February 15, 2011
Shell Sees Intensified Economic Cycles Due To Oil

A new energy report from Shell sees increased economic volatility due to high oil costs and rising demand. (thanks Lou Pagnucco)

We believe that the world is entering an era of volatile transitions and intensified economic cycles. The recession interrupted the oil and commodity price boom but it may return. Emerging nations like China and India are going through materially intensive development and a tighter market will continue to put pressure on prices and generate volatility. Improvements in policy-making and strong gains in productivity have helped economies to grow without inflation in the last two decades. We do not believe the moderating effect of this combination of good policies, good practices, and good luck will continue into the future.

Supply will not rise as fast as demand.

Supply will struggle to keep pace with demand. By the end of the coming decade, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth. While abundant coal exists in many parts of the world, transportation difficulties and environmental degradation ultimately pose limits to its growth. Meanwhile, alternative energy sources such as biofuels may become a much more significant part of the energy mix — but there is no “silver bullet” that will completely resolve supply-demand tensions.

You can download their full report Signals and Signposts as a PDF. On page 27 they show unconventional liquid fuels providing most growth in liquid fuels consumption. In my view that's optimistic because it assumes enough conventional oil that the non-convention builds on top of a firm conventional base. By contrast, I expect liquid fuels supplies to decline. Worse, the Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) for oil is going to decline. With a flat oil supply and declining EROEI the effect would be a net decrease in useful energy.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 February 15 11:32 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels

tonyhei said at February 16, 2011 12:34 AM:

Randall, just what on earth are we going to do when that happens? I refer to life-extension technologies. Will we look back at this blog and think how idyllic our perceptions used to be? Or is this a confirmation of doing all the right things right now in preparation for what's to come? I'd like to see you write a mini-guide of sorts to this.

Chris T said at February 16, 2011 1:10 AM:

According to chart 3 on page 25 (13 acrobat) we already have fusion power. Who would have thought?

PacRim Jim said at February 16, 2011 1:51 AM:

What seems to be ignored is that the new materials under development by nanotechnologists will yield much more durable products, which will dramatically lower the total cost of ownership of houses, cars, etc. This will moderate economic cycles, at least for those not put out of work as a result.

Bruce said at February 16, 2011 8:22 AM:

"By the end of the coming decade, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth."

Darn .. I was sure people here claimed Peak Oil already was here, and now Shell says it is 9 years away.

Smart countries would have already started a big transition to NG. Buy a Honda GX, encourage truckers to switch to NG, buy an NG furnace to replace the old oil furnace you have. Save a bundle on fuel costs.

Nick G said at February 16, 2011 9:50 AM:


Have you seen any detailed discussions of why a big transtion to NG hasn't happened already? I don't see any sign of it happening in the US. I know some of the factors: price uncertainty; regulatory barriers; and range problems.

It would be nice to see a good, detailed discussion by an expert.

Nick G said at February 16, 2011 9:52 AM:

I'm thinking just of NG for transportation.

xd said at February 16, 2011 1:46 PM:

Too doomy.

The big players are moving into niche positions with productive capacity in the low hundreds of thousands between them.
If the more doomy projections turn out to be right we will already have the production capacity in place to ramp up, thus removing at least some of the economic impacts created by any potential percentage decline in oil production.

Also, Shell being Shell is looking at things from an oil industry perspective. There are alternatives such as just taking the bus or tele-commuting or ordering product by internet or buying a more fuel efficient vehicle (hint: stop driving your big truck that gets 12 miles per gallon and switch to that yaris or even better that GM Volt)

The technical problems have effectively already been solved and so have the production problems. All that's really left to do is the process engineering and economy of scale to bring the price down.

The market will solve the problem even as constrained as some of the extreme-free-marketeers believe it to be. For example: there is a large spread gap between the price of natural gas (a potential oil substitute) and oil itself. How long will that last, given that the purpose of corporations is to make money?

