I know Fiat is a staple in Europe and not so well known in the United States, that is until a year or so ago when they made a concerted effort to get dealerships here and up their advertising (any recall the J. Lo ads?).
There are quite a few fiats cruising around my area and I have to say, the cars are adorable. But as far as driving an alternative vehicle powered on propane gas (the same stuff that runs my BBQ), I'm not so keen. I get nervous sticking the tanks in my car to go get a refill, let alone using the fuel source to fill my car tank. I think the industry would have to spend some time and money educating people like myself to get over the fear of propane as being highly combustible.
I agree there is a need to educate. I too get a little nervous putting a tank in the trunk. I consider myself lucky that I have a pickup truck to go get gas for the lawn mower. But I'm guessing that someone has done a ton of research to insure cars running of natural gas are as safe as any current vehicle. I know forklifts have been running on this stuff for years.
I also like the idea of several different alternative fuels/concepts being developed at the same time.
The question that it also brings is how do you ensure safety after the car has been around the block for a number of years. Are people really going to do the necessary maintence to ensure structural integrity of the tank. I'm thinking, for example, of a bicycle helmet. If it has been used to save your skull, you discard it and buy a new one even if it "looks" OK. A minor fender bender might require a bit more investigation with a high pressure, highly flammable gas.
Also, I could be wrong on this point, but isn't propane heavier than air? Seems that a leak would be more dangerous up front than gasoline, since the vapor (i.e., the flammable part) does seem to dissappate rather quickly.
Propane is probably less dangerous than Gasoline. In other parts of the world, they use propane in domestic refrigeration and also in car airconditioning systems. Without reported problems. Its greenhouse gas equivalent is also less than what is used in USA and in Mexico, because of the influence of the dollar and Dow Chemicals. So far as vehicles are concerned, the opportunities are for taxis and local bus transport in particular as they can use the limited infrastructure available. But with Shale Gas now likely to set the pace, there should be a lot more companies getting into the infrastructure/filling station act.
Beth, I agree with you on the fuel issue. Seems to me I remember a Fiat car when I was a child or maybe I'm wrong. Almost every day I see one of these little cars. Kind of cute but don't think I will be buying one any time soon.
Beth, I understand your concern, but gasoline was a dangerous fuel not so long ago. Remember the burning compact cars of the 70s? I think that the answer lies in design.
In many parts of the world natural gas is used extensively. I would not be terriably concerned about the tanks. I had a business where we had an opportunity to see what would happen if you fired a gun at a propane tank. It did go up, but only with a very well placed shot. I don't know what the actual statistics are from this, but I expect that there are ways to make it safe. I also noticed that there are a number of trucking firms going to this fuel, so we will see it more often.
Another advantage of Propane is that there is good evidence that it may be synthesizable. There is a test project out there that is making methane from water, CO2, and sunlight. If they can make methane, propane wouldn't be far behind. Three distinct advantages of synthesized propane are that the supply is unlimited (capacity is an issue, but some supply will always be possible as long as the energy is there), it is carbon neutral (it takes as much CO2 to make the propane as burning it releases), and it is not an Ozone depleting or Greenhouse gas.
If the part about synthesizing it using sustainable energy can be licked, it will be a serious contender to EVs.
As for the cold tanks thing, use it to help out the car's air-conditioning or engine cooling. That would save energy.
CNG has been used on indoor vehicles, like forklifts, for years, but performance under a wide number of operating conditions is not that critical to a forklift. It's safe to say that engineers would have to spend several years learning how to properly burn CNG in an automobile. More than anything else, I wonder about safety. Gasoline is only under pressure after the fuel pump, while CNG would be under pressure during storage and along the entire length of the fuel system. There are some advantages to CNG being a gas rather than a liquid, but the whole system being under pressure is a little disturbing.
I wonder what the range is on a small tank that attaches to my grill. The interesting part of moving to a technology like this, is there are already places to go and get this fuel. One has only to go to the local hardware store or in some cases where I live, the local gas stations already carry these little tanks.
As a 8 year driver of 4 separateCNG vehicles, I have to tell you that the technology arrived a while ago.
Currently, I drive a 2004 bi-fuel Chevy Cavalier. I can go 150 miles city driving or 200 miles on the freeway, in CNG mode. If I run out of CNG, the engine seamlessly switches to gasoline, and I could go maybe 300 miles or so. I typically burn gasoline for a few miles and then refuel with CNG.
