extracting the old fiberglass out of the wall, and then filling the cavity with expand-in-place foam?  This technique could get your R13 wall up to R25 with minimal changes to the interior or exterior.
The material with the highest R value is aerogel, nearly 10 per inch.  If there was an economical process to make aerogel, then we could have 2X4 construction with R35 walls.
When spray foam expands in place it really expands with a lot of force. It will buckle your wall if you attempt it without a lot of forethought. The other things you need to think about are water vapour and fire. Urethane is completely non-porous, better know where interior moisture will be displaced to. And in a fire burning urethane is toxic/fatal. But your house is already full of urethanes and no one thinks of this one
R-values tell you very little. Applied seamlessly as exterior insulation 2 inches of urethane at R-14 outperforms R-60 pink. In walls you would never need that much. When I hear of an R-13 wall that needs upgrading I know its a leaky drafty wall full of gaps and penetrations
When spray foam expands in place it really expands with a lot of force.

'normal' expansion is 100X.  A slow rise foam is .10 a LBS more expensive (chemical sold in 1100 bls sets) and needs a threaded intermix chamber.  ($310)

better know where interior moisture will be displaced to  

hence the comment about the air exchange unit.

And in a fire burning urethane is toxic/fatal. But your house is already full of urethanes and no one thinks of this one

Part of the reason for the air exchange - the toxic load from all the outgassing chemicals yields the 1970's "sick building syndroime'

Applied seamlessly as exterior insulation 2 inches of urethane at R-14 outperforms R-60 pink.

Damn water vapor migration.

Yes, yes, yes, and sort of. Outgassing from modern construction materials is a real problem but modern urethane foams don't. American Lung Association uses the stuff for sound insulation in their offices. On-ratio foam should be totally outgassed in a day.
Combustion products are unavoidably among the worst. One more reason to prefer exterior insulation. Sprayed foam covered with heavily sand-filled acrylic paint can be made to look like stucco & the sand acts as fire retardant.
When I did this a quarter century back we were flying blind, going thru the Binks catalog looking for what might work. It's so easy now, the problem being the contractors don't know nothing and the customers are looking for guidance to guys who would as soon screw up a job of cellulose.
I never tried slow foam but I would bet that it can be determined and forceful as it does it's 10 to 1 thing & I would still be super-cautious with overfill. Not for DIYer.
More than most things urethane insulation works spectacularly well when you let it work the way it works and wreaks havoc when you ask it to defy the laws of physics.

My experience with homeowners, property managers, architects , mostly tells me that they are clueless and respond to anything but physics. Forget gaps in insulation, I routinely find large holes in roofs, usually left behind by someone who never finished a job. And the owners ask "Should we do something about that?" When you look at an attic with R-90 hyperinsulation, Prius and hybrid Highlander in the drive, and a wide open 4 by 6 foot opening at the peak of the roof you just wonder.  In that case they had replaced the drywall in an upstairs bedroom 3 times (as the Mexicans laughed) and had never understood why their heating bills were so high.

Well, speaking as an architect, I was trained to do passive solar in college, and thought it made a lot of sense.  But I soon found that neither my bosses nor their clients had the slightest interest in energy-efficient design.  When we laid out townhouses, all the units were oriented to the street, not to the sun.

When energy prices rose, the solution handed down was deeper studs, thicker batts and R-Max sheathing, not passive solar.  

Hey Donal,

When I designed my house, I put in a wall of south windows. The sun shines on my red concrete floor, which also has heat pipes in it. Very toasty place to sit on a winter day!

The radiant pipes use water heated with a standard Sears hot-water heater at night. The electricity is used off-peak, and is generated by wind turbines up in Wyoming. So my house actually puts out no CO2 emmissions.

I really had to think about this plan, since everybody else around here was just buying natural-gas furnaces back in the '90s.

But guess what? My house is cheaper to heat now that the price of gas has gone up.


Passive solar does make a lot of sense. When a building is well insulated you don't need much solar gain to make it work. Think cave.

Buildings I did back when, the new owners come in, they've got the number to call if a problem develops with a drain or a flashing. They look at a roof on their industrial building that has worked 20 years with no significant hitch, they see that the boiler has been removed to make floor space, they notice that it's 95 degrees outside and 75 degrees inside with no A/C and they think OMIGOD I am the alcoholic brother-in-law physical plant manager and I don't understand this! This is a tech time-bomb waiting to explode! Better get rid of it before I screw up worse! And I'm at yeah, go ahead, try to remove it, every inch is glued down and as soon as you start I never have to talk to your silly face again.
Look at how the Germans or the Japanese do it. They don't have standards based on materials specs, they have standards based on performance. If I was not personally putting every scrap of material in place I would never vouch for the performance of a building based on specification. Look back at my previous post: R-90 fibreglass in place, 4 foot by 6 foot section of roof ridge open to sky. If the contractor was liable if the building did not perform you would not see this constantly. Americans do not like to sweat details and think they do not have to. They don't have to.
On the other hand you see guys coming up with clever stuff to get millions of BTUs of solar heat gain and then it all flies right back out the window. Cause the window is open.
I have no idea when anyone will get serious about conservation of heating fuel but am entirely certain 90% of what we burn is wasted. In post peak world I don't know if people will get smart or freeze. They don't need to freeze, the investments are not large, but they may.

If your batts were faced, and if the face material was stapled to the studs and taped together, removal would be a PITA.

again, the challenges that get laid upon anything that offers renewable and sensible energy decisions, while the same or worse expenses of retrofitting to yet another depleting and polluting fuel source gets the 'Necessary Evil' treatment.  It's like there's an allergic reaction to making clearly intelligent investments..

Yes, we are talking about big effort and cost, albeit this is still an ounce of prevention compared to the pounds of cure that lie in firing up one more burnable after another to solve the problem.

"As the housing market falls apart, and the equity in everyone's homes drops significantly, where is the money going to come from to do this?"

 - The value of your home is increasingly affected by its energy performance, so every dollar you invest, borrow or create in thermal efficiency or self-generation will not only continually justify itself in terms of fuels not purchased, but in the resale value of the property.  

This study from U.Florida looks at some of the parameters, as well as the consumer willingness to invest in it..

http://www.cce.ufl.edu/Economic%20Incentive%20Model%20For%20Sustainable%20Energy%20Use%20In%20U.S..p df

And here is a report on a High-end Solar Electric installation - and it's Payback and resulting estimated Home Value..

Yes, it's a journey of a thousand miles, and people keep debating about that first step, and delaying since there'll certainly be another car along, any time now..

'Waaa!Are we there yet?'

It does not matter how good an investment something may be if you don't have the money to invest.  And borrowing more become a big problem for people with a lot of debt, little equity, and with rising interest rates.  My expectation is that a lot of people will be in that boat.

I'm not trashing the idea of well insulated homes, I think it's a great way to go.  However, the implication in the original statement (at least as I read it) was that this is rather trivial, and I disagree.  It would take a long time to implement, and in that time a lot of people could well be quite cold.   The technology is here now, the investment is not.

Right.  Agreed..

Sorry if my tone was a bit snyde.. watching two 3 yr olds today, and didn't have the resources/time to be more careful.

In Maine, the heating assistance program cut its insulation/home tightening program budget this year, so as to leave more in the fuel fund, as I understood the math.  I understand this to have been a federal decision, actually, so I look at this mindset as not only one of working people without the resources saying 'we don't have the resources'.. yet still paying it out at the pump, while their credit scores, doctors visits and stocked-cupboards are increasingly cast aside; but also those who DO have the resources, saying 'we don't have the resources' balking at the investment, waiting for a bailout from some new wonder-drum, and never considering for a moment cutting off the cable or doing without ice-cream.

At least more of the folks in Maine have access to wood, and know how to light a fire, probably still have a couple rusty cast-iron potbellies in the shed..  Most people are extremely stretched, even someone like me who is highly motivated to act has a big hurdle to leap to get much done between childcare, work, normal home maintenance, etc..

