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MIT Says Natural Gas Best To Lower Carbon Emissions 284

Posted by Soulskill
from the pelican-friendly-solution dept.
eldavojohn writes "This week MIT released a comprehensive, hundred-page report entitled 'The Future of Natural Gas' that outlined the many scenarios the United States faces when aiming to reduce carbon emissions. From the New York Times recap: 'The scenario goes like this, according to MIT: Nuclear power, renewable energy, and carbon capture and sequestration are relatively expensive next to gas. Conventional coal is no longer a major source of power generation in the United States. "Natural gas is the substantial winner in the electric sector: The substitution effect, mainly gas generation for coal generation, outweighs the demand reduction effect."' Will this urging help to produce a policy shift from renewable energy (like wind) to natural gas for the United States?"
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MIT Says Natural Gas Best To Lower Carbon Emissions

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  • by Firethorn (177587) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:59AM (#32708930) Homepage Journal

    Well, I've been an advocate of replacing coal power with nuclear power for quite some time, but even I'll admit that NG generally results in less than half the CO2 emissions for the energy production, and relative to a reactor is far cheaper to build. And nuclear promises to be cheaper than solar/wind for the amount of electricity produced.

    However, you need quite a lot of it. NG, while cheap in many areas, makes me hesitant because I believe that when we go 'full bore' we'd exhaust our supplies fairly quickly and have increased expenses. Thus I'd like to see nuclear electricity production while we keep NG for heating homes and chemical manufacturing. Heck, you'd have to be rather round-about to make steel using nuclear energy, you can use NG heat directly.

    • by mpe (36238)
      Well, I've been an advocate of replacing coal power with nuclear power for quite some time, but even I'll admit that NG generally results in less than half the CO2 emissions for the energy production, and relative to a reactor is far cheaper to build.

      It would be possible to build a power plant which was multi fuel or even convert an existing one to a different fuel. Steam turbines don't care what the source of heat to produce the steam is.
      • by Firethorn (177587)

        It would be possible to build a power plant which was multi fuel or even convert an existing one to a different fuel. Steam turbines don't care what the source of heat to produce the steam is.

        That's true for conventional steam turbines, but the really efficient natural gas plants are single fuel - they're built for NG. They use turbines that are a touch more like jet engines to help increase their thermal efficiency to over 50%.

        You can convert a coal plant almost directly, but then you're stuck with the plant's existing ~30% efficiency.

        • by MorePower (581188) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:39PM (#32712624)

          Most modern natural gas turbines are "combustion turbines", which means they don't generate steam to turn the turbine*. Instead they use the hot exhaust to directly turn the turbines. The modern designs I have worked with generally have a "duel fuel" option, allowing them to run off of diesel fuel as well. They can also run off of syngas, which is basically the same as natural gas (but synthetic not natural), which is made from coal. And I know of one that was modified to run off of hydrogen (it was at a refinery that produced hydrogen as a by-product of refining).

          Combustion turbines can burn basically anything that is a gas or can be atomized, it is a question of tweaking there combustion settings, comparable to making a car run off alcohol or whatever.

          *Most combustion turbines I've work with are "combined cycle" which means they've added a Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG) to boil water from the exhaust of the combustion turbine. The steam is then used to turn a steam turbine generator to produce even more power.

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:14AM (#32709002) Journal

      We need multiple sources. I like solar from a purist standpoint: it's the primary source for all energy on earth save geothermal and nuclear (though it could technically be responsible for those, we'll ignore that). Still, I think solar conversion to electricity is still a long way from long term commerical viability. (yes, it's been done, but I don't see anybody making a killing in solar farms, despite the energy source being free)

      Nuclear has the advantage of being cheap (at least, according to my electric bill, it's less than half the cost of coal per kWh)
      Solar has the advantage of being great for A/C induced peaking loads
      NG is very good for peaking loads which are not concurrent with solar generation

      Of course hydroelectric is great for peaking, too - especially if practiced like France and Switzerland. The Swiss buy power from the French (nuclear) during off-peak and use it to pump water into dammed lakes, then generate power through those dams during peak periods and sell it back to the French. The challenege is that there are only so many areas which can be powered this way do to the need for proper topography.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jollyreaper (513215)

        Of course hydroelectric is great for peaking, too - especially if practiced like France and Switzerland. The Swiss buy power from the French (nuclear) during off-peak and use it to pump water into dammed lakes, then generate power through those dams during peak periods and sell it back to the French. The challenege is that there are only so many areas which can be powered this way do to the need for proper topography.

