Daniel Convissor's Web Site (is in the midst of reconstruction):

Alternative Fuels

the following is a comparison of Natural Gas and Methanol:

Health and safety problems posed by methanol, while not well-recognized publicly, are substantial:

* If ingested, the fatal dose for methanol is two ounces, compared to eight ounces for gasoline.

* Methanol vapors are toxic, odorless and about as heavy as air, making the risk of accidental exposure to toxic vapors greater than for gasoline.

* Methanol is flammable over a wider range of concentrations in the air than gasoline and burns with an invisible flame.

* Methanol, unlike gasoline, is highly water-soluble, posing risks to groundwater and enclosed surface waters in the event of spills or storage tank leaks. While methanol biodegrades more quickly than gasoline, cleanup of methanol spills into water would be very difficult or impossible. However, dispersion of methanol spilled in an ocean or other very large water body would quickly reduce methanol concentrations to a safe level.

* Methanol is more readily absorbed through the skin than gasoline, creating a risk of toxic exposure if the fuel splashes on a person refueling a vehicle or otherwise handling the fuel. Self service gas stations could be a thing of the past with this fuel.

While our domestic gas supplies could be used to make methanol, current methanol production capacity in the US could meet barely 1% of our transportation fuel needs. Building methanol facilities capable of supplying 15% of US transportation needs would cost over $30 billion. In addition, the process of converting gas to methanol results in a 40% energy loss.

Importing methanol, which has only half the energy value of gasoline, would require about twice as much tanker capacity for the same amount of energy, increasing the risk of accidents and spills.

The major economic issues for natural gas are the costs of producing the vehicles equipped to burn this fuel and of creating the service station infrastructure to deliver the fuel. (A nationwide network of natural gas pipelines already exists which can deliver natural gas to most of the transportation market.) The capital costs involved (up to $150,000 per filling station and $1,500 - $2,300 per vehicle) now largely erase the fuel price advantage held by natural gas, except in the case of vehicles such as taxis and other commercial vehicles receiving heavy use. However, mass production of natural gas vehicles is expected to lower vehicle costs substantially.

Natural gas is cheaper than gasoline and is expected to remain so. The wellhead price of natural gas in the US (about 21 cents for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline) is currently less than half the wholesale price of gasoline (55 cents a gallon).

The wholesale fuel cost of methanol is higher than gasoline (about 99 cents for the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline), largely due to the cost of producing it.... However, methanol, like gasoline, would have to be delivered by truck, and since methanol has half the energy value of gasoline, more trucks would be needed to transport the same amount of energy.

Methanol is corrosive, causing many metal and elastomeric (flexible rubber) vehicle parts to corrode, swell or become brittle. Methanol compatible substitutes for these parts can cost up to several hundred dollars per vehicle.

--James Cannon, Drive for Clean Air, Executive Summary. Published by INFORM, 381 Park Av. South, NYC, 10016. 212/689-4040.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company will open the first compressed natural gas refueling station available to the public on Thursday in Concord, California.

[Natural gas is] available as a fleet vehicle fuel at up to 30 percent less than the cost of gasoline.

According to tests conducted by the California Air resources Board in May 1989, use of compressed natural gas in place of gasoline reduces emissions of reactive hydrocarbons by up to 48 percent, of oxides of nitrogen by up to 33 percent and of carbon dioxide by up to 47 percent.

Nearly all gasoline-powered autos, trucks or buses can be converted to gasoline; after conversion a driver can choose between fuel sources with a switch, even when the engine is running.

Conversion costs about $2,500, however, and requires a large pressurized tank, which limits the practicality of compressed natural gas for use in most cars. Pacific gas officials said that because of these limitations, most conversions would be to larger vehicles.

[If you remove the pollution control equipment and gasoline tanks to be replaced by the CNG tanks, the trunk space would not be limited, though you would not have the option of using gasoline anymore.]

The Concord station is the first of 9 which the utility, based in San Francisco, will build this year, with 7 open to the public.