   But to hear so often  'It's TOO hard', 'It would take TOO long' , as if it's clearly a failed direction right at the get-go.  No.  It's one of the MOST essential things we need to be working on, and we need to show it to each other as a number of discrete steps.  'Just seal the doors first, then go to the next thing on the list..'

   Why is it so essential?  Because it is a known solution, it works and would start to pay for itself immediately.  Every improvement in efficiency is more money that can stay in the bank, oil staying in the tank, every month.. AND it gives homeowners an increasing level of security against future energy chaos.  

   There are things that poor folks can do pretty simply with very basic materials to start to generate heating and cooling that doesn't come with a monthly bill, but it takes setting aside precious time to look it up, figure it out, and make it.  So part of that is to have the encouragement and support of neighbors, media and government to help people get it going.  Here's one that I've been working on in my shop..

Bill Kreamer's Solar Hot Air Box..

..and here is the site where it can be found, alongside numerous similar projects..


Bob Fiske

Hey, thanks for the links!  I'm about to start (no, really!) on replacing my sun porch, which I hope to get better sealed and insulated for this winter.  I'll read through and see if I can get any tips.  Even in the condition it was in, the amount of heat energy it trapped was impressive.

I agree that people should focus on insulation and conservation, even if they can't realistically achieve a massive R value, most places leak like a sieve.  Work on that first.  Once the air stops moving through directly, go for the insulation.

If you spend the money on new sources of energy, you use it and it's gone.  If you spend it on insulation, in effect you get to keep it.  The problem is in continuing to function while your doing the insulation/conservation changes - that pulling yourself up by your boot laces issue.

Insulation is important, but it is even better and easier to seal EVERY leak thru your home envelope.  You can save up to 20% on your bills with this alone.  You need to first go to the attic and seal any ductwork you see there.  All joints need to be sealed with fiberous duct sealer from Home Depot.  Go thru the attic and seal all electric holes, vent holes and any other attic penetration you find.  Then you can pump in more insulation and it will do some good.  Next, move to the inner house envelope.  Remove every light fixture/switch and seal all drywall to fixture openings.  Seal up your fireplace.  Put weatherstripping around all attic hatches and glue insulation to their backsides.  Go into your garage attic and seal any openings between your garage and your house.  It should be a NASA grade seal so garage gases can't get in.  

There is more to this than I have talked about here.  Try Google for more info.  Go to http://www.homeenergy.org for great tips.  


It's an interesting article about the actual costs of a PV system.

But when I read it, I can't help of thinking: Who came up with this?

For instance, it is very nice of the State of California to sponsor the Japanese economy with 40.000 US$ a shot. But what if they took the money and tried to put it in R&D? Especially the costs of PV panels is still limiting.

Another thing that crossed my mind: This guy saves about 4500 US$ a year on his electricity bill, which is about 55% of his bill. My bill is about 2000 US$ a year, and electricity is more expensive in Europe than in the US.

How about go easy on the airco, get some shades and close the door? Maybe switch off the airco in rooms you don't use?

To me, this only says loud and clear: Subsidies don't work. Jack up the tax on energy and let the market figure it out.

That article surely shows a much more posh system than most people would get.  The systems I see recommended for single-family homes are more on the order of 2-3 kilowatts (not 17kw), at a cost of around $16-22k.(Not $111k), on the assumption of a household average of around 4kwh/day.  My own bill shows we use more like 6kwh, but we have an electric stove, and we front the electric dryer for our tenants, which brings it up considerably.

I hear from people who've added solar that they take immediate steps to economize, seeing that every watt above what is generated is 'payback missed', so you might well expect that the hard-won solar watt is probably not squandered the way we've splurged with our Texas Tea and our Tennessee Hilltops.

There is considerable discussion of this from time to time on the Yahoo group RunningonEmpty2.  The owner of the list, Robert Waldrop, has done a lot of work on his house.  

Those interested might want to join ROE2.  Unfortunately, the Yahoo groups do not have a great search engine and ROE2 is extremely busy.  

Nonetheless, there's a lot of good info over there among the chaff.

While burning CNG as automotive fuel has some benefits re reducing greenhouse gas, I'm not convinced it's a good idea.

It's a better idea than turning the NG into ethanol. We are already doing that, and we plan to grow that market tremendously. We should instead just burn the NG.


Consider the options for NG. If we convert it to diesel, we are going to consume about 40% of our initial BTUs in the conversion process

If we use CNG for transportation we will need to import more as LNG. How does the enrgy lost in this process compare with GTL?

There are indeed some who believe that we should be building GTL plants rather than more complex LNG trains.  Shipping, recieving the fuel, and using it in vehicles is certainly much easier with GTL (end product is ultra low-sulfur diesel).  Here's an interesting article that compares GTL economics with LNG:

Energy Pulse Article

Once again the intrepid Oil Drum correspondents have come up with a method to save the automobile.

Thank GOD, 'cause without the automobile, we would die. We would cease to exist.

Yes, sir. We have become little lampreys riding on our automobile hosts. Or, are the automobiles the parasites? Hard to tell.

Sadly, we will continue to preserve the dysfunctional auto fetish no matter what, pointing at the polluting, earth destroying vehicles that whizz by us and over what was once green, natural earth, and we will say, "See, everything is fine. I told you that (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH THE DESTRUCTIVE TECHNOFIX OF YOUR CHOICE) would save us from having to give up the automobile." (At least until we destroy our support system, and we all die.)

Everyone here must know by now the definition of insanity, right? To keep doing something even though it does not work or is destructive until you are stopped or you die.

Welcome to CraZy WOrlD! Please check your logic, reason, and compassion at the door.

I would respectfully suggest that unless one day soon everyone in America wakes up and says,"wow, cars really suck.  I think I'll crush mine", a more pragmatic approach is to explore ways to minimize the impact, which is what many posts here seek to do.  

Based on your strongly stated (and somewhat ad hominem and insulting) position, I assume you do not now nor ever intend to drive one of these devil machines known as a car.

Indeed, many posters are trying to salvage the automobile. But when the great icecaps melt where are we? Putting snorkels on our vehicles? Moving them to parking lots in Kansas?

The automobile conundrum is really about greenhouse gas issues not peak oil. Transforming fuel inputs won't change materially that.

what about nukes + electric cars?

Is this about the greenhouse, or just about hating the cars?

It's not about hating cars. It's about GHG.

We can adapt to public transportation, we can adjust to walking or cycling. You can buzz about in an electric if you choose. But spending a few trillion for that infrastructure might not pencil out.  

Can we stop the sea if the polar regions melt? Can we survive the social turbulence of millions of people moving inland if an ice cap fails catastrophically?

We assume that climate change is going to be slow. But the geologic record says no; it can be abrupt.

Per Hamlet. Act v. Sc. 2

"If it be now, 't is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all."  

or... walking beats swimming.

I walk and cycle most days, thank you very much.  But I don't think I want to require retirees in our existing communities to walk or bike in order to get to the store, in order to eat.  A simple neighborhood electric car solves that problem, without "a few trillion for that infrastructure might not pencil out."

... those sky high infrastructure numbers assume very particular sorts of EVs (high speed, long distance, high capacity).

I figured you walked and cycled. An odograph is a measuring instrument for walking is it not? Seriously... I'm not advocating making life onerous for old folks. I'm not far from that myself. An electric golf cart is plenty good. My pencil- it-in-remark was directed at building nuclear so we can continue the 4-lane-each-way commuter existence we have created for ourselves (been there, ughh!). I think trillions for that would be criminal.

Yet...I think that is where we will go. First we will do coal with good but environmentally insufficient intentions. Then nuclear.  

I was a little cranky last night, but the vibe I was picking up (I thought) was analogous to suburb-haters waiting for a reason to see them die ... wait a minute, peak oil.

So we (some of us) hate cars ... wait a minute, peak oil.