        I've got a feeling that we're going to see a lot of energy barter in the future. Equatorial sites have plenty of sunshine. Not saying this is 100% certain but I think it's very conceivable that we see solar harvesting at the equator with power shipped pole-wards by super-conducting transmission lines. Nitrogen is supposed to be rather affordable by cryogenic standards though we might need to see more materials breakthroughs to get the temperature a little higher before this idea becomes fully economical. An

      • Of course hydroelectric is great for peaking, too - especially if practiced like France and Switzerland. The Swiss buy power from the French (nuclear) during off-peak and use it to pump water into dammed lakes, then generate power through those dams during peak periods and sell it back to the French. The challenege is that there are only so many areas which can be powered this way do to the need for proper topography.

        Pumped storage is quite an expensive way to do electricity generation; there are considerable inherent losses in the system due to things like friction in pumps. On the other hand, it's the only known-viable large scale energy storage scheme; the other alternatives I've seen articles about (various kinds of batteries, pressurized gas, etc.) are neat but haven't demonstrated at anything like the scale of a pumped storage plant.

        And all you need to build one is two lakes/reservoirs close to each other with a big height difference. So, maybe not in most of the Mid-West, but there's got to be plenty of suitable places in the Appalachians or the Cascades. Maybe others too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rogerborg (306625)

        Nuclear has the advantage of being cheap (at least, according to my electric bill, it's less than half the cost of coal per kWh)

        Check your tax bill for the rest of the cost. It's not all bad though: your kids and grandkids will help you out with the cleanup costs.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I believe that when we go 'full bore' we'd exhaust our supplies fairly quickly and have increased expenses.

      Not to worry. My engineers are working on a system of getting the gaseous emissions from folks who eat pizza, Mexican, and drink lots of beer. Part of the plan is to open restaurants where you eat and capture the gas at the same time.

      We're also working on a capture of gas from cattle.

      Our mottoes are "Fart Powered", "Flatulence For Freedom!", "Passing the Wind and the Bucks" and "Make a Stink. Cut out the Terrorists!"

    • I admit I have not studied the answer yet. But... the energy release from burning 1 gram of coal is higher than the energy release for burning 1 gram of gas. SO how could it be the gas every beats coal for carbon reduction? I think also that of the two that gases tend to release more methane as well. In which case the greenhouse case is even worse than CO2.

      • by john.r.strohm (586791) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:18PM (#32709286)

        This is high-school chemistry.

        Coal is carbon (with impurities). Oxidation of carbon is exothermic and yields carbon dioxide.

        Natural gas is hydrocarbons, compounds of carbon and hydrogen. As before, oxidation of carbon is exothermic. So is oxidation of hydrogen, which yields water. To get the same amount of energy, you can burn a certain amount of carbon, or a lesser amount of carbon and offset it with hydrogen, which gives you lower carbon dioxide emissions for the same energy output.

        Methane is CH4, a hydrocarbon. It burns along with the rest of the natural gas. If you are getting methane in your exhaust, it is because you are running your fuel/air mixture too rich, and you aren't injecting enough air to burn the natural gas completely.

        And, of course, burning uranium (or, better yet, thorium, but we don't have the engineering of the thorium fuel cycle worked out yet) in negative void coefficient pressurized water reactors is far better than burning coal or natural gas, since there are effectively NO greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear plants.

        Besides, natural gas is far too valuable as a chemical processing feedstock to burn it to make electricity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Firethorn (177587)

        Better check your sources... [wikipedia.org]

        Natural gas: 53.6 MJ/kg
        Anthracite Coal: 32.5 MJ/kg
        Bituminous Coal: 24 MJ/Kg

        Natural gas has around twice the energy per gram of coal, depending on whether you're looking at Anthracite or Bituminous.