In January this year, my previous Cavalier was totaled in a front end collision, while using CNG. I never smelled any natural gas. I believe the safety systems to be reasonable & adequate. Search U-tube for "CNG tank tests". I like the dynamite video the best.
I think it's a shame that so much effort is being put into electric propulsion. Despite billions in research, it's still not ready for prime-time. CNG is ready now. It's the best "Bridge" fuel we have while batteries and fuel cells work things out.
I think the statement "There is also a distinct lack of filling stations for natural gas and low incentive for gas-rich markets like the US to use it" says it all. Regardless of which fuel choice an automobile maker wants to gets behind, fuel distribution infrastructure and price (supply and demand) continue to be a large part of the bottom line.
As gas prices go up and consumers continue to demand refueling convenience, the next challenger to gasoline will emerge. Obviously human safetly will play a big part in the selection process, but one of the biggest decision criteria will also be ease of refueling and cost.
Propane is stored in tanks pressurized to about 200 psi. When propane was used as a motor fuel years ago, a 'liquid' tank was used. This draws liquid propane from the bottom of the tank, to a vaporizer and then to a carburetor. A barbecue tank is a vapor tank. The heat to vaporize the propane comes from the surrounding air. That is why the tank feels cold in use, and may even have frost on the sides. The energy density of propane is less than that of gasoline. Natural gas has less energy density than propane. A propane converted engine had a 'cold' intake manifold. A carbureted gasoline engine had a 'hot' intake manifold to assist is vaporizing the gasoline. Cold propane is denser, giving more power than hot propane. An engine that is dual-fuel - propane or gasoline, will run poorly on either. Compressed natural gas is used because of the high pressures required for liquified natural gas. Natural gas vapors are lighter than air, Propane and gasoline vapors are heavier than air.
I don't know how propane or natural gas are being developed for integration into fuel injected engines. Someone who knows diesel fuel injector systems may know if the propane could be circulated to be sure liquid propane is at the injector instead of vaporized propane.
Compressed natural gas and propane and gasoline are all hydrocarbons = fossil fuels. Converting to propane or natural gas just shifts the load to a different flavor of fossil fuel. Is anyone familiar with any plans to add butane to the mix also ?
Propane also has a very high octane rating. In the early 80's Chrysler sold propane powered caravelles. These cars were designed for fleet use ( Amherst Taxi in Kingston had a few dozen). 318 cubic inch engines with 16:1 compression, 150 horsepower, lots of torque and long life. The nicest thing about them is that they warmed up very fast, nice when winters went to -35C.
At the same time there were a few natural gas cars, they SUCKED, less power, and very heavy tanks that needed to be filled several times in a shift.
burntpuppy; 318 cid is about 5.2 liter. 150 hp from a 5.2 is not a lot of power. The 5.7 liter Hemi V8 is rated at about 380 hp. For a taxi fleet they would have a central filling station, and mostly short trips meant a small reduction in range could be managed. There are niche applications where propane would be a good fit. Propane does burn cleaner, and doesn't dilute the engine oil like gasoline does. But propane doesn't 'replace' the 'light ends' - the engine oil looks clean, but eventually behaves like 90 weight.
The horsepower was a bit lower than the gasoline 318s of the day, but the torque was bigger. The taxi I drove got refueled once per 12 hour shift, versus 2 or 3 times for the same car with a gasoline engine.
With the high compression allowed due to the octane of propane the torque was great then the gas engines. They were a pleasure to drive. One the highway ( I did a few trips to Toronto, and one to Windsor) there was no issue with getting fuel.
We refueled at Superior Propane, or at a station in the west end.
As far as the oil, we stretched the change interval to 15,000km and had great engine life. The only car that died while I drove was due to the drivers never checking the oil.
An added benefit that has not been mentioned recently is that propane as an automotive fuel would not require so much brand new technology. Propane fuel injection should be simpler than gasoline fuel injection, since it is already stored under pressure, and it does not need to be atomised since it has a much higher vapor pressure. Besides that, we have lots of propane available, and if they figure out how to liquify natural gas in a cheap and simple manner, we can get by for the next hundred years or so, without importing ANY fuel. We could save our petroleum resources for our lubrication needs, and we would be all set. In addition, the distribution network is already in place, which removes another impediment to acceptance. Also, we would not need to expand our power grid to handle all of those EV chargers. IT is a win-win-win option that we do need to consider.