I actually like cars, and have even found 300 hp to be more fun that 100 hp.  I'll just balance that environmental and energy concerns.  That, I think, is the moderate position.  I'm not the troglodyte who will only give up his hemi when it is pried from his cold dead hands ... but neither am I a car hater, who will turn down a supersonic eco-car, should it miraculously appear.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for me I can truthfully say I "HATE THE DAMNED THINGS"  i've had to drive them all my life, and I'm 71.  I can't count the times I have said to the windshield of the vehicle I was driving, " IF IT WEREN'T FOR THIS DAMNED TRAFFIC".  I suppose it comes from riding the trains in Europe back in the late 50s.
Caps for emphasis not shouting.
Amen, brother!

Here I am sitting here, thinking, I'd really like to go to the local ham radio place, but I need to exercise also, if I had a bike here it would be easy to hit both things at once, especially if I ride "speed is your friend" messenger style lol.

And I suppose if you had both a bike and a car you wouldn't have that option any more?

... people seem to confuse the concepts of "car-less" and "drive less"

No, if I got a bike again I would have that option, so it's time to search craig's list for a decent used bike I guess. it will take some space to store but no more than some other junk I need to sell and move out of here......
I was just over at craigslist too ;-), looking to see if any road bikes popped up in my size.  Not really in the market yet, just looking.
I would respectfully suggest that unless one day soon everyone in America wakes up and says,"wow, cars really suck.  I think I'll crush mine", a more pragmatic approach is to explore ways to minimize the impact, which is what many posts here seek to do.  

Well said.


It may not be Peakie (ne politically) correct to try and find solutions that still rely on autos/b/b/b/b/b personal transportation for the short/medium term, but I prefer it to the other choices:
  1.  Immediately after peak change everything... lmao
  2.  Die off... almao
So I applaude all those of you still thinking of solutions instead of buying the peakie mainstream thinking of give up and go back to the stone age.
Ummm...there's a wide range of possible outcomes between "no cars" and "back to the Stone Age."  
There are a lot of options... but if you say one of them is probably not going to be a private automobile, you get labelled as a doomer and stone age wanna-be.

I am with Cherenkov on this one. We need to think outside of the box and let the automobile go. As ThatsItImOut points out, it is silly to use NG to transform tar sand, use NG to grow corn, use NG to make diesel... to fuel cars.

Edwin Land (Polaroid) had it right... invention is the sudden cessation of stupidity. Folks who have a new idea simply stopped having an old idea.

Have you let the automobile go?  If so, I applaud your resolve.

I can only speak for myself but I don't automatically label someone a doomer just because they think the automobile is unsustainable in any form, although I disagree with that assertion.  Maybe you're not thinking outside the box on that one.  What outside-the-box ideas do you have, and how does one convince the public at large that those ideas should gain wide acceptance?  Otherwise, to paraphrase the gun-nuts, you will have to pry the steering wheel from their cold dead hands.

There are lots of additive solutions discussed here including increased public transportation, better access for bicycles and pedestrians, more efficient vehicles and buildings, wind, solar, other sustainable alternatives.  Nothing is a magic bullet, but together they can all make a substantial and positive difference.

To answer your question "Have I let the automobile go?", the answer is: "Almost". I can't seem to sell it (VW TDI) but I can't drive it either. The thrill is gone. So I bike... which is no hardship, bikepaths and stores are close by. I go the pump perhaps twice a year.  

Now... the essential truth of the matter is that you and I will not need to pry any dead hands from steering wheels. Nature, in the form of climate change, is going to do that.
(Elizabeth Kolbert has a great book on this, by-the-by, called: "Fieldnotes from a Catastrophe").

I agree that there are alternatives: rail, bicycles, relocation, wind, solar and so forth. But to return to my original point, supporting Cherenkov... TOD posters spend an inordinate amount of time, adding hydrogen atoms to coal, cracking this or that substance, GTL'ing, BTL'ing... much of the focus at TOD is on configuring fuel for cars.

My out of the box notion is: "get over it!". The energy potential in a tank of gas is far more important than converting it into a trip to the nail salon, the mall, the gym, the job. Somebody designed and executed St. Peter's Cathedral, the Taj Mahal and Roman viaducts without car keys lurking in the background. The early Meso-Americans selected and cross-bred some pretty unusual grasses to get maize without wheels... remarkable achievements if you think about it.

But on Easter Island, they couldn't get the big stone heads out of their minds.

That's how we are with cars.

The argument goes that the auto is and will be a major fact of American life for years to come.  Americans can't imagine life without their precious vehicles and they're still buying millions of the big ones, the monster trucks and the monster SUVs.  High gas prices have not been a wake up call, except to get to people bitch louder while they are merrily driving their SUVs all over the place.

So most TODers and others strive to satisfy the beast because it is concluded that any other approach is not even remotely within the realm of political accepability. Why piss in the wind?

But really.  This isn't the halls of congress here; it's just a blog with commentary.  Most of us realize that the real changes have to be structural and massively attitudinal.  We know that the vehicle is doomed or should be even in a more benign form.  We know we have to decrease energy use by 70%; you can't get there with little  modfications around the edges. You have to make up for all the energy that will be consumed by all those already built houses which are so hard to modify in any meaningful way.

So why do we pretend that a little ethanol here, a little hydrogen there, a better transmission here, a better hybrid over there is going to make a spit's worth of difference. Pretty dumb when you think about it.

Maybe the problem is just too big. Maybe that's why most of us are wasting all this time thinking, talking, and writing about the small stuff.  But you're right.  We're just keeping the beast going, so that when it goes over the cliff it will be fat enough to make a big juicy bounce when it gets to the bottom.

We must speak and act radically.  It may do no good. But it is a guarantee that all these little marginal improvements to to this horrible invention, the automobile, will definitely do no good.

Political realism is not real.

High gas prices have not been a wake up call, except to get to people bitch louder while they are merrily driving their SUVs all over the place.

My theory is that the price will soon get high enough to cause people to change their behavior. I think it's happening a bit now, but we probably need for gas to exceed $5/gal before we see significant changes.


I have to agree with this...the car is the most visible symbol of our dependency on endless growth.  If we do not give up cars, eventually everyone on earth will have to have one. (And who are we to tell them no?) Putting everyone in this country in a Prius would only bring the gas prices down,  encourage more driving and in a few more years we are back to today.  
"It's mine ... all mine ... my precious ... WHY SHOULDN'T I KEEP IT!"

Tolkien had us all figured out 50 years ago.

How about a moto "Get a bicycle and Peddle yo' Ass"
OK, time to turn this around.

Look at America as it exists today, in detail, including the spread of homes and businesses between metro, suburban, and rural locations, the distances people need to travel for work, doctor appointments, etc.  

Tell me how we get from today's reality to an auto-free future.  Don't tell me about the benefits of a car-free society; I won't disagree there.  Tell me how we get there, and what it will cost in both monetary and non-monetary terms.  As the engineer said in the movie Apollo 13, "You're telling me what you want, I'm telling you what you've got."  (I apologize if I've quoted that incorrectly from memory.)

What do you do?  Move everyone into the city?  There's no way that works.  Cover the entire US with a mass transit system that will let a large majority of people go car-free?  Again, no chance it will happen.  A combinaiton of the two approaches?  It would still be horrifically expensive, take decades, and piss off tens of millions of peopole.  (And before anyone dismisses the "pisses of people" notion, remember: If you're advocating forcing them to do it anyway, you're asking to be dictator.)  And what happens to the millions of homes and the land they're on in the suburbs today when their owners decide to move into a city?  Who pays to buy those quarter- and half-acre plots, rip down the houses, and convert the plots back into farm land?  And if no one is going to pay for that, why in the world will those people move?

It seems to me that by far the most likely path is green personal transportation, arrived at in stages, maintaining the basic physical layout of the country.  Hybrids are a nice, but very small, step in the right direction.  Eventually, EV's, recharged with a mix of green and brown technologies, but evolving to more green over time, seems like a winner.  Of course there will be more mass transit in those places where it makes sense, but because of the layout of America it likely won't be a huge player.  

And I don't for a second count out hydrogen.  There's so much money being poured into that area and delivering results, as a quick search of Green Car Congress shows, that I think it's way too early to say definitely that hydrogen is a loser.  (In fact, I think the big race in transportation for the next decade or so will be reducing the cost of EV batteries vs. reducing the cost to create hydrogen.)