        Now, it's tilted way the other way if you look at volume - Coal is 72.4 or 20 MJ/Liter, vs .0364 MJ/L or 9 if you compress it.

        As John pointed out, Coal is mainly carbon. 'Natural Gas' is mainly Methane, or CH4.

        C+O2 -> Energy +CO2
        CH4 + 2 O2 -> 2 Energy + 2 H2O + CO2.

        Add in that NG

        • Who cares how much energy is in a gram? What we want to know is how expensive a joule is in dollars, and how much pollution of interest, whether NOX, CO2, nuclear waste, heat water, whatever it causes. Put a price on the pollutions and don't subsidize anything. Let the market race to a solution.
    • Methane clathrate (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tisha_AH (600987)

      We will not burn up all of the natural gas deposits for centuries to come. There is much more methane (natural gas) in hydrates than in all of the possible traditional natural gas reservoirs worldwide.

      If you have been watching the news regarding the oil well disaster down in the Gulf of Mexico they have problems with hydrates condense out of the expanding column of oil and gas that forms hydrate ice crystals and blocks up the stack. (remember basic physics about expansion and temperature).

      Hydrate deposits c

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        We're never going to 'run out' of oil in the traditional sense, but just like with oil, additional sources tend to come from more difficult to extract deposits leading to increased costs.

        As such, I hope to retain NG for stuff that natural gas is better at, such as feedstock for chemical production and heating stuff that it's impractical to use nuclear electricity to do so(smelting, for example).

    • Look...you mixing it all up!

      Natural Gas doesn't pollute as much, they generate 3,000 MWh for 400 Simoleons. (0.13/MWh)

      That is not enough power for our cities! I think we would need quite a bit of these plants and of course parks to mitigate the effects! Now if your considering this on a region basis, this shouldn't even be an issue because pollution can disappear over borders completely.

      Source [wikia.com]

      In the end its all how we zone, not where our power comes from...

  • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:00AM (#32708934)

    That's nice and all, but you should keep in mind how lots of places in the U.S. get their natural gas these days. Through phracking [wikipedia.org].

    It's not a good thing. There are huge environmental concerns. Flamable drinking water, Neurotoxins and other poisons in drinking water. There's even a movie about it. [gaslandthemovie.com]

    • by hey! (33014)

      Environmental impact is, in economic terms, all about externalizing costs. Furthermore, like any other cost the *margins* of environmental costs vary with volume and at some point consistently trend upward with scale.

      That means that from an environmental economic perspective there is an optimal volume for something like natural gas. If reduce production, the slack is taken up by marginally dirtier sources. If we increase production, we are replacing marginally cleaner sources. At some point we end up lett

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amorsen (7485)

        (as BP did by passing the risks of DWH onto everyone else who was dependent on the Gulf to make a living).

        It is entirely possible (perhaps not likely, but possible) that BP can't pay and goes bankrupt.

        Imagine that there are a bunch of companies producing the same product. Half of them produce it safely, the other half have a 10% risk each year causing an environmental disaster costing a fortune in excess of their assets, but the production price is halved. In that case the unsafe ones are going to outcompete the safe ones, leaving only the unsafe ones (which are regularly replaced as disasters strike, but share

    • That's nice and all, but you should keep in mind how lots of places in the U.S. get their natural gas these days. Through phracking [wikipedia.org].

      It's not a good thing. There are huge environmental concerns. Flamable drinking water, Neurotoxins and other poisons in drinking water. There's even a movie about it. [gaslandthemovie.com]

      I thought you were talking about something else: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrack [wikipedia.org]

    • I grew up on flammable drinking water with no fracking fracking involved!

  • Summary is BS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enigma2175 (179646) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:08AM (#32708960) Homepage Journal

    TFS says:

    Conventional coal is no longer a major source of power generation in the United States.

