“This is a great time for LNG.” – Overheard at the Zeus conference in Houston last week, and perhaps the understatement of the year. Approximately 200 people (twice the expectation) gathered to hear about the vast possibilities of the cryogenic fuel for marine, rail, distributed power and other applications.
For all of them, a combination of environmental pressures and better economics, is prompting a switch from oil and coal to liquefied natural gas.
‘As the iPad Is to the Walkman’
“You’re talking a discount of about 90%,” said conference organizer Bob Nimocks, president of Zeus Intelligence. Today’s “yawning gap” between LNG and diesel amounts to about $2 per diesel gallon equivalent, and means “paybacks in terms of months,” he said.
“Natural gas is really the only alternative fuel poised to have a near-term impact,” said Miguel Raimao of Sturman Industries, who detailed his firm’s designs for a highly efficient, spark-ignition engine with hydraulically driven digital fuel injection affording fuel savings of up to 40% (F&F, July 4, 2011). Engine efficiency is a function of far more than spark-versus-compression ignition, Raimao said.
“Natural gas is to diesel as the iPad is to the Walkman,” said Art Gelber of the Houston-based Gelber consultancy.
The price spread between diesel and LNG (“You could drive a truck through that spread”) is such that payback for LNG investment is as little as two years. Even so, Gelber said, “The savings today is not great enough to overcome the uncertainly without government subsidies.”
“We don’t know the cost of the bunkering (ship fueling) side of things, particularly when we get up to large scale,” said Andy Alderson, deputy managing director of the UK’s Hart, Fenton and Company. “We still have to sort out the commercial side of things.”
Possible constraints include manufacturing capacity for cryogenic tanks, and the practical, real-world delivery of fuel to other potential high horsepower users.
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