Economies are like water--they follow the path of least resistance.  And in this case I think it's clear that preserving the Evil Car is actually the optimal path from a total cost and human impact perspective.  It's certainly not the solution I would pick if I were designing an entire country to be built anew on wild terrain, but given the realities of where we are today, it's not nearly as bad as some people imply.

Tell me how we get from today's reality to an auto-free future. Don't tell me about the benefits of a car-free society; I won't disagree there. Tell me how we get there, and what it will cost in both monetary and non-monetary terms.

Exactly. In the US today, the population split is roughly 50/25/25 for suburban, urban, and rural. Advocating an auto-free future in, say, 20 years implies relocating half the population in that much time, which requires an enormous investment in new urban housing. If you offer me the alternative of tossing my modest suburban house and spending $100K on a small urban condo, versus investing $100K in insulation, a ground-source heat pump, PV panels or coop wind power, a new electric vehicle, and a small greenhouse where I can practice intensive gardening, I know where I would rather spend my money. Under appropriate pressure, many jobs can be converted to 4x10 schedules, or one-two days per week working from home, with commensurate energy savings. Today's suburban technology is almost certainly not sustainable; that does not mean that suburban living is not.

"Under appropriate pressure, many jobs can be converted to 4x10 schedules..."

The likelyhood that under a buckling economy and shrinking energy supply that a 30 hour workweek might be initiated shouldn't be discounted.

Now another question to ask:  What would people do with an extra day (or two with a 30hr ww) off?

Tell me how we get from today's reality to an auto-free future.

Very slowly.  And it will be money that determines who has to give up their cars first.  And yes, there will be a lot of pain and unpleasantness.

I expect a situation similar to that which exists in many Third World countries today.  A few rich people who can afford cars, with most people forced to walk, ride bikes or take taxis or buses (when they can afford it).  This may mean living in crowded slums outside the cities (or around the walled compounds of the rich), since obviously "drive till you qualify" will no longer be an option.

But crowding together is the least of our problems.  In other parts of the world, you may have 15 people sharing a small apartment.  Here, there are often laws against it.  I predict those laws will be rescinded or widely ignored.

And it will be money that determines who has to give up their cars first.  And yes, there will be a lot of pain and unpleasantness.

That's exactly right. We have a rough road in front of us, no doubt about it. And I don't wish hardship on anyone, but the faster gas prices rise, the faster we will get around to making changes that will benefit our children and grandchildren in the long run.


OK, time to turn this around.

Excellent post throughout, Lou.


louGrinzo, glad you said something.

I would also like to point out that most cities, towns, villages, etc., are not self-sustaining with regards to anything whatsoever and require long-distance shipping for the very, very basic necessities in life. This will have to change, but that will take time and during the interim do people just simply go without food? Without medicine?

I really wish people would shift their vision to look 5-10 years out, rather than 30-40 years out, and try to deal with the problems in our immediate future -- at least once in a while. We will be ripped from our dependence on hydrocarbon fuels regardless of what we do. It's the process of ripping us from this that's going to be difficult, painful, and potentially lethal, and if we can find ways to mitigate the pain and suffering and death on the way down, then we should.

Alternative fuels and the like are sliding boards to get us safely from the top of the cliff to the valley floor below. Planning for 30-40 or more years out without dealing with the cliff right in front of us leaves us to plunge to our deaths into an organic zen butterfly garden at the bottom. I can't understanding this thinking at all.

I could give a crap about the car.  However, until I can get something going where I can make a living close to home (and I am working on that), trasportation is needed.  Since our society isn't making any effort on efficient public transprotaion, we're stuck with the auto and all it's damaging effects.  

What's your suggestion - shall we all just cease using cars instantly, and deal with whatever happens?  Tell us what you think should be done.  Yes, I'm baiting you.  

Even though I am not the one you are "baiting",
let me have the other side of this one, because I could give way more than a crap about the car.  I admit it.  I consider the automobile one of the great liberating devices of human history.  I could go for pages explaining why, but I will save you that, and recommend you instead to look up the great automotive historians such as Beverly Rae Kimes, Karl E. Ludvigsen, Griffith Borgeson and the poet of the postwar sports car, Rich Taylor to name a few.  Like Peak Oil, the lore of the automobile has it's own luminaries, those who can sing the song of the automobile in such fine tune so as to raise lust and love for the varied beast, brutes and beauties of the art form even among those less auto inclined.

The automobile is art.  It is much, much more than transportation.  And of course, as any good and meaningful art form should be, it is controversial, loved by the partisans who see the curves, the technology, the machined forms as a language in itself, far exceeding the "usefulness" of the object, and hated by those who see the automobile as the pure embodiment of the waste of wealth, the destruction of a human and humane environment, and the "sociology of the road" as cheap, tawdry, and opposed to the decency of the "localized" Utopia we once knew or can know in the future.

In 1977, the year I graduated high school, the conservative writer B. Bruce Briggs wrote a book called "The War Against The Automobile".  His point was that the automobile does cost us.  It costs in human life (more died on the highways in the year Briggs wrote his book than in all the years of the Vietnam War!), in pollution  (if you burn fuel, you make smoke, there is no way out of that, and you can treat it, screen it, and try to sink it into the dirt, but burning makes pollution, we knew this even before we knew about GHG), it costs in fuel (which in 1977 through 1980 was a horrendous cost, equal to an inflation adjusted price that today would require over $90 dollars a barrel to match), it cost in road space, in money for highway construction, and in lost time through traffic jams.

But, Briggs did make an interesting point:  The single biggest cost of the car seemed to be asthetic and moral.  From it's birth as a "rich man's toy", the car has always carried the burden of the "class struggle" writ large.  That is, to many Puritan minded folks, the car's greatest cost was that it was a device undermining "real American" values, values of thrift, of small tight towns with people who talked to each other instead of racing past each other, and quiet Mayberry like days on the front porch, now destroyed by the automobile's speed, which sped up the pace of life with it.  There were those who put it plainly:

The car was evil, and would always be so.  Even if the fuel consumption could be reduced to near nothing, the pollution could be virtually done away with, and the safety raised to the point that more people died per year playing golf, the very IDEA of high speed, long range transport was anti-human in and of itself.

There is truth in it, of course.  Throughout the two million plus years of what can be called "human civilization", it is only in the last century and one half that ANY human went much over 60 miles per hour (before the steam train and the automobile, one historian pointed out the fastest a human could ever have traveled was by downhill skiing!)  Before 1850, the vast majority of humans on Earth never made a trip over 100 miles, and the ones who did usually did it once in a mass relocation (such as the voyage to the new world) and then settled and never did it again.  It is unnatural to travel fast, or to travel far, on a routine basis, if you use human history as the guide.  Humans are built to move slow.

But the automobile is, above being useful, exciting, beautiful, thrilling.  Even when the need for cars is long gone, it will still be loved, just as horses are today, long after their working days, or sailboats, which just as pleasurecraft inspire love for them out of pure beauty, grace, and speed, not as fast as a 747 aircraft, but relative to the sea, fast enough to bring joy...just as an early MG is not a fast car, but still beloved....it is all relative to the context, as any good art should be.

Can we survive without cars as our "workhorses".  Of course.  Let me give you an example.  In my small hometown in Central Kentucky, my father graduated high school in 1952.  At that time there were of course cars.  Not as fast as today, not as many, and the roads were not nearly as nice.  Over the years, there were more cars, faster cars, better roads.  Did it make our hometown more "liberated" and free?  You be the judge:

When my dad was in high school, you could come and go to our hometown lby way of L&N Railroad, which still ran passenger trains to Louisville, and from there, to almost any anywhere in the nation.  When he was in high school, Grayhound Lines ran two buses a day through our town.  And of course, if you wanted, you could use the car.

When I graduated high school in the same town in 1977, the passenger trains were long gone (the last few ran in the 1960's).
The Grayhound Line quit running through our town when they streamlined their schedule and route system in the 1980's, staying mostly to Interstate highway and major cities.
A town that had had 3 hotel/motels in 1952 now has no overnight lodging establishments.  With autos, no one stops here who does not live here for more than a gas refill and a sandwich at a convenience store.