Nick G said at February 16, 2011 2:16 PM:

The big players are moving into niche positions with productive capacity in the low hundreds of thousands between them.
If the more doomy projections turn out to be right we will already have the production capacity in place to ramp up

Could you expand on that? Are you talking about oil production? Why haven't they ramped up already?

Nick G said at February 16, 2011 2:21 PM:

Oh, I see from your other recent comment you're talking about electric vehicles.

Yes, they can be ramped up reasonably quickly, though I suspect that battery production will be a bottleneck for several years.

I'm fascinated by the potential for internet social networking to revolutionize carsharing (e.g., zipcar.com is getting some early Leafs) and carpooling.

xd said at February 16, 2011 3:07 PM:

Yes, my apologies it's not clear at all from my comment that I was referring to oil substitutes and specifically electric vehicles as an oil substitute. As for battery production being a bottleneck, the solution to that is electric *buses* for more bang for the buck.

I remain fairly optimistic that though the road will be bumpy the market has effectively already solved the problem at least technically.

Randall Parker said at February 16, 2011 6:51 PM:


Life extension technologies will increase the competition for limited natural resources by boosting the numbers of people competing for the same resources.

On the bright side life extension, at least once it reaches the more advanced stage of brain rejuvenation, will increase the rate of invention by rejuvenating the minds of scientists and engineers.

Will the rate of discovery accelerate enough to compensate for resource depletion? I do not see the answer as obvious.

Chris T,

Yes, I got a kick out of that fusion typo too.


Oil is near $100 per barrel and unemployment in the US is still over 9%. Even if we aren't at Peak Oil we are at a stage where marginal cost of production has risen to a pretty high level.


Timing matters. Sure, we just need a large drop in battery production costs. But will that drop happen in 5 years? 10 years? 15? When does the total cost electric cars become as cheap as gasoline cars were in 1998 when gasoline was really cheap?

Electric buses: Mass transit is a huge time sink. Want to add an hour plus to an already long work day? Take mass transit. But you'd better move into a more densely populated area too. I'd rather drive a Prius.

Chris T said at February 16, 2011 7:43 PM:

I don't see any sign of it happening in the US.

There has been some movement actually. Quite a few vehicle manufacturing companies are offering, going to offer, or considering natural gas versions of their vehicle lines in the US, particularly among light trucks. A lot fleet operators are considering NGVs.

Bruce said at February 16, 2011 8:04 PM:

Nick, the Port of Los Angeles is doing a lot of NG work.


Nick G said at February 16, 2011 10:13 PM:

When does the total cost electric cars become as cheap as gasoline cars were in 1998 when gasoline was really cheap?

We should look at the total cost of gas, shouldn't we?

Randall, you've said you're concerned that PO will cause deep recession in the US. GDP is probably $2T lower right now than it would have been if not for the great recession. ok, so you're concerned about something even worse, right? Perhaps an output decline of $4T?

Divide $4T into our roughly 120B gallons of imported oil: that's $32 per gallon, or about $1.50 per mile.

Pretty expensive. I think a battery can beat that by pretty clearly...

Bruce said at February 17, 2011 9:07 AM:

We aren't building any more coal plants, and 46% of electricity is from coal and coal prices are rising because of the EPA.

NG cars will be cheaper. 1.50 a gallon if you buy a home NG refiller.

xd said at February 17, 2011 10:27 AM:


We don't even *just* need a large drop in battery costs. If oil prices soared to the point where Americans were paying current European prices for gas, today's battery costs would be good enough for a commute and you keep your F-150 for long trips. Consider this as an example: on a dollar for dollar basis it's already cheaper for me to drive 2000 miles to disneyland in my durango with my wife and two kids than it is to fly there. I don't see that changing. On the other hand, I would be willing to pay for a volt in order to keep my commute cost down. Right now I'm doing something similar: I drive a crappy little neon which has no bells or whistles simply because it costs me nearly 2/3 less than taking the durango. As for transit: the scenario I'm putting out there isn't one of convenience. It's taking the point of view that some people may not be able to afford gas at all and in that case the best bang for the buck with limited battery supplies is to convert the bus fleet first.