We are going to Use NG for one reason, it sells for $.25/gal BTU eqivalentat the moment from my local NG dealer, People's Gas!!
I think I prefer LNG as far lower pressures.
Within a yr you'll start seeing many big trucksc switch to NG as the Flying J, other truckstops get NG in. The Feds are paying most of the cost for the installations and truch conversions with tax credits.
As for safety it's not bad especially the ones in the US.
Far better is gasoline/deisel/NG made from waste plastics it seems if I were to drive such. I beieve one should at least know how to make one's own fuel just in case.
I find my EV's quite inexpensive with running costs of 25% similar gasoline vehicles. I'll only use fuel for 100+ mile trips using a small, special DC generator to keep the batteries charged.
Propane is very expensive for some reason. Maybe there just isn't that much of it or just greed.
One can synthesize about any HC, you just lose some of the energy in the process.
Jerry dycus; Seeing transport trucks, even a small percentage, convert to natural gas would be interesting. If natural gas is that much cheaper than diesel fuel the return on investment should be short. The only problem would be resistance to change - diesel fuel has been the standard fuel for so long. And if diesel fuel consumption dropped significantly, the prices would also have to drop. The reason that I say this is I heard years ago that each barrel of oil was split into fixed percentages of gasoline and diesel fuel. The ratio couldn't change, so as gasoline consumption dropped, diesel fuel production also dropped, and the price increased. Or maybe the oil companies will just increase the price of gasoline to compensate - as the price of gasoline goes up, the alternatives, including natural gas, will become more attractive.
Glenn, it'll be far more than a small %. By 2020 I expect 50% of the US truck and taxi fleets to switch to it. Why again is cost. By then gas, diesel will be over $10/gal in today's $.
Ng/Methane has an advantage in that one can make it in many ways from heating biomass to 1500F turning it into H2/CO, syn gas, then using a catalyst make it into methane to the higher gasolines. With higher losses into even heavier HC's.
There is digestion already used in sewage, dairy, other waste feedstocks. And many others.
The only thing you need to know about oil, diesel, gas prices is there are 4B more people wanting their share as world living standards rise. You just can't drill your way just in oil and meet that need. Even with all the other choices too if you buy from a corp, energy in the future will be high.
The only ones it won't be are those who make their own. Soon you'll see home size fuel makers that turn garbage, yard, plastics, etc into fuels and electricity. Add that to other biofuels, various solar, wind, river/tidal as one's site has will be the low cost energy sources of the rather near future. At least for the smart people. The rest will pay through the nose.
On the gas/diesel ratio it can be a fair range depending on how it's processed. For instance you here about refineries switch from summer to winter production they are making the ratio for more heating oil, less gasoline, diesel.
Us switching from diesel to NG won't effect oil, diesel prices at all. Someone else will just buy it.
The smartest thing is not to export NG because if we do the price becomes the world price which is $13-18/mmbtu/7gal oil from the $2.20/7gals/oil today. It'll also make it last longer and get us independent on transport energy.
Be smart and get an alternative fueled vehicle now before oil hits $200/bbl.
Jerry dycus; It will be interesting to see how accurate your predictions will be. A solar powered home natural gas fuel digester / generator sounds 1/2 science fiction and 1/2 survivalist. I'm not knocking you. It is an interesting concept.
Glenn, it's not just an interesting concept, it's the low cost way and about what the smart people who can think and do math will do.
What I mentioned other than the low PV prices are mostly old tech, just artificially low, highly subsidized oil, coal prices have kept them from market.
For instance a solar CSP of 3hp/2kw can supply an eff home with all it's heat and power plus some to sell in many areas. With an aux burner it can run on wood chips or most any fuel as backup. The best analog is a 3 ton home AC run as a heat engine instead of pump. Just all the 200sq' solar collector gives you 50 yrs of power for about $4k in mass production.
I'm building a wind generator that for $3k will give an eff 1500sq' home, business all the power it needs. It's more simple than a moped and at that price, very profitable.
Read the Plastics to fuel article for that method.
There is so much energy out there it isn't funny. So why are we still having wars, recessions, protecting oil dictators, international oil companies for free? Let's keep the $400B/yr military, $500B of money leaving to buy oil/trade deficit stay here making jobs, keeping us out of oil recessions?
If the repubs win and their oil/war, tax, debt policies enacted expect a depression within a yr, probably 6 months. So the smart thing is to have other energy sources that one can make themselves whether good or bad economy.