So has the automobile increased options in my hometown?  No.  But the automobile has won, at least for now.  If you live in my hometown, which has few jobs, and not even a high school now....you must drive, or leave for good.

But as we have just seen, things change.  The automobile as work of art is no more loved than the steam train was (what a beautiful device there!) or the "blue era" Diesels of the L&N railroad of the early 1950's, or the giant propeller airplanes or "flying boats" of the 1930's, or the great sailing "packet line" ships of the 1840's.

So what should be done?  Well, first let's talk about what should not be done:
Don't waste your time on hate.  Art is transcendent and a new movement is being born as we speak.  You may love it, you may hate it, you may even have a small influence in the "new movement", but you will not get to decide the outcome.  There are more people on Earth than you alone.

Next, worry less about the car, and think more about "transportation" in that largest sense.  Humans, by nature, are mobile.  It is part of being human.  The speed of mobiility may be negotiable.  The distance travelled may be negotiable.  The comfort of transport may be negotiable.  But if you doubt that humans will move about no matter what, re-read the old Testament travels of Abraham, Homer's "Odyssey", "The Epic of Gilgamesh",  Cervantes' "Man of La Mancha", Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales"....Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn"  (drifting on a homemade raft, how's that for minimalism!)
and then, Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel '"On the Road",  Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance",  Christie's "The Orient Express", William Least Heat-Moon's "Blue Highways", or Gramm Parson's "Return Of The Grevious Angel"....

We flew straight across that river bridge
Last night half past two
The switchman waved his lantern goodbye and good day as we
Went rolling through
Billboards and truckstops pass by the grievous angel
And now I know just what I have to do
Twenty thousand roads I went down down down
And they all lead me straight back home to you

The car in the end, is a tool, an art form capturing the human drive to travel.
The car has, even if you consider it's great expense to humankind, captured the "drive" (pun intended) to move about better than almost any device in history, and to choose the time and the path to move with astounding freedom.  Is it sustainable?  Maybe not.  Is man's ability to travel, to move about, sustainable?  It must be, as it is a part of human life itself, as much a part of being human as art, song, love, birth and death.  This is why the defense of the car is so strong.  It is seen, it's own way, as a manifestation of being human in the truest sense.

(now, aren't you glad it wasn't me you were baiting?)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Wow. That was beautiful. I grew up in a semirural area with great winding roads and a love of cars (from birth). Living in a crowded city,driving has lost its joy, but that took me back.
Alright, true confessions time.  I'm a child of the car culture - as a kid I could name any car from a glimpse of the taillights.  From Matchboxes and Hot Wheels to model cars, I was modifying my car before I was old enough to drive it.  In High School my Mustang had a home made water injection system.  There's nothing I would take apart on a car.  I married a lady who raced SCCA.  I've done everything one can do in a car, including coming within a whisker of dying, and I still love to drive.

BUT - at what price?

On a personal level, if I could only have back just some of the time I wasted learning and thinking about cars - just imagine the things I could have learned!  So what if I know every intricacy of some particular car that is no longer made, and I no longer own?  What a waste of time and brain cells.  

On a societal level, take a look at what we've done to our cities and towns - ruined to make room for cars at the expense of people and lifestyle.  Land use planning is almost exclusively about cars and roads.  Our countryside is cut by giant roads that people and animals cannot cross on foot.  Ahh, the lovely sound of diesel rigs coming down the hill with the Jake Brake on - miles away.  Now we're realizing the cost in other terms, such as our dependency on oil, and the wars we fight for it, and the damage we've done to our environment through climate change (which we have not seen the full bill for yet).

Oh, I still love the freedom of the open road, it's a great feeling.  But I have concluded that it was not worth the price, and I can no longer look at a car and feel the things I used to.  When I see those cool new Mustangs, or a beautiful restored Hudson Hornet, I mostly just think "what a mistake".

However, the point I was making in response to Cherenkov's comment was this:  While I might agree with what I understand of how he'd like the world to turn out, we cannot just leave people in a situation where they don't have the means or skills to make a living and survive.  Right now, people need transportation to their jobs and for other purposes (getting food and supplies, etc.).  We could do that by rail, but we aren't working on that as a society.  So to say just stop driving and abandon the car because it is evil, is equal to saying "I don't care what happens to people".  There's that little problem of a transition period that some people don't like to consider.  

I'm in that situation now, even though I see the coming problems with the auto based society we have.  In a few years, if my plans work out, I'll be making money near to home without the need for much automotive transportation.  But it won't happen overnight, and therefore there is a need to discuss how to maintain some portion of our automotive transportation system.

Welcome to the world of random overreaction.  Don't think CNG could play a role in a much more energy efficient future, check your brain at the door, and demand that we must leap instantly to a car-free future.
You know... we used to say in sales meetings... do the same thing, get the same results.

So it is with cars.

There's two ways to look at this "checking your brain at the door" business. You might think we are unrealistic. OTOH, the best I'm seeing from the change-is-slow-reality-side (not you personally Odo) is E85 and tar sands. So... exactly nothing.

10 years out... E85 and tar sands will still be exactly nothing.  

10 years out we will be post peak, maybe in hot water, very likely in hot weather. The time for random "overreacting" to automobile technology was 20 years ago. We failed to do it then, what's new today?    

I think it's pretty clear that the parent post is not only making the perfect the enemy of the good - it is making the unattainable and perfect the enemy of the good.

I mean, you could say the converions of perfectly good methane to either ethanol or hydrogen is an example of the same sort of illogical quest.

We have methane.  Blowing off CO2 at a filling station, calling it clean hydrogen, and then feeding it into shuttle busses is insane:



I must be having a communication problem on my end.

I am not calling for the unattainable and perfect.

I am saying the private automobile is not part of the ultimate solution set.

The factors that make this so are:

  1. A widely anticipated decline in transportation fuels

  2. An escalating problem with anthropogenic-ally induced climate change, IE: green house gases; a very large amount of which come from automobiles.

To me, our strategy must be to make cars obsolete.

To this end, I support everything Alan says about light rail. Everything everyone writes here about imposing fuel and carbon emissions taxes. I believe fully that RR has laid out the missteps to come with E85. I get grumpy when I read about anaerobically fermenting corn... We need to look at the challenge squarely, not obliquely.

Cherenkov has a great point (and usually a good rant <g>). We cannot have several hundred million cars, a chronic fuel shortage, an emerging GHG crisis and still think to tweak the perimeter of car culture.

Do you think it is practical to leap to Cherenkov's car-less future, without any interim steps (including greener, less polluting, cars)?

What exactly are you going to tell the current 2-car family with small kids in the suburbs, or the elderly couple in the paid-for home 5 miles from the groceries?

If your strategy is simply to make cars obsolete, you will strand people in their homes.

It is easy to make cars obsolete. GM is doing just fine in that regard.

But what if we imposed an onerous, really ugly tax on new vehicles... but not on used ones. Would that not start the phase out? Used, older vehicles would be worth more so no one would be stuck with a financial loss if they were prepared to move to alternatives. No one gets stranded.
And there is a lot of supply today... many millions of cars. Business would boom at repair and parts shops. Car dealers would still deal. We would get another 150,000 miles use from each car as people babied them. Accidents would be something to avoid like the plague. Two car families could segue to one car. Perhaps we could avoid gas taxes as the car supply slowly diminished and as folks rolled those odometers with new found frugality. Joint ownership among families and neighbors would be emerge, creating healthy social dependencies...

There are lots of possibilities. All the while we would be moving in the right direction, and the free market, such as it is, would be facilitating a new paradigm.

Sure, we would have to manage some corporate fallout. But that dislocation is minor compared to $8 and $10 gasoline. At that level everyone is hosed, many cars are worthless and many, many, mortgages are upside down in suburbia.

E85, methane, butane, what-ever... will not stop the train wreck to come when gasoline ratchets up. WE have to put on the brakes ourselves.