Although I don't agree that NG prices will stay at $1.50/gallon equivalent once we hit peak oil (because natural gas is too easy a substitute and thus demand will climb) I suspect we will indeed see a significant percentage change to Natural Gas. At the same time, however, I expect others to switch to electric as it's a slam dunk in my opinion.

That said: there are two killer apps for natural gas post peak oil: Airliners converted to run on liquified nat gas and big rig trucks for which it's not likely we could produce adequate battery technology even if energy density doubled and then doubled again.

It's likely to be a heterogenous solution going forward. Which can only be a good thing as competition lowers prices.

Chris T said at February 17, 2011 12:54 PM:

on a dollar for dollar basis it's already cheaper for me to drive 2000 miles to disneyland in my durango with my wife and two kids than it is to fly there.

Although the cost of three-four extra days of vacation can be significant.

It's likely to be a heterogenous solution going forward. Which can only be a good thing as competition lowers prices.

It also reduces the impact of supply shocks. That alone makes it desirable to diversify our transportation fuels. There are always supply shocks.

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2011 2:21 PM:
big rig trucks for which it's not likely we could produce adequate battery technology even if energy density doubled and then doubled again.
The solution to that is electrified rail.  We can either put cargo on conventional trains, or convert some highway medians (or too-beat-up pavement) to rail and run dual-mode trucks on those rails.  (I'd suggest going with at least Indian gauge, 5 feet 6 inches, if we did the latter; 4'8.5" is too narrow for stability of tall, light vehicles).

The electrified rail gets rid of the need for a driver while en route (just cruise control, no need to stop for fuel) so the accident rate would fall drastically.  It would also get rid of most of the pollution (all-electric tractors could be used when both ends of the trip are close enough to the rail system).

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2011 10:07 AM:


Regards big rig trucks and batteries: I do not see why this is unworkable. Major highway truck stops could install equipment for automatically swapping out battery packs. Then the removed battery pack could be recharged at high voltage while the replacement cruises down the road.

It would be easier to do the battery swapping for trucks than for cars because far fewer swapping places would be needed for long haul trucks and a fairly small number of major industry participants could get together to make it happen. Wal-Mart, UPS, USPS, and a small number of other major long haulers could get together with some truck stop companies (which are big businesses btw) and suppliers.

Regards soaring oil prices and competitive technologies: Sure, make oil more expensive and other expensive technologies become competitive. Expensive means lower living standard. There's no way we avoid a lower living standard due to Peak Oil.

Nick G,

I drive a fuel inefficient 12 year old car (which works for me because I'm a very low mileage driver). I do this out of choice. I could easily afford to go out and buy a new car that is far more fuel efficient. But that means I spend that money to buy a new car that I otherwise would have either saved for retirement (most likely) or spent on fun things that raise my living standard.

Well, a large fraction of the population drives old cars out of necessity, not out of choice. Make their 10 year old Durango or their 15 year old Camaro or their 12 year old Taurus too expensive to refill and then they are in a hard place. Smaller used cars will get bid up in price during the next oil price spike just as happened last time. My point is that the transition period is painful.


Electrifying freight rail seems much more cost effective to me than a trillion dollar high speed passenger rail build-out. What would fully electrified freight rail cost? I've recently come across cost estimates for passenger rail that included $100 billion to make US northeastern rail be fully high speed. That's not an extensive network even in the northeast. Costs for high speed rail in California start at $50 bil for a pretty minimal version. I figure the full version has to go way above $100 bil. You can buy a lot of PHEVs for that kind of money.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2011 9:19 PM:

Alan Drake tells me he uses $2 million/mile for single-track electrification costs, $2.5 million/mile for double track (linky to my copy).

