Natural gas has been in the spotlight lately as the clean fuel of the future, but what do we know about this clean gas? We already use it in our home furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, even some cars (CNG); but it is now becoming the energy of choice to produce our electricity. While it is a cleaner burning alternative to coal, is it our best choice? There are two parts to this question, how it is obtained, and how it is used.
Natural Gas Extraction
Natural gas is a fossil fuel derived from plant and animal matter that was heated and pressurized over time within the earth’s layers. It is a byproduct of oil drilling and for many years was just burned off with flares or re-injected back into the wells (and it still is in many countries). More recently, it has become a resource constituting it’s own development as an energy source. As a result, many oil companies are looking into developing the vast shale gas reserves found throughout the US as a new domestic energy plan competing with renewable energy.
Shale gas extraction is a bit more complicated and requires hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the fine clay like rock to obtain sufficient amounts of the gas. Chemicals (some which are toxic and unrecoverable) are injected at high pressure into these drilled wells, fracturing and breaking up the shale rocks and thus releasing the natural gas. › Continue reading
It’s so exciting to have affordable full electric highway legal cars back on the market! Brings me back to the mid 90′s all over again. This time we have some choices with Chevrolet launching the Volt right around the same time the Nissan brings out the Leaf. While they are both electric cars, they are targeting very different markets with very different strengths. Lets break it down and see the important specs of each.
Going for the commuter and road trip crowd, Chevy is betting people will go for a all purpose car offering the most flexibility. It has a gasoline engine onboard to extend the range to 340 miles, but unlike the current hybrids, it will run exclusively on the electric engine for the first 35 miles.
Targeting the commuter crowd and those with garages (for recharging), Nissan is betting on an expanding electric car infrastructure to provide recharging stations in the future. This car relies fully on its batteries for its longer all electric range, but also needs a longer charge time. However, if your daily commute is less than 15 miles both ways, it will last you all week before it needs a recharge, or just top it off every night.
The side by side:
|Chevy Volt||Nissan Leaf|
|Range (all electric):||40 mi||100 mi|
(empty to full charge)
|10 hrs on 110v
4 hrs on 240v
|20 hrs on 110v
7 hrs on 240v
|Power:||111 kW (150 hp)||80 kW (110 hp)|
|Top Speed:||100 mph||90 mph|
|Warranty:||Basic: 3 yr/36,000 mi
Powertrain: 5 yr/60,000 mi
Battery: 8 yr/100,000 mi
|Basic: 3 yr/36,000 mi
Powertrain: 5 yr/60,000 mi
Battery: 8 yr/100,000 mi
|Price:||$41,000 ($33,500 after tax credit)||$32,780 ($25,280 after tax credit)|
In an effort to promote the Ford Focus, the Ford Motor Company is promoting a competition called Global Drive. While I am optimistic of future electric cars such as the Chevy Volt, I myself am a fan of this small, fuel efficient car until we reach that place.
Ford is interested in making contact with individuals passionate about environmental causes, with the intention of making several $10k donations to non-profits looking to “Start Something More.”
Ford is inviting people to create a simple video and submit it via the Ford Focus Facebook page. Selected participants, along with a friend, will get a free trip to Madrid, Spain on February 18-20th to test drive the all-new Ford Focus. Additionally, Ford will make a $10,000 contribution to your chosen charity in the categories of environment, education or hunger.
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The DOE laboratory I work for recently published some promising results of one of our fuel cell experiments. Researchers with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Houston recently found a way to get platinum to be more conductive. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is big for fuel cell technology. Anders Nilsson, one of the scientists involved explained that although fuel cell technology has been around for the past 100 years or so, it hasn’t been able to make any strides in the technology.
First, a little background on fuel cells. Fuel cells are the way we create energy from hydrogen. A fuel cell creates electricity from a chemical reaction involving oxygen and hydrogen. One of the most exciting things about fuel cell technology is that the only byproducts are two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, also known as water! Platinum is currently the best catalyst we have to use with fuel cells. However if you’ve looked at the price of platinum recently, you know that the costs can be astounding for even just a plain platinum ring.
Many researchers have looked for ways around using a commodity as high priced as platinum for fuel cells. In 2008, researchers at Wuhan University in China found a way to bypass the platinum catalyst used in most fuel cells. They used a nickel anode and a silver cathode, and a powerful polymer membrane that can withstand the harshly acidic environment of the fuel cell. This acidic environment is the main reason that the high-cost precious metals are necessary in the first place. This polymer membrane has not yet proved to be even close in performance to platinum, but has proven that the idea itself has potential.
Sierra Nevada Brewery did something pretty green and innovative recently- they are converting their waste products into fuel for their automotive fleets. They are using the EFuel100 MicroFueler home ethanol maker along with the bottom of the barrel brewery waste of yeast and sugar to create Ethanol (E85) fuel. It’s starting out as a pilot program for just their own fleet, but they hope to expand it to include employees, distributors, and may go even further with it through E-Fuel’s distribution network.
These refrigerator-sized portable ethanol refineries raise the alcohol content in the mix to 15 percent and remove the water. With 1.6 million gallons of waste created each year (currently sold to farmers as feed), there is quite a bit of potential fuel. Creative waste solutions and environmental awareness are starting to gain traction among many micro-brewery’s, appealing to many of their ‘green minded’ customers. I love to see brewerys go green!
I was walking around the South Lake Union area of Seattle when i happened across a pretty little fueling station named Propel. It had a green roof, planters and educational interpretive signs like something you might find at a wetland or bird observation area. It looked more like a grade school garden experiment funded and built by green design architect parents. It changed the way i looked at biofuel and biodiesel stations. I was used to the more home-grown bio-diesel stations you find in Berkeley, or the backyard cookers. The ones that are old, kind of junky and funky, but at the same time give you that › Continue reading
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