Sunday, June 01, 2008

Methane fueled cars

This back and forth is presented for your confusion...

Person A:
I agree that Hydrogen is not a viable option. I have done a great deal of research into gaseous fuels and found some interesting facts. Methane from animal waste, garbage dumps etc is readily available and renewable, and is also a by-product of CO2 sequestration. The infrustructure is already in place (natural gas pipelines) and current vehicles readily convert to methane using state of the shelf propane conversion technology. Cars running on methane produce 1/2 the emissions accross the board. The other interesting fact is that methane is over 20 times more damaging to the environment than CO2, yet nobody is promoting this as an alternative.
Any help in getting this idea to the Obama campaign would be helpful. I have a list of experts ie scientists and researchers that are willing to present this concept to the right people.

Person B:
Methane can help, but there is not nearly enough of it to convert, and collection is tough--what with it being lighter than air and requiring separation (from air) and all. Moreover, it would be far more efficient to use it at the collection site to generate power which would be put onto the grid.
Plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles, and if we can ever get them here ultra lightweight Kei/city cars, are the best current infrastructure option, and MeOH/EtOH/H2 Fuel Cells (which are also, technically, electric) are the best next tech option. Research being done now may put both options to pasture, but it is not there yet, or nearly as close. By all means, make a push to capture and use methane to generate power, but the inefficiency associated with using it as a fuel for automobiles--along with it being in insufficient supply--is too great.

Person A:
Ever hear of a guy named Smokey Unik. He was a stock car builber back in the 60's. Before he died a few years ago, he invented a "hot vapor engine" and converted a 1984 Fiero to run on his invention. Type, Hot Vapor Engine into your browser and take a look. His system converted liquid gasoline into a gaseous fuel. The Fiero that he converted made close to 60mpg and still ran on gasoline.
Dairy farmers are erecting methane capture tents and cooking animal waste using passive solar to run large generators. These generators are hooked to the grid and supply energy to the local community.
How many people still use incandescent lighting? Thats an easy one.
What I am promoting is an interum solution. Electric cars are a part of the solution, so is better use of the fuels that we have readity available. Methane including natural gas is a far better solution than drilling for more oil. Cars run cleaner go farther on the same amount of energy and can be easily converted with state of the shelf technology and infrustructure.
I am sure you have seen the Proctor& Gamble commercial using methane produced at the local dump to power their entire production facility.
While we strive for better longer term solutions we have 250 million vehicles in the US alone along with 10's of millions of homes that use natural gas for heating. If methane captured from easy sources was added to the Natural Gas supply that would have a 2 fold benefit.
Methane is not sexy, but neither is additional damage to our environment and economy.
We simply can't wait 10 more years when there are easy solutions we can implement right now with huge reductions.

Person B:
I checked out your engine. It's neat, but it is also simple physics/chemistry. Gasoline as a vapor will burn more completely than it will as a liquid (or as an atomized liquid...i.e. very small droplets). Moreover, current fuel injection technology is much better than then and can just about match his combustion efficiency. All we need to do to match his fuel efficiency is couple that with light weight vehicles through small displacement engines...say, Kei cars (which get as much as 70 mpg).
Methane, starting out as a gas, is easier to burn completely than gasoline. This makes it more efficient. It is still less efficient to use CH4 as fuel for a combustion engine than it is to use it to power a generator, and then plug in an electric car (or to power a generator like in hybrids).
Again, I like using methane to produce energy, and I'm sure that CH4 powered cars are better than gasoline, but they are a step sideways rather than forward. We need to get beyond the (always inefficient) combustion engine, not find ways to make them more efficient, because they will never be able to compete with electric motors in that regard.

Person A:
You are missing the entire point.
The cars we have on the road now are going to be here for the next 10 15 years, (thats if we stop producing cars today). You are wrong about the effeciency of liquid fuel injection. Gasoline when atomized (not vaporized) has the effect that Smokey saw in the Fiero.
Atomized fuel is still not as good as gaseous fuel.
A car running on gaseous fuel will be 40-60% more effecient than a car running on vaporized liquid fuels. The 1984 Fiero has essentially the same fuel injection system that your 08 car has. Not sure where you are getting your information?
How long do you think it will take to replace the current fleet with electric cars or light weight cars, 5 10 25 years, (thats if we stop building cars today) and at what rate of replacement per year, meanwhile we are missing the easy fruit. As I said this is not sexy, but will get us to the next technological advancement, greatly reduce pollution, and greatly increase the effeciency of the current fleet, plus its all state of the shelf and utilizes current infrastructure = 0 develpoment cost.
Not a step sideways, not a huge leap forward, just a step forward. Better than a bunch of self proclaimed experts running their mouths. What do you do when the house is on fire? Talk about building your next house, or call the fire department?

Person B:
I'm really not. I am not only aware that vaporized is better than atomized, I even said that. If you really think that electronic fuel injection has not changed in the past 20+ years, I can see why you would advocate for gaseous fuels. Essentially the same, yes, but that doesn't mean that the differences are insignificant. The primary differences have to do with air flow sensing and the ability to adjust the fuel volume on the fly and based on both the detected air in but also measures of the exhaust that can figure whether the mixture was lean or rich. The efficiency resulting has been noteworthy. The reason that overall fuel economy has been stagnant is because all of that efficiency has been used to move heavier cars faster (bigger engines)...the Honda Accord engine displacement and weight have both increased by 50% over what they were in 1983, so it doesn't matter that the engine efficiency increased by as much as 25%, the car's fuel economy is still worse.
But, really, in the end, it's the infrastructure and conversion argument that really loses me. While there is infrastructure to move methane around the country, there isn't nearly as much to get it to fueling stations or into cars, so that would have to be built. And cars would have to be converted (or purchased new, in which case the existing car point is moot). And then it would be made obsolete by better technology to come? And all this for an improvement in efficiency that would be less than if the average weight of vehicles on the road dropped by 50%. I just don't see how this can help, in the short term or the long term. Methane can be of assistance to our energy problems, but not in automobiles.

Person B(again):
Oh, on a personal note, I'm not sure that I have ever proclaimed myself to be an expert here. I'm a damn good chemist and fairly knowledgeable in sciences and even beyond that.
As for the fire thing, aside from being kind of insulting it really does ignore both what I said overall and what you have been saying. You want to retrofit cars. I want to tax the hell out of anything over ~3500 lbs (not mentioned) and allow the sale of cars in this country that have existed in Japan and Europe for years. There is no solution, no matter how off the shelf, that will not take time (measured in years) and money (in the billions). Just because my opinion differs from yours does not mean that I am ignoring anything.

More to come???


Anonymous said...

This was very informative and I love hearing both sides of the argument. I think using methane from landfills would be a great option because you're solving two problems: the overuse of oil and how to eliminate the methane waste/gas produced by landfills.

sir slavic said...

ive heard that hydrogen can be re-electrollized and pressurized while being exposed to the sun and made into liquid methane.
if so this would be the key to storing all that energy that can be harvested cleanly from the wind and water, but is not put to use on the grid immed.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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