The American Gas Association, a trade group based in Arlington, VA., said there were 20 public stations for CNG in other states and about 200 private stations.

--Lawrence Fisher, "Natural Gas Refueling Station Opens," New York Times, March 1, 1990.

Dick Wilson, director of the office of mobile resources at the EPA said alternative fuels like compressed natural gas, ethanol, methanol and electricity could reduce vehicle pollution by 9\80 percent, while improvements from cleaner gasolines are probably limited to 30 percent.

--Thomas Hayes, "Shortage of Additive Limits Clean [ha, ha, ha...] Gasoline," New York Times, April 18, 1990.

MTBE, TOO. EPA says Vaugn is doing its own analysis on emissions from alcohol fuels. In studying air samples taken in Colorado during the three months that the oxygenated fuels program was in effect last year, Vaugn comments, EPA found that formaldehyde levels were high on just two days. Since ethanol sales never rose to much more than 8% of the oxygenated fuel pool in Colorado, researchers attributed the emission findings to methyl ter-butyl ether (MTBE), the oxygenate most widely used. When the alcohol fuel program ended, there were no days in which trace emissions levels rose, even though during that time ethanol's share of the fuel pool tripled because use of MTBE dwindled dramatically.

--Frank Pitman and Alice Agoos, "Ethanol As Fuel Takes A Hit," Chemical Week, October 5, 1988.

A study prepared for the oil industry and released yesterday has cast doubt on a much-discussed method of fighting air pollution, concluding that requiring grain alcohol in gasoline will produce a minor reduction in carbon monoxide, but a large increase in smog. An amendment to the Clean Air Act approved by the Senate would mandate putting alcohol in gasoline.

The study was prepared by a California consulting firm that has done extensive work for the governments of eight Northeastern states and California. It concludes that "gasohol," or gasoline with 10 percent grain alcohol, would cut carbon monoxide by 25 percent, but that nitrogen oxides, which cause smog, and acid rain, would rise by 8 to 15 percent, and hydrocarbon would rise by 50 percent. That works out to 6 percent more smog.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main trade association, said it did not fear competition from such fuels, because the corn from which the alcohol is made requires more oil and natural gas to produce than it displaces. For example, raising corn requires natural gas for the production of nitrogen fertilizer [you can grow organically] and diesel oil to run tractors [you could use grain alcohol, natural gas from biomass, or solar energy to run the tractors].

In early April the Senate approved an amendment by Thomas Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, that would require the use of fuel with a high oxygen content in nine cities with air problems. Those cities account for one-fourth of the gasoline market. Other cities could choose the same fuel in preference to other steps to control air pollution. The first nine are Los Angeles, Houston, New York, San Diego, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Hartford-New Haven area.

--Mathew Wald, " 'Gasohol' May Cut Monoxide but Raise Smog, Study Asserts," New York Times, May 9, 1990.

In a 1987 report to the Vice President's Task Force on Alternative Fuels, then under Bush's jurisdiction, EPA projected only a 1.4 percent improvement in New York's ozone levels if 18 percent of the traveling were done in gasoline-methanol cars.

--Dianne Dumanoski, "Bush's clean-car air pollution plan: a concept in the Edsel's tradition," Boston Globe, June 18, 1989.

Then there is the issue of engine performance. In exchange for smooth performance and high burning efficiency, methanol burns faster, requiring nearly twice as much fuel to go the same distance. Tests show it has 60 percent of the energy of gasoline by volume.

An experimental 1989 Chrysler LeBaron equipped with a turbo-charged 2.2-liter methanol and gasoline engine guzzled fuel like a 10-year old Chrysler New Yorker: 12.9 miles per gallon in city driving compared with 21.2 miles per gallon with gasoline.

--Ronald Rosenberg, "Methanol backers' miracle is critics' poison at the pump," Boston Globe, June 18, 1989.