    I call shenanigans. Coal is the #1 energy producer in the US. The US gets 30% of it's power capacity and nearly 50 percent of it's produced power from coal [wikipedia.org]. I would love for that to be different but that is the current state of affairs and it is unlikely to change soon since the US has large coal reserves and it is much cheaper to produce power using coal than any other current fuel.

    • Re:Summary is BS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DarkOx (621550) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:45PM (#32709502) Journal

      I am getting a bit tired of everyone dumping all over coal. Anthracite coal is probably the biggest supply of accessible fuel this country has. If you care about energy independence coal IS part of the picture and should be a big part. Yes there are problems like what to do with the ash but nuclear has the problem of hazardous waste as well; and I am confident both can be solved.

      Coal can be used directly for heat in industrial processes as well and does not always have to be first used to generate electricity. You can't do that with hardly any of the renewables. I say put our energy in to figuring out how to scrub and sequester carbon efficiently and burn the heck out of our coal supplies; can't use them up if we try.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gotpaint32 (728082) *
        I call BS on you, Anthracite coal is too damn expensive for use in power plants. Power plants use Bituminous coal which is softer, contains more impurities and is far cheaper. Anthracite coal is rarer than other softer coals since it require very specific geological conditions to compress out the impurities from the carbon. Anthracite is also much more difficult to mine since the locations where it is found are usually found deep in the mountains rather than on flat coal seams like some other type of coal.
  • by xzvf (924443) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:09AM (#32708976)
    My first question on any study is who paid for it? That said, natural gas is a better alternative to oil and coal. The real problem with alternatives like solar, wind and to a lesser extent nuclear is the cost per Kwh. I can by electricity generated by coal, oil and gas between $1-2 dollars per Kwh. If I replaced my electric with solar panels and batteries, my cost would be $4-5 dollars per Kwh. Tax credits reduce that cost, but they are still being paid by someone. Natural gas and nuclear are excellent bridge technologies while alternatives are brought down in cost.
    • by Entropius (188861) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:24AM (#32709028)

      Gas and nuclear may have similar costs, but they're hardly alike when it comes to environmental concerns.

      Gas still produces CO2, and extraction is messy.

      Nuclear produces no emissions, and it takes so little uranium to make a plant that the issues associated with mining are small.

      • by nmos (25822)

        Nuclear produces no emissions, and it takes so little uranium to make a plant that the issues associated with mining are small.

        It may not take a lot of uranium to run a power plant but it takes quite a lot of uranium ore to make a small amount of uranium suitible for a typical power plant. I have relatives who live in a small town that is/was a superfund clean up site due to the uranium mining in the area. Their little town even has it's own hospital due to the resulting cancer rates.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by thegarbz (1787294)

          Nuclear produces no emissions, and it takes so little uranium to make a plant that the issues associated with mining are small.

          It may not take a lot of uranium to run a power plant but it takes quite a lot of uranium ore to make a small amount of uranium suitible for a typical power plant. I have relatives who live in a small town that is/was a superfund clean up site due to the uranium mining in the area. Their little town even has it's own hospital due to the resulting cancer rates.

          Nuclear is a wide scope that encompasses many types of reactors. Nuclear does not merely include old dirty Light Water Pressurised Reactors, even if you use the words "typical power plant". I would greatly suggest spending an afternoon browsing through the virtually limitless info on the various types of reactors on Wikipedia. For instance Heavy Water Pressurised Reactors like the CANDU design can run from unenriched uranium amongst other fuel sources such as already "spent" fuel that is being stored underg

      • by smchris (464899)

        "Nuclear produces no emissions"

        You've got to be kidding, right? It's a political football just trying to find a state that will take nuclear's "emissions."

    • by SteeldrivingJon (842919) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:59AM (#32709198) Homepage Journal

      The report is from the MIT Energy Initiative, which counts among its members: BP Technology Ventures, Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Total, Hess.

      The Board of Advisors includes: "Tony Hayward Group Chief Executive, BP p.l.c."

    • by RobVB (1566105)

      I can by electricity generated by coal, oil and gas between $1-2 dollars per Kwh. If I replaced my electric with solar panels and batteries, my cost would be $4-5 dollars per Kwh.

