Re: The American Way to Natural Gas Vehicles — and Investor Profits

On the Motley Fool is a piece about how Heckmann Corporation is looking to expand the use of liquified natural gas use in big trucks.  The strategy is ingenious, gives Heckmann the ability to claim green credibility by using natural gas fuel, while giving a method to expand the LNG use on a region-by-region basis.Heckmann is a massive water company, and has a large line of business providing water to hydraulic fracturing operations.  Fracking a well takes roughly 30 days and a lot of water, plus there’s the opportunity to earn more revenue in an ongoing basis by charging per barrel to provide, remove, treat, and dispose of fresh water and saltwater.

This line of Heckmann’s business relies on expanded demand for natural gas.  So it seemed natural for Heckmann to look for a way to encourage natural gas adoption, and the company happened to have a large fleet of big trucks to haul water around to these fracking operations.  They wanted to buy a fleet of LNG big trucks but ran into the chicken-and-egg problem we’re familiar with in electric vehicles.

The quandary is that charging station operators (whether it’s an electricity or LNG charging station) want to know there are customers for their charging stations.  This means that before building a charging station there must be a fleet of compatible vehicles in the area.  On the other hand prospective vehicle owners also must see a network of charging stations before they’ll buy vehicles.  This is a self-reinforcing system that could prevent adoption of useful vehicle technologies if neither charging station owners nor vehicle owners budge.  Someone has to move first.

Heckmann decided to move first working with Westport Innovations and Encana to build an LNG charging station in the vicinity of the hydraulic fracturing jobs Heckmann services with their trucks.  The side effect of this is that Heckmann’s region now has LNG fueling capability, which then makes other prospective big truck buyers more likely to buy LNG big trucks.  It’s a pattern that could lead to LNG fueling stations growing step by step around the country.

Because LNG is supposedly cleaner than diesel or gasoline, this is theoretically a win.  But, recently researchers have shown that Natural gas from Shale is not a clean “bridge fuel” and may worsen climate change.  The issue is that at the frack jobs a lot of methane is because, following a hydraulic fracturing process methane leaks out of the well before the well can be capped.  Further, natural gas pipelines are sometimes leaky, due to the age of the
pipeline infrastructure. The average long distance gas transmission
pipeline is over 50 years old, and in some cities the natural gas
infrastructure is 80-100 years old.

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Basically, because of methane leakage issues, natural gas usage is bad for climate change considerations.  Natural gas and methane are essentially the same thing, and these gasses are extremely potent greenhouse gasses.  Methane is far more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.  When its burned such as in a big truck, the primary exhaust is CO2, so essentially burning methane (natural gas) converts it from an extremely potent greenhouse gas, to one that’s more palatable though still a bad greenhouse gas.

This means that Heckmann may be thinking they’re doing good things by switching from Diesel to LNG, but the side effects of the natural gas usage is pretty bad.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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