The problem is that the cure you're trying to prompt requires redevelopment of the housing base, which takes on the order of 20-50 years.  Cars last more like 10-15 years, so you'd create an artificial dislocation.

If our problem is the use of oil or emission of GHG's, let's tax oil and GHG's.  Some people might cut their contribution by moving to a loft, some by using an electric car, some by swapping car mileage for bicycle mileage.  There is no "one size fits all" solution, like eliminating most of the new-car market.

I considered the housing issue.

Putting an onerous tax on new cars sends an unmistakable signal that the further suburbs have a transportation issue. It does not kill them. 10-15 years is enough time to develop bus, bike, and rail. I personally think many folks will buy  scooters and continue the commute. I also think that cars may last longer than you think. I understand many from the 1950's are still running in Cuba. It's a question of maintenance and judicial use.  

I think builders and buyers will choose to start developing closer in, in denser configurations, immediately. These are exactly the changes we need to encourage. But to get there from here we need an unmistakable signal. And, it needs to be more than a price signal, it needs to be a symbolic one as well.  

Would you be more amenable to restricting the onerous tax to  IC engine powered autos and permitting electric development?

My concern with market pricing is that it will cause social turbulence. Restricting the population of new cars, deprives no one but the emerging new car buyer, and that person has the most flexibility to adjust. It also means that all current owners have a tangible benefit: they have a collectible.

In my mind, this scheme, unorthodox as it seems, provides a manageable transportation "power-down". Our current path of rising gas and commodity prices is going to hurt soon, hurt broadly, and hurt for a very, very, long time. The domestic car manufacturers like Ford and GM are toast anyway. Why not just bite the bullet?  

Electric vehicles are neither polluters nor dependent upon petroleum.  If people find that they are a way to have their lifestyle and avoid oil too, why should they have to do without?
I agree. My question was... Would you be happier if we only taxed internal combustion engines and left electric free to develop?

The idea is to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions from automobiles and, at the same time, provide society a strong incentive to adopt public transportation.

Peak oil will bring coal rapidly into the picture. This poses some obvious GHG problems. So it's a trade-off. But I'm assuming that over the long haul electricity can be cleaner as we ramp up wind and PV.  

Sadly, we will continue to preserve the dysfunctional auto fetish no matter what....

Sadly, we will continue to preserve the dysfunctional auto fetish no matter what....

Others had adequately answered this, so I won't write too much. But it is an absolute that cars will be with us for a long, long time. We will consume every available fossil fuel maintaining our mobility. If the poles melt and half of Florida ends up under water, we will continue to burn fossil fuels. I don't endorse that, but it's naïve to expect otherwise. What I am suggesting above is a more efficient way than the status quo. It is a better path toward a transition to a post-oil world.

Some of us are not planning to roll over and die because of Peak Oil. We will continue to fuel the future, albeit with expensive and scarce fuel sources. We have to be smart about our remaining supplies. That is the purpose of my essay: To suggest that there are better uses for our natural gas than how we are currently using it.


1st time poster here ... don't know about the economics of landfill gas, but I'm concerned about this statement:

Fortunately, natural gas can also be renewable if we make if from biomass. Natural gas is created by the anaerobic decomposition of biomass. It can be made from sewage sludge, municipal solid waste, or biomass crops grown specifically for that purpose.

Anaerobic decomposition of biomass can use sulfate or nitrate as oxidants or carbon disproportionation.  It's the last that produces methane, taking reduced carbon (-CH2-) to fully reduced carbon (CH4) and fully oxidized carbon (CO2).  What then do you do with the CO2?  How does this compare to using, eg, BTL?  If you can sequester the CO2, you'll be carbon negative, at the expense of using only half the carbon available. I don't think I understand the energetics or the full ramifications here.

davet -

It is axiomatic that the ulitmate fate of all carbon in any biomass fuels process is CO2.

You are correct that in the production of methane from the anaerobic decomposition of biomass, the original partially reduced organic compounds get split into carbon compounds that more reduced (methane, etc) and carbon compounds that are more oxidized (CO2). But then when you burn the methane, you get C02 anyway, so in the end the process has more or less the same result as if the organic matter were subjected to aerobic rather than anaerobic decomposition.

So, from a CO2 standpoint, I really don't see much difference in the final outcome than if you just burned the biomass in the first place.  Of course, one of the main purposes of the anaerobic decomposition process is to produce a fuel that can be burned in an internal combustion engine. Thus, it is more of an effort to improve the 'form value' of the energy in the biomass.

And I guess that that was the only point of the orginal comment: anaerobic decompostion of biomass to produce methane can augment the supply of natural gas. Mind you, most of the carbon in the biomass is going to (sooner or later, one way or the other,  become CO2), so going the methane from biomass route is not going to add to the atmospheric CO2 as much as burning long-buried  fossil fuels (which can be viewed as ancient sequestered carbon).

Of course if we use methane it will end up as CO2 -- that wasn't the question.  The question is really how much work can you get from biomass methane, given that half the carbon goes to CO2 before you use it, vs other uses for that same biomass.
davet -

OK, I see your point. During anaerobic decompostion the oxidation of some of the partially reduced carbon to totally oxidized C02 is the driving force for the production of totally reduced CH4. To a large degree, no net energy is produced: just a spliting of partially reduced  carbon into fully reduced carbon (CH4) and fully oxidized carbon (CO2).

The direct answer to your question, I think, is that far less work can be gotten from the production of biomass methane than from just burning the biomass in the first place. However, as I have stated, we have the issue of 'form value'; and so, it might be acceptable to forego some of the energy gains from just burning the biomass in order to produce a fuel (i.e., methane) that can be used in an internal combustion engine. Not an ideal position, but then again, what is?

Of course if we use methane it will end up as CO2 -- that wasn't the question.  The question is really how much work can you get from biomass methane, given that half the carbon goes to CO2 before you use it, vs other uses for that same biomass.

You will always be better off just burning the biomass, and if we could transition to universal PHEVs, that would be the way to go. My point is that it is more efficient to burn natural gas directly than use it as we are to make ethanol.

Incidentally, biogas certainly has a lot of CO2. But, you can shift that equilibrium, and I presume CO2 generation from these bacteria is an exothermic reaction - with the potential for some low-grade heat generation.


In North America NG will remain scarce, even if some is imported as LNG.  That means that the more CNG burnt in cars the more coal burnt in power plants (and in making ethanol, and CTL, etc).  The net overall reduction in CO2 emmisions is therefore probably nonexistent (or negative).  I agree with those who commented that we must drastically reduce the use of cars.

That said, what are the energetics of converting far-away NG into methanol (rather than diesel or LNG) for transport?  Some people think that methanol is "the fuel of the future" since it is a liquid, and can be made from biomass too, and can be used in a fuel cell directly.

Another way to make NG portable is to convert it to fertilizer. (But eventually we'll be forced to convert to organic agriculture.)

In North America NG will remain scarce...

There are staggering amounts of methane dissolved in geopressured brine reservoirs under Texas and Louisiana (and probably the GOM as well). 30 years ago when I was in graduate school the resource was recognized, but no one had a clue about how to produce the stuff. Actually, it's easy to produce but there's the really ugly problem of disposing of enormous amounts of corrosive, toxic brine. Basic systems analysis suggested that the heat content in the brine was probably sufficient to provide the energy to pump the stuff back into the reservoir, but it was expensive because corrosion was going to be a significant problem. Materials science has advanced a long way since then -- today it might be technically feasible.

There's probably a lot of money to be made if you're a young talented engineer who can solve this particular problem.

How toxic and how corrosive are the classic GOM geopressured brines? Taking a leak in someone's swimming pool is a small but real problem. Taking a leak in the Pacific Ocean ... well fish do it all the time and although there is a lot of ocean, there are also a lot of fish.

Any idea how much geopressured brine would neeed brought to the bubble point to obtain one mcf of natural gas? Any idea how much that brine differs from the stuff that fills the Gulf of Mexico [I am guessing that toxic is mostly NaCl and that the "corrosive" is hydrogen sulfide ... or maybe even that same sodium choloride]?