      Where did you get those numbers? I guess you made them up, but if that's really what you're paying, you're getting ripped off.

      According to this [doe.gov], the average price for residential electricity in the U.S. is 10.86 cents per kWh.

      • He's talking capital costs, not ongoing use costs.
        • by mprinkey (1434)

          Capacity would be measured in kW or MW, not in kWh. Capacity is the amount of power that can be produced by the facility at any given time, not the total amount of energy that the facility could produce over its lifetime. Whatever the case, the numbers make no sense as listed in the OP.

          • Makes complete sense if you drop the H off of KwH, as coal has a capital cost around 1-2 dollars/Kw of generating capacity with solar quickly catching up to that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      These people:

      "A major sponsor of the report is the American Clean Skies Foundation, a Washington think tank created and funded by the natural gas industry."
  • So, is this just an advertisement for the natural gas industry? Why not title it something like, "The Future of Energy Production in the U.S.'?

  • by bit trollent (824666) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:27AM (#32709040) Homepage

    Too bad that extracting natural gas usually involves pumping massive quantities of toxic chemicals directly in to the ground.

    Thanks to the incredibly corrupt Bush Administration, Fracking isn't even subject to the clean water act. The Halliburton Loophole, named after Dick Chaney's true employer, has allowed entire towns to be polluted beyond repair.

    Thousands have been sickened by this polluted water. Pets are losing their hair. People are getting cancer. The water out of some homes' faucets is actually flammable!!

    citation needed? [vanityfair.com]

    • by darjen (879890)

      yep this was all in Gasland. http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/index.html [pbs.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cmdr_tofu (826352)

        So you use more natural gas, less oil, producing slightly less carbon, but poison a lot of groundwater. People are forced to import water from places that aren't poisoned, requiring expensive water transport, burning more hydrocarbon fuel negating any possible benefit from switching to natural gas :-/

        I guess hydraulic fracturing is the culprit, not natural gas, and the exemption for natural gas from being regulated can be overturned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing#The_FRAC_Act_of_2009 [wikipedia.org]

        • by darjen (879890)

          gas companies should definitely be held accountable for the damage they are causing. I don't see that happening any time soon though...

          • by cmdr_tofu (826352)

            Yeah that's another solution. I'm a fan of regulation (sometimes associated with big government and/or socialism). But if these companies and the people involved with the flawed decision-making were really made accountable that would stop the problem too.

            Time to get a price on solar panels.

    • by sycodon (149926)

      Cats and dogs living together!

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Hmm? The well water from my grandparents farm in Michigan in the early 80's was flammable. But as far as I know, it had been like that for at least a century.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:28AM (#32709046) Journal
    Natural Gas is mostly Methane. Since methane has the smallest ratio of carbon to hydrogen at 2 carbons, per 6 hydrogens, it is the best hydrocarbon to burn if you are trying to reduce carbon emissions.

    Yeah, other sources produce no carbon, but they can't compete with Natural Gas's price.
  • Who'da thunk it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, burning methane (CH4) produces less carbon emmisssion than longer chain hydrocarbons, and especially less than coal which is ALL carbon.
    I guess nobody ever thought about that before.

    But hang on, what if we got our energy from sources that don't have any carbon. Nuclear, Hydro, wind and geothhermal. Or even nuclear fusion. Until we get our own fusion generators going, we can use the one thats 93 million miles away.

  • by stomv (80392) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:42AM (#32709114) Homepage

    Let's focus only on the 13 of carbon emissions in America which are electricity related:

    Coal emits 2.1 lbs CO_2-eq per kWh generated. Oil 1.9, nat gas 1.3. Wind, solar, geothermal 0. If we instantaneously switched all 20 quads of energy from coal used to generate electricity to natural gas *tomorrow*, we'd save roughly 10% of our overall carbon emissions (coal is 1/3 of overall carbon emissions used almost entirely for electricity, and switching to gas saves 1/3 (1.3/2.1 ~= 2/3)). So the 10% is nice, but it's clearly not enough.