A two-layer solar cell developed at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, demonstrated a 31 percent sunlight to electricity conversion efficiency -- the highest ever recorded, according to an announcement by its designers last week. The device is a stacked multijunction cell, which means it has multiple photosensitive layers, each optimized for different wavelengths of light.

The upper, gallium-arsenide layer in the Sandia device -- sensitive to wavelengths from the ultraviolet through the visible portion of the spectrum - - converted into electricity 27.2 percent of the light striking it. Unabsorbed light passed through to an underlying silicon-crystal layer, which is sensitive to light into the near infrared. Even though the silicon layer is sensitive to a broader spectrum of frequencies, it's less efficient than the gallium arsenide in tapping the energy of shorter wavelengths, points out Dan Arvizu, supervisor of Sandia's solar cell work. That's why it was placed on the bottom, he explains. Neither the specific gallium-arsenide layer nor the silicon layer used in this multifunction photovoltaic cell is ideal for such a device, he adds, they're just the "two most mature" options available at this time.

Peak efficiencies were achieved at intensities between 35 and 50 watts per square centimeter, a 350 to 500 fold concentration of natural sunlight. In fact, these crystalline multijunction photovoltaic devices are designed for use with solar concentrators, Though the best commercially available cells for use with concentrators have efficiencies of just 13 to 20 percent, Arvizu expects it won't be long before future two-layer multijunction cells achieve solar conversion efficiencies near 35 percent.

--Science News, August 20, 1988.

  1. technical fixes will only take us so far
    1. more and more people driving negates technical fixes
    2. though emissions from each new vehicle are being reduced, overall, pollution is increasing

  2. transportation is our environment
    1. street out your front door
    2. roads crush the wilderness
    3. energy
    4. pollution

  3. need to encourage people to use other modes
    1. no more roads
    2. more trails, motor free zones and mass transport
    3. make people pay for driving
      1. people bitch about tolls paying for mass transport but got a free ride to the toll
      2. charge per mile not flat fees

  4. energy
    1. sun is the power source
    2. the closer to the source the more energy received and the less wasted
    3. solar power grabbing the photons
    4. vegetation and algae using photosynthesis
    5. animals or biomass converters
    6. fossilized vegetation and animals

  5. bikes as alt fuel vehicle
    1. solar food energy metabolized into motion
    2. zero emitting vehicle
    3. inexpensive
    4. small
    5. best option
    6. workbikes

  6. alt fuels
    1. methanol
      1. major energy needed for production in relation to the energy in the fuel, more co2 than just burning gasoline, higher so2 from power plants as well
      2. emits heavy amounts of reactive hydrocarbons, including formaldehyde
      3. extremely toxic

    2. natural gas
      1. the system to get the fuel to the consumers is already in place
      2. nat gas vehicle performance is complicated
        1. more energy in each unit of natural gas
        2. smaller engine
        3. more weight for tanks to store the gas
        4. all in all if the engine is optimized for natural gas the vehicle would be 20% more efficient than a gasoline vehicle
      3. emissions are way down over gasoline but there is uncertainty over Nitrogen oxides. there have been less and more
        1. depends on type of engine
        2. timing of the sparking
        3. compression ratios
      4. co2 down but methane up,... if the entire transportation sector were running on natural gas, there would be a 16% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Since there is only a 16% reduction in greenhouse gases, transition to natural gas is a good step, but not the solution

    3. electric/solar
      1. best handling characteristics as compared to a gasoline car is 60 mile range, 55 mph, 4 year battery life, 1.1 miles per kilowatt hour
      2. DoE recent experimental vehicle
        1. 3.9 mi/kwh
        2. 130 mile range
      3. with most efficient equipment, but only a lead acid battery, 8-12 mi/kwh
      4. needs support from government to increase performance of batteries. their weight/power ratio, storage capacity, and charging time.

    4. hydrogen
      1. can derive hydrogen from coal, very dirty
      2. best derived from splitting water with electricity
      3. when hydrogen is burned in air all that is created is water. But the compression and heat of the internal combustion causes the nitrogen and oxygen to join, emitting nitrogen oxides. The levels of nox are inconclusive, but are far less than that produced by gasoline engines. The lubricants on the walls of the cylinders will be burned as well, but still insignificant in relation to any of the other fuels.