If you dig into the numbers without looking too closely at the jargon (the "TPS" stuff is a small part of the overall cost), it appears that two lanes of a freeway could probably be electrified for $2 million per mile.  If a freight train can demand 7.5 MW and a truck uses 180 kW average (240 HP) to go 60 MPH, you can run 40-odd trucks on the systems needed to run a single train, maybe 20 trucks per mile plus other vehicles.  If the system runs at 25% of capacity on a 24-hour basis, that's 5 trucks/minute or 300 trucks/hour average.  If the electrification is replacing diesel fuel at $3.50/gallon and 8 MPG, it's saving about 44¢/vehicle-mile or $132/lane/hour average.  Times 2 opposing lanes, that's $264/mile/hour or $6336/mile/day, $2.3 million/mile/year.  Ignoring cost of electricity, it pays off in less than a year.

Nick G said at February 19, 2011 9:20 PM:


I agree - people tend to forget that long-haul trucking is essentially a fleet operation, and building infrastructure (like battery swapping) is much easier than for passenger transportation. The same thing applies, BTW, to water shipping.

Regarding older, less efficient cars: I do the same thing. I only drive 2k miles per year. Investing in efficiency wouldn't make sense.

Now, as to living standards. There's a basic thing I've been trying to communicate that would help to resolve: there's a big difference between market prices and real costs. The real costs of oil are much higher than the market prices. That means that a shift to hybrids, PHEVs, EREVs etc will actually reduce overall "system" costs.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2011 9:22 PM:

And note that electrifying a dual-mode truck system requires no advances in batteries or increased mining of lithium or rare earths.  Trains have been running on induction motors for decades now; running electrified OTR trucks on them would be a piece of cake.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2011 9:24 PM:

Dammit, forgot the first part of the analysis:

Long-distance battery-driven semi tractors aren't practical without huge advances in batteries.  If you're lucky, you might get their energy requirements down to 2 kWh/mile.  Using today's Li-ion cells at 140 Wh/kg and maybe a 50% SoC window for reasonable life, you've got an effective energy density of 70 Wh/kg or 2860 kg of cells to go 100 miles.  That's about 10% of the truck's payload, and you have to stop every 100 miles to swap.  It's a long, long way from being practical; electrified roadways are much better.

Nick G said at February 19, 2011 9:33 PM:


As for the impact of oil costs on the poor: I'm much less worried about the impact of high gas prices on poor people trapped in SUVs than I am about the impact of poor people getting caught in firefights in Afghanistan.

Seriously - 100's of thousands of poor people are returning as veterans to the US with physical and mental disabilities. They and their families will pay the toll for their injuries for a lifetime, and the rest of us will pay for their medical care and entanglements with the mental health and criminal justice systems as well.

Nick G said at February 19, 2011 9:59 PM:


I think you could reasonably achieve 1 kwHh/mile, and use 100% depth of discharge with A123system's batteries (3k cycles to 80% capacity spec, IIRC) - that gives you 400 mile range.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2011 10:37 PM:

You're assuming the same energy/weight.  A123Systems' site does not mention the weight of their cells or modules or energy density, just the specific power.  I'm sure there's a reason for this.

Nick G said at February 20, 2011 7:24 AM:


That makes sense. Still, something close to 200 mile range in an EREV truck wouldn't be bad.

I'd like to know what the trucking industry is thinking. Many trucking companies are under-capitalized, and operating on razor thin margins - they don't want to invest much. Are they just focusing on incremental change, like improved aerodynamics? Who will invest in rail in the roadway?

And, what do their customers want? Are the big shippers, like Walmart, moving to rail?

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2011 1:21 PM:


Okay, suppose we use $2 million/mile for single-track electrification and $2.5 million/mile for double track. The US uses about (last I checked a year or two ago) something like 220,000 barrels/day of oil for trains (I would welcome a link to a better source and I think I've even linked to a better source). Okay, at $100 per barrel that's $22 million per day or $8 billion per year.

Here's the bottom line: How many miles of railway would need to be electrified to cut rail oil usage in half? To cut it three quarters? 90%? The cost of a 100% cut would likely be too large due to low usage tracks. But a 90% cut would be good enough.