    We've got to do better than that. Additional ways to do better include:
    * Improving building envelope (air sealing and insulation) has a substantial impact on both heating and cooling load. Interested in the electricity portion -- focus on the southeast and the southwest explicitly. Work to improve the existing building infrastructure with regard to envelope.
    * Strengthen building codes. There's no point in tightening up old buildings if we permit new buildings to be built leaky. This is especially important to do at the Federal level, because (a) most new construction is in the southeast and southwest, not northeast nor midwest, and (b) their Republican governments have shown no interest in passing state laws. Before you go off on a libertarian rant, keep in mind that even if a homeowner was savvy enough to understand the importance of a tight and well insulated home, he would have very little ability to measure/inspect the potential home because seeing through sheetrock is nontrivial. Building inspectors, on the other hand, are looking at the space before finish walls are installed, and therefore have a perfect opportunity to inspect for energy efficiency.
    * Follow California's lead in ratcheting up energy efficiency requirements for appliances and electronics. Sure, they won't get it all right the first time -- that's true of just about all engineering projects -- but the overall impact is substantial. It's not just about saving money for customers, it's also about reducing the demand on the grid and at the power stations.
    * White/green/solar roofs, particularly in urban areas, particularly in those with more sun exposure in warmer climes. This is a simple building/zoning code change, and it has a tangible impact over time.
    * Local renewable. Solar or wind at the home or small commercial level, on site, helps not only reduce demand (from the utility, it appears to be the same thing), but it also reduces the demands on the local grid. This is important because it allows us to hold off on building larger capacity at the local level for as long as possible, a huge savings. Ways to foster this include tax credits, time-variable pricing (solar), and even simply ensuring that net-metering is legal everywhere.
    * Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have been enacted in roughly 30 states. Essentially, they require utilities to increase the percentage of renewable electricity in the mix of their electrons by a little bit each year or every few years. They define what counts as renewable (typically large hydro is excluded, biofuel may or may not be, wind and solar and geothermal are, some states allow a portion to be met with negawatts (efficiency improvements). The elegance is that the utilities can choose the technologies / facilities which make sense for them to meet the criteria, they can "bank" surplus credits, and if they come up short they pay a financial penalty which is severe enough to make compliance cheaper than punishment.

    You'll notice I've entirely avoided mentioning nuclear power. I'm not opposed to it, but I also acknowledge that it's far more expensive for society than the pro-nuke folks let on, and it's far safer than the anti-nuke folks acknowledge. In either case, since it is more expensive than lots of alternatives, let's work on the alternatives and see how far we can push them. If we've legitimately pushed wind and solar and geothermal and efficiency as far as we can and

    • by haruchai (17472)

      I'd mod you up to 11, if I could

    • Thanks! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zogger (617870)

      This is a great post! I was going to post something like this if no one else did. This 99% fixation on OMG WE NEED MORE POWER PLANTS! Instead of looking to REDUCE DEMAND is plain nuts. It's been pure propaganda and brainwashing of the population for decades now. I know why they do it, to keep wall street traders and speculators and the entrenched energy companies rich. Super insulate ONCE, save forever, or ignore rational insulation and efficiencies that are quite possible and keep up the propaganda that w

  • by locketine (1101453) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:47AM (#32709152)

    Your last sentence in the summary is contrary to the main finding of the article in regards to power generation.

    "Power Generation

    • Pursue displacement of inefficient coal generation with natural gas combined cycle generation.
    • Develop policy and regulatory measures to facilitate natural gas generation capacity investments concurrent with the introduction of large intermittent renewable generation.

    " -the MIT research summary

    They are not advocating moving away from renewable energy like wind or solar to natural gas but rather advocating the use of both to replace coal since wind and solar do not produce reliable energy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:54AM (#32709176)

    In North America, conventional natural gas reserves have been in decline for a while, and it's not expected that trend will reverse as unconventional sources (shale gas and coal-bed methane) are brought on stream. There are also legitimate concerns about groundwater contamination in association with shale gas and coal-bed methane projects, although it can be done safely if the work is done properly. Investment in natural gas will continue because it is a good option: it's clean, has less CO2 output per unit energy than other fossil fuels, there is substantial infrastructure built to deliver it, there's a decent reserve already, and even as North American supplies continue to dwindle, there is also quite a bit available world-wide that can be delivered via liquified natural gas terminals at sea ports.