    5. The electricity for the hydrogen and electric vehicles can be derived from many places
      1. burning coal and oil produces major pollution
      2. hydroelectric power is disruptive
      3. nuclear is toxic
      4. wind and solar power are the best
        1. NYC government can install windmills and solar panels on public buildings and on bridges for providing some of our electricity needs.

  7. some important research would be to look for information on the energy needed to create each fuel source so it would be ready to be used in the vehicle. how much energy would it take to split and compress hydrogen as compared to amount of energy that can be stored and retrieved from a battery.

  8. seems electric vehicles deriving their power from photovoltaics and windmills is the most efficient solution for motorized transportation storing energy at home. Get two or three sets of batteries to charge during the day. Also put photovoltaics on the vehicle.

  9. in closing
    1. the way we move ourselves and the way goods are moved has tremendous impact on our environment. we need to be as efficient as possible
    2. the technical fixes help a lot but the actual mode of transportation is another major decision which must be considered

--Dan Convissor, Outline On Alternative Fuels, October 18, 1990.

The concerns voiced by the public in regard to the exhaust fumes emitted by motor vehicles are warranted. These concerns need to be addressed in order to improve the health of our city and the stability of our atmosphere.

As far as a fuel, natural gas is the best option at present. It absolutely produces lower emissions of particulate and carbon dioxide and can result in lower nitrogen oxide emissions. The fuel is available from pipelines which already exist, reducing expenses and pollution associated with fuel delivery. Natural gas is also less hazardous since it is combustible only in very specific concentrations of air and gas. It is possible to convert existing buses to natural gas, thereby immediately reducing emissions at a cost of only $3,000 per vehicle.

A longer term objective would be to convert to hydrogen as a fuel. The hydrogen can easily be derived from using the electricity from solar and/or wind generators and sticking the electricity into water, yielding oxygen (which can be marketed to the health care industry) and hydrogen. This will completely obviate the need for petroleum and the production of pollutants.

Engine technology has also been advancing, providing longer term options. Sterling engines provide a high level of efficiency by using an external combustion process. Stratified charge engines act in a fashion similar to the diesel, with a pre combustion chamber, resulting in slightly higher efficiency and lower emissions. Some vehicles use a combination of fuel and electric motors, where the fuel burns in an engine which is hooked up to a generator, the generator then provides electricity to a motor which moves the vehicle. There are new engines which incorporate the generator in the piston. Another such combination is the thermo-photovoltaic engine, in which a gas is burned, heating up ceramics which in turn emit light, the light is then utilized by photovoltaic solar cells, the electricity then moves the vehicle using an electric motor. Unlike fuel powered motors which have high levels of friction in the transmission of energy from the engine to the wheels, using electric drive systems to propel the vehicle is highly efficient due to low resistance in the transmission.

Electric drive systems also easily allow for regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is as follows: in a regular vehicle, the brakes change the forward momentum of the vehicle into friction which is lost as heat, while with regenerative braking, the brake changes the forward momentum into electricity which is stored.

Another non-polluting form of mobility is the bicycle. Its advantages of personal mobility at any time, absence of noise, small size, and no need for fuel make it a prime transportation mode. Bicycles and mass transport must be linked together, increasing the range and utility of both modes.

--Dan Convissor, Low and Non-Polluting Transportation Technology, October 13, 1990.

In addition, motor vehicles of any type are inherently dangerous in crowded cities. Cars and Trucks killed 364 pedestrians and 17 bicyclists in NYC last year. Unless vehicle power and size are tamed, traffic signals retimed, and adequate street space provided for cyclists and pedestrians, this problem will persist.

--Dan Convissor, Testimony before the City Council of New York City, regarding Bill Intro. No. 227 which would require the City government's fleet to use alternatively fueled vehicles. October 29, 1990. Transportation Alternatives.