I haven't heard about geopressured brines in a long time, but I have never actually heard what makes them sub economic either.

How toxic and how corrosive are the classic GOM geopressured brines? Taking a leak in someone's swimming pool is a small but real problem. Taking a leak in the Pacific Ocean... Any idea how much geopressured brine would neeed brought to the bubble point to obtain one mcf of natural gas?

Working strictly from quite old memory... about 50 cubic feet of gas at standard pressure per barrel of brine, so you'd need about 20 barrels to get a thousand cubic feet. Toxicity was mostly a matter of heavy metals -- compounds of barium, cesium, cadmium, etc. IIRC, one of the proposed disposal techniques was to run it through ten-mile or so pipelines out into the GOM and dump it. I think we estimated that we could produce enough from Texas to eventually poison a sizeable chunk of the NW GOM. Corrosive was mostly just that it was salt water at ~400 degrees F. Under much higher than normal gradient pressure as well. The original purpose of the project was to explore possibilities for exploiting the heat and pressure, but the oil companies that were footing the bill were much more interested in the methane aspects once they found out about it.

The DOE ran one or more test wells in Louisiana where they disposed of the brine in shallow wells, but that almost certainly doesn't work out well once you start talking about billions of barrels of the stuff.

Hmmm. I suppose another way of looking at this is the equivalent water cut based on a bbbl of oil. IIRC the ratio is about 6 mcf of gas is the equivalent on bbl of oil. On that basis you would only need about 180 bbls of brine to get the gross energy equivalent of on bbl of oil. Effectively a .5 percent oil cut [things start to get real interesting in OK at about 1 percent, but with no finding costs and a ocean of brines ... offset by the fact that these projects are offshore. Positive EROEI alert??? I am certain that I am missing something [obviously drilling and production costs are not considered in this analysis], but my gut feel is that mining these brines might beat the hell out of screwing around with Alberta tar sands or even [gasp - yes - gasp] Powder River Basin coal. I any event, the product extracted [wonderful clean burning pipeline transportable methane!!!] beats oil in many ways.

I sense intuitively that there are things wrong with this line of reasoning [never post under the influence of Sam Adams] but in my present condition I think this unconventional source might be at least a silver pellet. Thoughts? [Please.]

The amount of methane involved is such that if this source could be produced in a straightforward manner, someone would already be exploiting it. I think the hardest problems are probably a matter of what happens to all the dissolved solids when you drop the pressure and/or temperature to get the methane out of solution. If some fraction of the solids precipitates, you have some sort of scaling happening somewhere. If it happens inside pipes, pumps and turbines you have one set of problems. If it happens in the reservoir in the neighborhood of the well, you potentially have permeability problems. Ideally it seems you would like something that could sit downhole and selectively pass only the methane without the general pressure drop. There are some patents on file for ideas to do this; some of them involve machinery at the bottom of the well; some of them seem to involve "damaging" a portion of the reservoir in controlled fashion to allow a gas cap to form; all of them seem complicated.

Still, the problems seem to me to be no more complex than those of methane hydrates, the estimates for geopressured reserves are considerly larger than for hydrates, the locations are already relatively well mapped, and many of those locations are in areas where there is already extensive infrastructure.

About garbage, I haven't been around this forum long enough to know how much burning garbage for its energy has been discussed, or how significant a contribution it could make to the future U.S. energy mix.

The Hundertwasser heating plant in Austria is a great example - has (for when it was built) state-of-the-art emissions controls, and provides hot water heat to hundreds of buildings around Vienna.

This kind of thing will be essential in a post-peak world - mining garbage for all its economic value. Also, it will make landfills obsolete.

About garbage, I haven't been around this forum long enough to know how much burning garbage for its energy has been discussed, or how significant a contribution it could make to the future U.S. energy mix.

If memory serves me correctly, a big problem with directly burning garbage is dioxin generation.


Since the EROEI of ethanol is marginal what exactly is the EROEI of anerobic composting of biomass?  Say instead of converting all that corn into beer and then distilling it to purify the alcohol we instead put it in to an anerobic digester and take off the resulting methane gas.  Could you potentially have an EROEI greater than 1?  Your purification steps are less energy intensive and you don't need those costly enzymes to convert the cellulose.

I put the question out there to the wise people on TOD. What about growing crops for methane production?    

Say instead of converting all that corn into beer and then distilling it to purify the alcohol we instead put it in to an anerobic digester and take off the resulting methane gas.  Could you potentially have an EROEI greater than 1?  Your purification steps are less energy intensive and you don't need those costly enzymes to convert the cellulose.

I was thinking about this as I was writing the essay. Yeah, I think you would be better off putting corn in an anaerobic digestor than turning it into ethanol. I just don't know how good the EROI would ultimately be, but the biggest energy sink in the ethanol process is distilling ethanol out of a solution that is mostly water.


I listened to this podcast yesterday:

Tad Patzek in theWatt Podcast, episode 59, part #2

It covers a lot of things we've discussed at TOD, but it was fun to listen to while out on a hike.

One thing Patzek emphasizes is that corn ethanol processes are chosen for their speed, their throughput, rather than their efficiency.

It stikes me that anerobic digestion is a slow-and-efficient route.  Maybe good for a consumer with steady needs and an on-site facility, but less good for a producer, trying push out a lot of product.

"In North America natural gas will remain short.." I'm not so sure that natural gas will remain short in the short term for reasons:
  1. There are numerous LNG facilities being built in the United States, about 20 in Texas and Louisiana alone. My best guess is that the major oil companies are planning on gas to diesel and CNG vehicle conversions as a replacement for gasoline. Automobiles and light trucks (SUV's and pick-ups) can be converted for about $2,000 in the Houston area by adding a tank and a fuel injector feed and (I'm fairly certain)retain capabilities for both gasoline and CNG.
  2. Drilling depths have increased from 2,000' to 10,000' at the end of the last oil boom to 10,000' to 20,000' in this exploration boom. Although there is little oil at deeper depths, there is a heck of a lot of gas there. This doubling of drilling depths has doubled the volume of sediments to be explored. Also large areas of the US that have been off limits for environmental reasons such as offshore California, offshore Florida and the East Coast are very likely to become more feasible as exploration areas as the public's fear is increased
  3. Unconventional gas is rapidly extending our potential gas reserves. The Barnet Shale field is proving this in shale that is mature source rock and is produced with horizontal drilling and massive fracs. The extension of this play into the Fayetteville shale in Arkansas and the Woodword/Barnet shale in the Permian Basin and the Anadarko Basin shows that any mature shale source rock has this potential. Also methane from coal beds is proving economical.
   Although I think we may be a long way from the natural gas peak, I have to agree that our attachment to automobiles is killing this country, and we are headed for environmental disaster. And I also think the world has peaked on ight,sweet crude and the alternatives of heavy oils and tar and shale sand mining , and burning coal are worse environmental disasters in the making. The only good solutions are population control and stopping the belief that every adult needs a car available at all times.
Hi Bob. Maybe "short" [not my term] was the wrong term. Maybe "expensive" is better terminology. The costs of drilling a 15,0000 foot well even onshore in a mature province are scary for a little guy and even the big dogs want to get a return comensurate with the risks assumed. The closest I ever came to anything resembling deep production was an offer that I declined for a couple of percent of a re-entry prospect on an 18,000 [mas y menos] well in onshore LA. Brass balls [and to be politically correct the female equivalent thereof] are required to play in these games.
At least at sewage plants, there has been some research on running diesel engines on a 25/75 diesel/methane mixture.  I am not sure how the methane is throttled, but it shouldn't be any more difficult than converting a fuel-injected gasoline engine to CNG, probably harder than converting good old carbuerated engines.  The engine efficiency may be reduced some over straight diesel fuel, but I would think it would still do better overall than using GTL to make your diesel fuel.
In Fairbanks, where I used to live, there were Checker taxi cabs that ran on propane.  These worked really well and were really clean compared to normal cars.  The only problem was that in the really cold weather the propane would not vaporize until you heated the bottle. Since propane is much more convenient to handle than CNG or LNG, I wonder if a GTG, as in methane to propane, conversion would be worthwhile to consider for a transportation tactic?
I wonder why with a supply of methane [particularly given a use it or be fined for relesaing into the atmosphere circumstance] a mix of diesel and methane was even used?

