Archive for Maret, 2013

Replacement Fuels Are A Reality

Switching from expensive imported oil to alternative fuels has moved from a far-off dream to an achievable reality. Today, more than a dozen gasoline alternatives are in various stages of development. Taken separately or together, they promise a path away from the imported-oil addiction that squeezes our pocketbooks, pollutes our air and imperils our national security.

In fact, at least four alternatives are not only already in use, but have what it takes to put us on the road to permanently breaking oil’s death grip on America’s drivers. What’s more, market forces have the potential to mainstream each of these technologies within the decade if commercial and regulatory barriers are removed.

Ethanol – Derived from plant materials, ethanol can be a cheaper, cleaner alternative to the gasoline that fuels our vehicles. Much of the gasoline sold at the pumps is already up to 10 percent ethanol and an increasing number of flex-fuel vehicles run on fuel that is up to 85 percent ethanol. Most ethanol in the U.S. is made from corn, yet ethanol can be made from any biomass—including garbage.

Methanol – Also known as wood alcohol, methanol is cheaper, cleaner and less flammable than gasoline. Made from both fossil fuels and renewable resources, it is used in race cars and in emerging economies such as China. Methanol fell out of favor in the U.S. in recent years, when the alternative fuel debate settled on ethanol, but it is getting a second look as oil prices continue to climb.

Natural Gas – Most of the natural gas used in the U.S. is going to homes and businesses, but it also powers more than 100,000—and counting—vehicles. It’s popular with fleets and buses: non-toxic, odorless, clean-burning and cheaper than gasoline and diesel. And consumers can buy a natural gas-powered Honda Civic that is already on the road.

Electricity – Electric vehicles—whether hybrid, plug-in or pure electric—are visible signs that the age of alternatives has arrived. EV-gas hybrid sales topped 2 million in 2011, and, while still modest, production of all-electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf and the high-end Teslas and Fiskers, is steadily growing. As more models become available for wider markets, charging stations have spread and technological advances have improved traveling ranges.

Domestic Oil – It is both unrealistic and unwise to discontinue oil drilling in the U.S. When you are starving, you don’t go on a diet! We have substantial petroleum reserves that remain untapped, and these should be exploited to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. At the same time, our domestic oil supplies cannot satisfy our transportation needs, either now or in the future. We need to supplement these with cheaper, cleaner American-made fuels.


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Could methanol bee feasible path toward replacing petroleum-based fuels? 

Balancing dependence on Middle East oil against increasing fuel demand continues to challenge China in its ongoing urbanization and industrialization. In an effort to adapt to such limitations, China has increased production capacity and consumption of methanol. In less than a decade, methanol use in China’s transportation sector grew from virtually zero to replacing nearly 8% of the country’s gasoline requirement.

China’s approach may prove to be profitable and strategic. Research suggests that methanol fits within existing energy infrastructure, offers a convenient solution for efficient energy storage and most importantly, certain methanol fuel blends can be used in today’s internal-combustion engines. Demand in Asia is rising as methanol is increasingly used as more than a chemical feedstock.

“Methanol is seen as a strategic fuel by the rapidly growing nation due to its clean fuel benefits, favorable economics, the ease of adopting methanol in current fueling infrastructure and the advantage of being able to use alternative feedstocks in a nation that is lacking in domestic oil reserves,” said former Deputy Governor of Shanxi Province, Peng Zhi Gui.

In 1995, the first methanol pilot project in China was initiated by Sino-American Scientific Collaboration.  Ford Motor Co. donated a methanol engine and assisted in developing the first methanol automobile in China. Direct blending with gasoline drives the recent growth in methanol demand. In 2009, national fuel blending standards for M85 and M100 went into effect across China, and a national M15 standard is currently in the final stages of adoption. These standards, along with the domestic availability of methanol and its lower cost compared to gasoline, will increase methanol’s fuel market share. In addition, methanol-blended fuel could be 50% cheaper than regular gas for drivers at the pump, depending on blend.

Global Methanol Production

In 2010, China’s methanol production capacity reached 38.4 million tons and will increase to 50 million tons by 2015. The M15 blended fuel is already widely used in five provinces – Shanxi, Shaanxi, Zhejiang, Guizhou and Heilongjiang, with localized standards implemented by provincial governments.

Methanol is the simplest alcohol, with the lowest carbon content and highest hydrogen content of any liquid fuel. As such, it offers a substantial improvement in toxic emissions, eliminating extremely harmful aromatics like benzene and xylene, and the particulate matter present in gasoline and diesel fuel.

China also plans to invest $382 billion in innovative energy conservation and anti-pollution projects over the next four years. Methanol is biodegradable in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions posing little long-term threat to ecosystems because it is unlikely to accumulate in the environment.

China is edging ahead by actively restructuring the contours of the system, placing a focus on the real problem (oil), and diversifying the transportation fuel market.  The country has set a target of producing and selling 500,000 energy-efficient and alternative-energy vehicles a year by 2015, and five million vehicles a year by 2020. Improved methanol production capacities would provide China with a handy alternative to petroleum-based fuels and chemicals in a post-peak-oil scenario, or as an emergency reserve in a temporary oil crisis.

It is a concern that China primarily derives its methanol from coal. As a transportation fuel, coal-based methanol has a larger carbon footprint than gasoline and could trigger higher world coal prices. Natural-gas-based methanol is also an alternative to petroleum-based products. Outside of China, methanol is primarily made from natural gas. In the United States, increased supply of shale gas and other unconventional sources is expected to keep gas prices relatively low.

California promoted methanol as an automotive fuel in the 1980s and ‘90s. In fact in the early ’90s, methanol was a more accepted automotive fuel than ethanol in the U.S. and the U.S. even helped initiate methanol fuel programs in China. Very little data is available on how and why methanol policy and programs ended in the United States.

No matter one’s individual perspective — liberal or conservative — we need a concrete solution that encourages competition and innovation, ensuring Americans an affordable and stable supply of replacement fuels for our transportation needs. Methanol can be derived from many plentiful energy resources and give the oil fuels a real run for their money.


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