    However, supply of natural gas is still going to peak eventually like oil will. It's a temporary solution. So investment in renewable/sustainable energy sources should be the focus, and, no, policy should not shift from that. Natural gas certainly doesn't need any special financial encouragement because it's already an economically profitable option.

  • by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:56AM (#32709190) Journal

    Using a cleaner burning fuel like natural gas would allow for generating facilities that capitalize on both the MHD effect and then the follow-on of traditionally 'boiling water to make steam" to drive a turbine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetohydrodynamic_generator [wikipedia.org]

    By adding an MHD system to a conventional plant, energy efficiency can be increased by 50% over a conventional facility. As we do more work with near-room temperature superconductors the efficiency would increase.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:56PM (#32709596) Homepage
    This is ridiculous. Look at the report and every step of the way it's unabashedly pro-gas as being the next wonderful thing. It doesn't stop to consider that gas prices are highly volatile, that most gas is now imported from Canada and glosses over the difficulties inherent to "unconventional sources" of gas.

    it makes the claim that natural gas is perfect for making renewable energy feasible. At best, that's an oversimplification. At worst, it's a way of getting gas generation without anyone objecting to the economic issues, supply problems (which it makes seem non-existent) or other issues.

    It completely ignores nuclear energy, writing it off as "too expensive" with little or no actual accounting for the real costs of both building and operating nuclear plants. It presumes the cost of nuclear energy will remain the same, never going into the fact that new reactor technology is being developed. Yet, at the same time, it grants natural gas the benefit of the possibility of improved technology. It never considers the cost breakdown of nuclear and the fact that regulatory changes can dramatically impact the overall cost.

    It proposes increased CNG use while ignoring the energy density and transportation issues.

    You would think, based on this, that natural gas is the be-all, end-all of fuels and is damn near perfect in every way. While it is lower carbon than coal, and slightly lower than oil, this is absolutely not the case. Effectively, this focuses on only the best aspects of gas and only the worst of nuclear and every other energy source. it uses the best case for gas and worst case for all others


    Now, this should not surprise anyone: the major funding for this came almost entirely from the gas industry, who has recently been using heavy PR to cultivate a much "greener" image than it really is entitled to. The major funding and supporting agency is "The American Clean Skies Foundation." This foundation is funded almost exclusively by Chesapeake Energy corporation - one of the largest natural gas producers in the US. YES, THAT'S RIGHT - THIS WAS BOUGHT AND PAID FOR BY A GAS COMPANY
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dkf (304284)

      It proposes increased CNG use while ignoring the energy density and transportation issues.

      It's among the easiest of fuels to transport as you can pipe it around easily and it doesn't have nearly as great a problem with groundwater contamination as heavier hydrocarbons. The energy density argument is rather bogus too; gas power plants are more efficient these days than oil or coal plants as they're run at much higher temperatures, and you don't transport it in the same way. One of the main ways in which the UK has reduced its carbon output over the past 2 decades has been by switching to producin

  • CNG and India (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    All taxicabs in the main cities in India run on Compressed Natural Gas. So do the public transport buses in many cities. It takes 800$ to convert a regular petrol burning to car to run on either petrol or CNG. Some individual owned cars all have also been converted. CNG prices are around 60% of petrol prices in India, so it takes a year or two (depending on how much you drive) to break even on your 800$ conversion cost.

  • In college I took a tour of a couple power plants as part of my courses. One of the power plants had this tower of a boiler where the coal dust was blown in the bottom and the soot was tossed out the top. The tour guide pointed out that the boilers had to be pre-heated with natural gas before the boiler could switch over to coal dust as fuel. Another power plant I toured had a more conventional, and less efficient, boiler that also used natural gas to get the fires going. It took me a split second to realize that these boilers could just as easily run on natural gas all the time if they chose to do so.

