Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Natural gas vehicles in BC

BLUEFUELENERGY.COM: The BC Government appears to be seeking homegrown solutions to the issues of climate change, energy security, and air quality. As Black Press reporter Tom Fletcher noted in a February 22 article, BC’s minister of the environment, Barry Penner, has been testing a Honda Civic powered by natural gas, imported from the US for demonstration purposes.

A couple of key points in the article are as follows:

Honda boasts that its natural gas Civic has the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world, with 50 to 80 per cent lower nitrogen and sulphur oxide emissions and 25 per cent less carbon dioxide than its gasoline version. The greenhouse gas edge is partly due to natural gas being relatively simple to process.

Not to make too fine a point, but it’s necessary to note that Honda may boast the cleanest “commercially available” internal combustion engine in the world. Although the natural gas-powered Civic clearly has significantly lower emissions than a comparable gasoline-powered car, a comparable Blue Fuel-powered car—especially one burning Blue Fuel produced with renewable energy, water, and waste carbon dioxide—would have significantly lower emissions than the natural gas car. This is particularly true with carbon dioxide: the Blue Fuel vehicle’s net carbon dioxide emissions would only be those generated to transport the fuel to market.

Penner is responsible for B.C.’s ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, about 40 per cent of which come from vehicles. The government’s recent throne speech highlighted the benefits of natural gas, which has surged in importance as new drilling technology has spurred a shale gas rush in the northeast of the province.

The B.C. government estimates that the Montney Basin near Dawson Creek and the Horn River Basin northeast of Fort Nelson have as much as 69 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. “That could yield over $37 billion in provincial royalty revenue . . .and the Bowser and Nechako Basin in the Central Interior and offshore gas also have “significant long-term potential.”

The BC Government will be hard pressed to turn its back on natural gas revenues. It should be noted, however, that there are two realities that, in the years ahead, may impact demand for natural gas as a transportation fuel. First, BC may be required to implement severe cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to comply with regional, national, or international regulations. As noted above, though natural gas is better than gasoline and diesel with regards to carbon dioxide emissions, its emissions are still well beyond what the world is going to need to get back to a safe upper limit of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Second, natural gas prices are historically volatile. There is every reason to expect that there will be future spikes in the price of natural gas. On the other hand, Blue Fuel produced with renewables offers price stability over long periods because the only significant production cost is the cost of capital, which falls over time.

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