Propane is a very cleam motor fuel. My experience is ancient [the 1970s ... gasp] and not very deep, but a number of my friends were driving pickup trucks back in the day on propane at about one third the cost of gasoline and only a couple hundred of then dollar investments in conversion kits. Those conversions were rather crude, but passed emmissions tests with flying colors. The downside such as it was was a need for gasoline on initial start up. Hardly a problem IMO as it gave the user considerable flexibility.

Any idea of when propane starts to be a problem in low temperature environments such as Fairbanks?

I am guessing that the problem is methane's autoignition temperature, over 500 deg C.  Diesel fuel goes at about 240 deg C, so it ignites more easily.  A pure methane diesel would probably need an even higher compression ratio than a "normal" diesel in order to ignite the methane.

I have not researched it, but I imagine that propane or NG conversion would be more complicated with a modern fuel-injected/computerized car, compared to the old cars with carburetors.  I am guessing some sort of metering valve feeding the air intake and some serious reprogramming of the firmware would be needed.

I am not sure about the Checker cabs, but we started wrapping the propane bottle on our unheated porch with wet towels at around -20 deg F so that we could cook dinner.


When I undestood the peak oil issue I bought a CNG volvo. It has a range of 300km on CNG but switches seamlessly to petrol due to its dual tank system yielding  an effective range of close to 700km when needed. Its priced about $3000 more than the standard petrol only model. Fuel cost is about 60% of a petrol car. I have done 20000km and I'm extremely satisfied.

Id like point out two aspects on distribution;

  1. When in place, as in my area, a pipeline gas system significantly reduces energy cost for delivery of CNG to the customer. My local tankstation has gas from the national pipeline system and runs a 200 bar compressor pump.
  2. The Biogas methane can be locally produced from waste and agricultural byproduct. This also reduces delivery cost and allows for local energy independence.

Also the natural gas pipeline system can gradually mix in biogas. Different numbers are cited here but I think we have about 25% biogas mixed into the NG here.

CNG today and a gradual change to Biogas is the way to go. The change will come gradually by market anyway but could benefit from the right policy. Sadly even here in Sweden were CNG/Biogas has come a long way the politicians are all to much in love with alcohol which get all the benefits.

Its because they can drink it too.
Zero-CO2 that sounds like the economics of my prius, you're paying about 3 g's more than the equivalent gas only car, but you get some flexibility.

I consider some of the cost of the prius the wowee-neato drive system, and some of it that it's a very well designed car. I'm gambling that it will hold its value much  better than almost everything else in the presently sold US fleet.

And I live for the day I won't need it any more ;-)

Maybe it's not fuel we have to worry about....

Province cuts back on paving

Manitoba Transportation may have to cut back its asphalt paving program this year because of high oil prices.

Spokesman John Hosang says prices for oil used to make asphalt are up 30 to 70 per cent over last year
He says that may affect the number of kilometers of roads they do.

Hosang says there has even been talk of a shortage of asphalt this year but so far suppliers to the province have committed to fulfilling their contracts.

Then again, the real crap fraction of heavy oil is asphalt ... and as crudes gets heavier my understanding is that there gets to be mor and more of asphaltic materials. Maybe / consequently the result is that asphalt will be cheap relativel to the lighter fractions. Then again, the cost of laying the stuff is only fractionally dependent of the cost of the raw material.
Then again, the real crap fraction of heavy oil is asphalt ... and as crudes gets heavier my understanding is that there gets to be mor and more of asphaltic materials. Maybe / consequently the result is that asphalt will be cheap relativel to the lighter fractions.

More and more refiners are putting in cokers, which leaves you with no asphalt fraction. That's one thing that is putting pressure on asphalt markets, even as oil heavies up.


Automobiles are not the problem. Internal combustion engines are the problem. There are around a billion ICEs in the world and it will take at least 20 years to replace them with battery electric vehicles. So what do we do with those billion engines in the mean time. They will need fuel and for the most part that fuel needs to be liquid. I prefer thermal conversion of biomass over fermentation and distillation of ethanol. Gaseous fuel are practical for stationary purposes and ought to be reserved for those uses in the most efficient ways possible.
Destroying all cars and trucks is no solution to our oil problem. They will be with us for awhile; and the internal combustion engine as well. There are simply some other things that will have to find their way into our fuel tanks besides crude refined gasoline while the next generation mode of travel is worked out. It will have to be a basket of fuels; no silver bullet replacement. A big apple in the basket is probably going to be CNG. I've read mostly good user summaries of CNG vehicles. They complain that you have to cold start them on the gas tank then switch to the CNG tank. And, for now at least, there are few refill stations for long trips; so you have to switch to the nasty old, expensive pump gas far from home. Many users install a compressor at their house and refuel the CNG from their home's NG. If (when) there is an oil shock, they will be refueling at $2/gal while relaxing at their homes watching angry motorists on TV wait in gas lines for their $6 refills. They marvel at how clean it is, running 6000 miles without the oil getting the least bit dirty.

But wait a minute. Isn't NG a fossil fuel coming out of reservoirs just like oil? Aren't we running short of NG about as fast as we're running short on oil? The answer would seem to be no! In North America, we are woefully short on supply, but globally we are not. As a previous poster pointed out, there's plenty of gas, just not in the right places. Thus the emerging importance of LNG (liquified natural gas) where the gas is drilled, made into a liquid, and shipped by LNG tanker away from where there's no population to use it to populated areas where it is regasified and placed into the domestic NG pipe system. So just what is the global picture of NG depletion compared to oil? Is there a Hubbert curve for that? The global production curve looks like this:


 This chart shows the close correlation between natural gas byproduct liquids and natural gas production, the correlation factor being 25 Mb liquid for each Tcf of gas (the brown line charted). So the NGPL is a close proxy to the gas and this liquid lends itself to Hubbert's method:

The corresponding bell curve doesn't peak for decades. The relative peak picture between oil/NG looks like this:

This is a busy chart, but compare the light blue curve with the red curve. This compares conventional reservoir crude (no deepwater, extra heavy, and other ultra expensive, slow  flow-rate oil). The red line is all assorted liquids other than crude. The NGPL (natural gas plant liquids) make up about 70% of this production (note the current 7 Mb/d of NGPL in the first chart compared to the 10 Mb/d total assorted liquids charted in red). For many years, we'll have a flat, then declining crude production competing with a rising NG production to fill our cars and trucks on. And NG will probably compete well with the bio/mined stuff because it's high energy density gushing out of the ground for us already farmed up, ground up, heated up, processed and ready to use except for the LNG processing.

Some facts from a LNG user.
Some costs to consider.
Location: Eastern Europe, Latvia
Auto: Audi 80, year 1988, mileage ~330 000 km, gasoline carburateur motor 1.8 litres.
Cost to install LNG tank and adapter (made in Italy): ~300 USD in february, 2002. LNG tank - 60 litres. Gasoline tank - 70 litres.
Cost to fill LNG tank (40 litres of 60) - 18 USD. With these 40 litres and 2 passengers we can travel 500 km (~300 miles).
Costs 60% of gasoline. Full gasoline tank can get 800-900 km (600-700 miles). LNG costs 1/2 of gasoline per litre.
Today 1 liter of LNG costs the same as 1 liter of gasoline in 2002.
Driving pleasure is not diminished - LNG gets more torque in lower rpms, so it is possible to start with the 2-nd gear instead of the 1-st. On the other hand, acceleration during higher speeds is lower if compared to gasoline.
Swithching from gasoline to LNG and back can be done without stopping. Motor oil stays clean longer (1,5-2 times), because LNG burns with less soot.
Installation of LNG devices is cheaper in simple carburateur motors without electronics (in my case, costs were in the lower end). For more recent models with complex electronics, the costs are in the 1000-1500 USD range (several of my friends have done the same with their cars).