When hydrogen is burned as a motor fuel, the only emission is water vapor and a small amount of nitrogen oxides.

"None of the other alternative fuels we are considering in the Clean Air Act even comes close to hydrogen," said James Justave Speth, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental group that sponsored the study.

"If you don't go to hydrogen," said one of the Princeton researchers, Dr. Robert H. Williams, "then you're restricting photovoltaics to sunny areas." Converting the sun's energy to a fluid that can be shipped by pipeline, he pointed out, would make it possible to employ solar power anywhere.

But it does require another sharp drop in the price of photovoltaic cells. They now cost between $4 and $5 per watt of capacity, and could fall to 20 to 40 cents by the turn of the century, the study said. While the drop seems steep, Dr. David Carlson, vice president and general manager of Solarex, pointed out that in the late 1970's, a square foot of cells cost about $1,000 and yielded 5 to 6 watts; now it costs about $50 and provides 13 watts.

--Matthew Wald, "Hydrogen Pushed as a Motor Fuel," New York Times, September 28, 1989.

Powering the Midwest


The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a leading environmental organization, recently published a major study, Powering the Midwest: Renewable Electricity for the Economy and the Environment, which concluded that wind energy is among renewable energy technologies holding great promise for the region. This is one of a series of articles reprinting excerpts from the report, by permission of UCS.

Wind Energy: Background

Wind Energy Costs

During the last 10 years, the cost of producing electricity from wind has declined dramatically.

This is in part the result of many incremental improvements in technology, such as improved materials, gearboxes, and blade design. Just as important, windfarm developers and operators have learned how to site and operate wind turbines to maximize power production and minimize operating costs.

The current cost of windpower at good sites in California ranges from five cents/kWh to eight cents/kWh on a real levelized cost basis--one-third to one-fifth the cost of a decade ago.1 By 1995, a new generation of wind machines will be available with substantially improved performance and reduced capital cost, which as we will see, should bring the cost of energy in the Midwest down to four cents/kWh to six cents/kWh, depending on the location.

Although several different wind turbine designs are available, each with different strengths and weaknesses, in our study we base the near-term cost of wind energy on U.S. Windpower's 33M-VS machine, several prototypes of which were undergoing testing in 1992 and which should be available for sale in 1993.

This machine incorporates several incremental improvements over existing designs, including variable speed generation--which allows the rotor speed to vary with wind speed, thus improving energy capture and reducing stress on machine components--and improved airfoils.

According to information obtained from U.S. Windpower, the initial cost of a 50-MW windfarm constructed in the Midwest with this machine would be about $43 million, or $860 per kilowatt, not including transmission interconnection, substation, land, and permitting fees. Based on data provided by Northern States Power Company of Minnesota, the additional capital costs would be about $4.12 million, yielding a full capital cost of $47.12 million, or $942 per kilowatt, broken down as follows:

Cost of a 50-MW Windfarm*
1995 installation year

Component                Total Cost            Unit Cost
                        Million 1992$          1992$/kW

Wind Turbines                43                   860
Substation                    1.7                  34
Transmission                  0.3                   6
Service Center                0.25                  5
Land                          0.57                 11
Indirect/Permitting           1.3                  26

Total                        47.12                942

*Wind turbine cost from U.S. Windpower, other costs except land from Northern
States Power, "Buffalo Ridge 25-MW Windfarm: Draft Environmental Assessment
Worksheet," 1992, p. 4.  Land cost assumes five percent of land area of the
windfarm would be occupied by wind turbines, at 5.7 acres per MW and $2,000
per acre.