Batteries in trucks: The advantage over electrified roadways is that battery-powered trucks can be rolled out in small increments. 100 mile range: Works for local delivery. The Ford Transit Connect for $54k illustrates the problem you cite with weight though:

The battery adds nearly 1000 pounds, so the rear spring rates were increased and the maximum payload reduced from 1,600 pounds to 1,000. In place of the fuel-filler tube, there's the SAE standard charging port. With a 240-volt Level II charger, the recharge time is about eight hours. If the high-voltage charger is not available, trickle charging at 120 volts takes a staggering 27 hours for a fill-up. Ouch. The estimated maximum range is around 80 miles, and of course, using the electric air-conditioning, heater or radio cuts into range.

Works for local delivery of lower density goods. But $54k is a high price. How much of that price is the battery? How big is the battery compared to the Chevy Volt battery? The latter supposedly costs $10000. So The Transit Connect battery could easily cost 3 times as much.

Nick G,

Rail and Wal-Mart: I'd be really curious to know how the big shippers see rail. Is the quality of service provided by the railways improving at all in terms of time to move goods from point A to point B? My impression is that congestion at major hubs makes movement of goods across the United States much slower my rail.

Engineer-Poet said at February 21, 2011 5:38 AM:

I was thinking more like 20 miles of electric range, with trips beyond that done on liquid fuel (and perhaps batteryless tractors).  A truck which is only expected to do 45-50 MPH on pavement can have a much smaller, lighter engine than an OTR tractor.  A tractor with an electric motor for rail use (maybe 200 kW continuous, 500 kW peak) and a 200 HP diesel would only need a 3 liter engine and a 300-pound motor.  That would be lighter and probably much cheaper than a 7 to 9 liter Cummins.

Transport Canada lists a figure of 59 Wh/kg for the HyMotion battery pack built using A123systems cells.  Only 80% of that, 47 Wh/kg, is usable.  If you got the energy consumption of a tractor down to 1 kWh/mile, a 100 mile range would require a pack weighing over 2100 kg.  This is clearly not practical.

The savings of fuel from electrifying conventional rail isn't just from existing trains; the bulk of it comes from the shift of traffic from OTR trucks.  The electrified rail line can accelerate faster so it can move more freight on the same rails (trains can clear a block sooner).  Diesel consumption in the US peaked at about 3 million bbl/day in 2007, and savings of half that appear readily achievable.  1.5 million bbl/day at $3.50/gallon is $220 million/day, $80 billion/year.  That will pay for a lot of stuff, and getting trucks off the freeways will eliminate lots of road repair costs.  I would assume that dual-mode trucks would soon carry the bulk of freight on freeways with median rail lines or converted lanes.

Ford's US site for the Transit Connect does not list an electric model.  I'm not sure where that $54k price is coming from.  But if the battery version is driven 50 miles/day 250 days/year in city use, it would save about 600 gallons of fuel over the 21-MPG conventional model, plus oil changes and such.  At European prices up to $8/gallon that can be up to $4800/year saved in fuel alone, plus maintenance and congestion charges in cities like London.  It appears to have a payoff in under 10 years over there.

Bruce said at February 21, 2011 10:50 AM:

I believe the only cost effective solution is dual fuel NG conversion kits like this one:

"APG says that its dual fuel system converts diesel engines to function more efficiently, and at a lower operating cost by displacing 40% - 70% of the normal diesel fuel consumption with CNG, LNG, or bio-methane. The company claims fuel savings of 25% - 35%.

According to the company, the system is non-invasive to the OEM engine and operates within all OEM performance controls with the flexibility to return to 100% diesel operation at any time.

In addition, APG says that the introduction of natural gas through APG's dual fuel system does not impact diesel engine power or pulling torque and will assist in extending the engine's oil life as natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel compared to diesel."



There are kits to do the same thing to Diesel Electic locomotives as well.


Cut the use of diesel by half at minimal cost.

Clean the air.

Big win for all.