    Not part of my tours but I have read about how some diesel powered generators have been converted to using natural gas or propane as fuel by injecting the gaseous fuels into the combustion cylinder much like how a conventional gasoline engine does. The ignition of the fuel still requires a small amount of diesel fuel to be injected into the cylinder. With this conversion just about any diesel cycle engine can use just about any ratio of diesel fuel to gaseous fuel to run.

    Power plants have for the longest time have been flexible in what fuel they use. They will burn what ever is cheapest or whatever is available. One of those power plants I toured still had it's old wood burning boiler as a last resort backup. I would guess they figured it would cost money to dismantle and remove the thing and as long as they had no need for the room in the plant it did no harm in keeping it there. Oh, that boiler could burn coal just as easily as wood. It could probably also burn straw, corn, soybeans, discarded plastic, old tennis shoes, grass clippings, dispatched zombies, or whatever else you could think of. As long as the fuel met certain minimum conditions then it should work as fuel. Might have to mix the fuels a bit to achieve a proper burn but the boiler shouldn't care if you put the old tennis shoes in with the zombies.

    The reason these power plants have not already switched to natural gas should be obvious, it's cheaper. Not only that but with the threat of "cap and tax" hanging over their heads few will switch to natural gas even if it is cheaper. They need the history of being "dirty" so that if a cap on CO2 emissions is placed upon them the reduction of CO2 output can be done as easily, and cheaply, as throwing a switch over to natural gas.

    Then there is the issue of how to get the natural gas. Natural gas tends to be in the same places as the oil. If we can't drill for oil then we can't drill for natural gas. If we burn the natural gas for fuel what are we to do with all that oil? Obviously we'd burn that too. If the government imposes a "cap and tax" scheme on industrial scale uses of coal and oil the price of natural gas will climb to adjust for supply and demand. That will make coal and oil cheaper for the smaller scale uses.

    I've been telling people that if "cap and tax" passes into law then I'm buying a coal fired furnace for my home.

    When it comes to CO2 output per kilowatt hour produced nuclear power is second only to hydroelectric. We've dammed up all the rivers we can. Wind power requires the use of carbon heavy materials like plastics and aluminum. (The aluminum does not contain the carbon but the carbon is used to reduce the aluminum ore to pure aluminum releasing massive amounts of CO2 into the air. Also there is much heat and electricity required typically meaning burning large amounts of fossil fuels in the process.)

    The only real option available to reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, is nuclear power. The problem is politics are killing both nuclear power and domestic fossil fuels. The politicians want so hard to please everyone in the country but something has to give or we are going to find ourselves capped and taxed out of an economy. I find evidence in human caused global warming unconvincing so I really don't care if the powers that be permit more drilling or more nuclear power plants

  • by guanxi (216397) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @01:30PM (#32709814)

    From TFA:

    A major sponsor of the report is the American Clean Skies Foundation, a Washington think tank created and funded by the natural gas industry.

    That doesn't invalidate it, but it's important for readers to know and should probably be in the summary.

  • The latest edition to Pennsylvania's vast natural gas reserves, the Mercellus Shale find, is our only hope in this state to recover from de-investment since the steel industry was obliterated in the 1970s, and the coal industry before that.

    Since NatGas prices are now trading at obscenely low levels, I'm hoping for more expansion (and driller taxation) in my state to at least make up somewhat for 30 years of economic decline, and the expectation is that NatGas prices now have nowhere to go but back up after

  • Conventional coal is no longer a major source of power generation in the United States.

    Yeah right. The US is to coal what Saudi Arabia is to oil. I cannot conceive of any scenario by which coal will not be a major player for the next 40 years. I'd love to be wrong but I seriously doubt I am.

  • Natural Gas may lower carbon emissions in vehicles, however, there are more cars on the road than there were even 15-20 years ago. Even if today all vehicles were to be government mandated to go to natural gas, we would really only be reducing carbon emissions to levels that they were about 15-20 years ago and it would take forever for these mandates to go into effect. At the rate that cars are being added to the road, we would quickly negate any carbon advantage. Hell, the levels 15-20 years ago were st

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