June 30, 2010 Vol. 6, No. 13
Natural gas has become what biodiesel was just a couple of years back, a politically popular source of fire in the bellies of the motors that we know and love. Don’t count the bio option out, but its first iteration seems to have fizzled. In its place, at least on this continent, we now have natural gas. And it’s not going to fizzle.
That may be partly due to some outrageously inaccurate claims made on its behalf in the investment community. I can’t claim that this is typical but a friend recently passed on a come-on document penned by an investment analyst urging folks to buy a particular stock in the NG world. Probably not a bad idea, but this supposed expert wrote that Walmart is switching its entire fleet to the fuel. Hardly true. In the same sentence he claimed that Volvo and Peterbilt are doing the same with their ‘fleets’.
Misinformation along these lines is dangerous at best and has the potential, if it’s widespread, to distort the market in profound ways. I’ve seen the investment world publish such poor information before, pretty often in fact, and I have to wonder in a mild state of despair just how many big-dollar or small-investor decisions are founded on similar untruths.
In the case of natural gas I’m not too concerned, because there’s no reason to think it won’t grow pretty quickly as a motive-power fuel. It will be a circular sort of growth — as the requisite infrastructure by way of fuelling stations expands, so too will the user community. As users express an interest in switching, the infrastructure will be built.
Claude Robert is the perfect example. Six weeks ago I wrote about Quebec’s Transport Robert launching itself into NG on ordinary linehaul freight runs — actually two — one between Quebec City and Montreal, the other between Montreal and Toronto. The deal with Gaz Metro will see the gas supplier build two fuelling stations to start, one in Toronto, the other in Montreal, while Robert will buy 130-160 NG vehicles in the next five years.
We’ll see more like it sooner than you can say ‘shares in Westport’.
AND BACK TO BIOFUEL FOR A MINUTE, one of the most promising technologies on this front concerns algae, and there’s at least one Canadian connection. A substantial research project in Nova Scotia’s Ketch Harbour near Halifax aims to commercialize the production of biofuel from algae. The neat irony here is that carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion will be used to help the algae grow. In fact, one plan would see algae-based biofuel produced by drawing carbon dioxide directly from coal-fired power plants and the western oil sands.
This $5-million project comes out of the National Bioproducts Program, a joint initiative of Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the National Research Council. Also involved are the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
Have a look at this video to see what’s going on there.
One report about this says that microalgae can produce as much as 20 times more oil than traditional agricultural crops. But don’t hold your breath — commercialization likely won’t happen within the next decade. The challenge is coming up with a system that can produce fuel in so-called “industrial” quantities.
HOW ABOUT ANOTHER REFRIGERATION PROTOTYPE? This one comes from Thermo King (www.thermoking.com) and Dean Foods (www.deanfoods.com). The latter is said to be the largest dairy processor in the U.S. and operator of one of the largest refrigerated direct-store delivery distribution networks in the industry (like a whopping 13,000 vehicles). We’re talking about electric-powered refrigeration units here.
A month ago I told you about the zero-carbon-footprint hybrid cold-plate refrigeration system from Kentucky’s Hercules Manufacturing. Prairie Farms Dairy ordered five of these trucks, an International DuraStar chassis using Eaton’s hybrid diesel/electric powertrain mated with a reefer van that features a coldplate refrigeration system running electrically via power generated onboard.
Seems there’s competition in the dairy world.
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