Bruce said at February 21, 2011 11:17 AM:

NASA spends 1 billion a year on global warming.


Assuming a dual fuel kit costs 10,000$, you could do 100,000 trucks per year just for the money NASA squanders each year.

Nick G said at February 21, 2011 3:59 PM:


Here's a new entrant in the li-ion chemistry race. It's still in the lab, of course, but as more possibilities appear, the chances that one will succeed rise very quickly:

"“The battery has: 1) a high volumetric and gravimetric energy density; 2) a high rate capability due to the nano-structured characteristics of the electrode materials; 3) an excellent cycle life; and 4) low cost, due to the use of electrode materials based on abundant elements,” Scrosati said.

The cathode’s high voltage and high capacity provides the new battery with a higher energy density (170 Wh/kg at average discharge voltage of 4.2 volts) than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

“The conventional lithium-ion batteries have an energy density of about 120-150 Wh/kg, depending on the used cathode material,” Scrosati said. “Generally, commercial lithium battery cells using layer structure cathode materials, for instance, NCA and NMC, deliver from 100 to 150 Wh/kg.”

Altogether, the high energy density, stable cycle life, and high rate capacity suggest that the battery looks very promising for powering electric vehicles.

“In summary, with respect to those using conventional lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles using our battery may assure: 1) a longer driving range (210 km/charge vs. 150 km/charge due to the higher energy density; 2) a higher top speed; 3) a lower cost; and 4) better overall performance especially at low temperatures,” Scrosati said."


Engineer-Poet said at February 21, 2011 5:14 PM:

Re Bruce:

Replacing diesel with LNG requires roughly the energy equivalent of methane, plus whatever it takes to purify the gas and convert it to liquid.  The info on liquefaction energy- is hard to find; Linde Engineering doesn't even mention energy cost in its promotional material on its LNG plants.  But I found a paper on Russian stuff which supplies a graph on page 15.  This indicates about 250 Wh/kg at typical temperatures.  This figure will increase for smaller, less-efficient systems, so figure 0.5 kWh/kg for a truck-stop sized unit.  1 kg of natural gas has 13.83 kWh of energy (47,200 BTU) so it takes about 2.9 kg of LNG to replace a gallon of diesel.  This gas takes 1.4 kWh to liquefy.  If this is done with electricity supplied from a CCGT powerplant at 50% efficiency delivered, it takes another 0.59 kg of gas per gallon-equivalent; if the power is generated on-site from e.g. a Capstone C60 gas turbine at 30% efficiency, it takes another 0.99 kg of gas per gallon-equivalent.

Replacing 70% of the 3037,000 bbl/day of distillate used for transport in 2007 (46.6 billion gpy @ 138,000 BTU/gal average for US distillate per EIA) would need 114 to 127 billion kg of natural gas, depending on the liquefaction overhead.  This is 5.4 to 6.0 quads of gas.  The USA produced ~21 trillion cubic feet in 2009; at 1020 BTU/scf, this is 21.4 quads of gas.  Substituting for just 70% of diesel with LNG (no gasoline) would require increasing NG production by at least 25%.  This may be possible, but it will require much higher NG prices (which are coming anyway).

Electrification needs less.  If a dual-mode semi-truck averages 1.5 kWh/mile and traffic is 20% greater than the 2001 figure of 135.4 billion miles, annual electric power requirements would be 244 billion kWh, or about 6% of US demand.  Supplying this from NG using CCGT's at 50% efficiency delivered to the vehicle would require 3.53 billion kg of natural gas, or 1.67 quads.  This is far more efficient, and the electric system can also use electricity from anything else on the grid.  Finally, moving trucks to dual-mode rail eliminates pavement damage and cuts road-repair costs.  The electric rail system is a better target for policy than converting semis to LNG.

Engineer-Poet said at February 21, 2011 5:20 PM:

Nick, I look forward to better batteries, but it's hard for them to beat a system with no batteries at all.