In addition to cost data, we also obtained a performance curve for the [U.S. Windpower] 33M-VS machine showing the expected output of a 50-MW wind power plant at various wind speeds. We used this curve to estimate its performance at representative sites across the Midwest. The table below shows the resulting capacity factor-- defined as the annual average output divided by the maximum output- -and cost of electricity, assuming a 40m tower . . .
Representative Wind Energy Costs

Location            Capacity    Operating     Cost of
                     Factor       Cost*     Electricity**
                    (Percent)   (cents/kWh)  (cents/kWh)

North Dakota           36.6         1.1          4.3
Minnesota              34.2         1.1          4.5
Iowa                   26.0         1.2          5.7
Ohio                   22.6         1.3          6.4

*Assumes $10/kW/year fixed O&M and 0.8 cents/kWh variable O&M.  **Real
levelized 1992$.  Capital cost $970/kW, including $28/kW additional cost for
40m tower; fixed charge rate 10.5 percent. 

Although we chose to base our estimates on the expected performance of U.S. Windpower's 33M-VS machine, achieving the predicted range of costs is not contingent on the success of this machine. Several manufacturers are expected to develop comparable or better wind systems in the next few years.

As demonstrated [later in this report], a cost of 4 cents/kWh to 6 cents/kWh is already low enough to be broadly competitive with new fossil-fuel power plants. Yet federal and privately funded research continues to improve wind turbine technology and should bring this cost down further. Some of the advances being pursued are:

With these improvements, windpower is expected ultimately to cost as little as 3 cents/kWh at Class 4 wind sites [those with average wind speeds of 12.5 mph to 13.4 mph at 10m height].2


1 Real means inflation-adjusted. Levelized means the constant yearly payment that equals the total capital and operating cost of the plant over its lifetime discounted to present-value dollars. In this report we assume standard private utility financing; that is, the annual charge on capital is 10.5 percent.

2 See Cavallo, Hock, and Smith, "Wind Energy," p. 153.

[Copies of the executive summary of Powering the Midwest are available for $3 from Union of Concerned Scientists, 26 Church Street, Cambridge, MA 02238, USA, phone (617) 547-5552, fax (617) 864-9405. Copies of the entire study are available for $18 from the same source.]

A University of Denver study found that 299 out of 300 post-1983 cars show no decrease in emissions from using oxy-fuels.

--"Clearing the Air," by Richard Miniter New York Post, May 18, 1993.

The U.S. automobiles fleet average has moved from about 16 miles per gallon (mpg) to about 26 mpg in a decade and could certainly go much higher. The most efficient cars on America's roads, such as the Chevrolet Sprint and the sporty Honda CRX-HF, get around 50 mpg (city plus highway average). The Japanese are even producing a photovoltaic scooter that uses no gallons -- the power comes from sunlight via photovoltaic (electric) cells on the scooter. (p.13)

Indeed, fission's energy/profit ratio is so low that one quarter of the increased GNP attributable to nuclear power would simply reflect the high cost of building reactors! (p.24)

In the soft-path scenario ["soft-path" is how Amory Lovins describes the use of energy technologies that are renewable/sustainable], energy efficiency reverses its historical decline and increases markedly. Cutting back per-acre inputs often diminishes production (but not profits) at first. But it also allows farmers to get far more crops for the amount of energy used and to reduce long-term soil damage, thus increasing long-term profits. In the model, exports rise again after the year 2000 as erosion control and technological improvement begin paying off handsomely. And, by 2025, the soft path leads to substantially higher export capacity than today, with significantly lower on-farm energy use. (p.37)

American farmers could save much traction energy by relying mainly on perennial grains [meaning those] that grow from their roots each year. (p.45)

Today's market was constructed over centuries to encourage the consumption of apparently inexhaustible resources. Extractive industries, for instance, get "depletion allowances" -- tax breaks that lower the cost of using up their deposits of natural resources. (p.38)

--Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades, Carrying Capacity, Inc., 1325 G St NW #1003, Washington, DC 20005; 202/879-3045.

[Carrying Capacity has printed many things that seem racist to me. --dc]

83% of voters favor a proposal that cars be required to get 45 miles to the gallon, even if a new car would cost $500 more.

--The Global Warming Debate, Union of Concerned Scientists, 1990


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