There's also a good possibility for electric trucks to ride on streetcar tracks and charge from the overhead wires.  That turns every mile on an arterial road into a potential charging opportunity, so smaller (cheaper, lighter) batteries would serve for more uses and users.

Bruce said at February 21, 2011 7:26 PM:

EP, you don't need LNG. Didn't you read? "CNG, LNG, or bio-methane"

Engineer-Poet said at February 21, 2011 7:35 PM:

Post compression energy requirements for CNG/bio-methane, and include tank weight as a charge against payload.  Remainder of analysis stands.

Nick G said at February 22, 2011 8:25 AM:


Yes, I'd be really curious to know how the big shippers see rail. I have the same impressions about speed. OTOH, I have the impression that the problem is solvable; the number of players is manageable and the investments are tolerable.


I agree that wiring highways and secondary roads would be nice. OTOH, that problem seems quite difficult to me: the number of players is enormous and the investments are large (even if they have a good $-ROI). EREVs greatly reduce the amount of planning and infrastructure.

Think of it this way: truckers have to stop roughly every 4 hours anyway. That's probably about 200 miles, on an overall average. Well, if EREV trucks have 100 mile electric range, then they capture 50% of the miles. As battery costs fall and energy density rises, that % can rise.

Nick G said at February 22, 2011 8:46 AM:


I'm astonished by that info on LNG energy requirements. Only .25kWh (for a highly efficient, large plant) per 13.83kWh of LNG? Assuming CCGT generation, that's a loss of only 4%!

If a kilo of LNG contains 13.83kWh, that's about the same as jet fuel! Why are worrying so much about the future of aviation??

Engineer-Poet said at February 22, 2011 2:07 PM:

Putting electrified rail down the major highways means you can electrify not just the trucks, but long-distance buses, motorhomes, and anything else big enough to carry the power-handling hardware.  You get automatic guidance free along with it.  A self-pacing truck running on rails doesn't need human intervention; drivers could get out on the rail, crawl in back and get their rest while making money.

Yes, it's a big investment.  On the other hand, it appears to be cheaper than rebuilding damaged pavement after 10 years of weather and pounding by heavy vehicles.  The fuel savings are just icing on that particular cake.

I've suggested liquid methane as a substitute for jet fuel, but you've got obvious issues of availability and storability.  It makes up for that somewhat with lower weight; 13.83 kWh per kg compares favorably to kerosene's 11.86.  Insulation, greater bulk, regenerative engine designs... it's complicated.

Nick G said at February 23, 2011 11:06 AM:

Electrified rail and LNG for aviation are very similar: there are large ecosystems of companies and infrastructure that would have to change.

The interesting question: are industry groups thinking about these things? Or, is this just outside their culture and worldview??

EVs and EREVs were outside the car industries worldview for a very long time, and lately that really seems to have changed. Have we seen anything similar in trucking and aviation??

Engineer-Poet said at February 24, 2011 6:59 AM:

The policy to build the Interstate system upset a large ecosystem of companies and infrastructure.  It gave us a new ecosystem dependent upon cheap liquid fuel.

60-odd years later, that cheap liquid fuel is rapidly becoming a memory.  We can maintain a lot of the advantages of Interstate freeways by using dual-mode vehicles on electrified rail on our existing freeway rights-of-way:  very small granularity of load sizes, just-in-time delivery.  We'd add benefits from reduced pavement damage and pollutant emissions.  I don't see a downside.

Bruce said at February 24, 2011 12:49 PM:

EP, I suspect way too many overpasses would have to be rebuilt for trains.

Even rail electrification and double stacking would be amazingly disruptive as overpasses would have to be rebuilt and re-engineered to allow more room.

The only cost effective method to drop diesel consumption in the next 10 years is NG for long haul trucks. Then ban new fuel oil furnaces in any region that has NG and then incentives to switch to NG for remaining oil furnaces.

Nick G said at February 24, 2011 1:24 PM:


There's chicken and egg problem between the vehicles and the new in-freeway rail. Both electrified rail and LNG for aviation require simultaneous changes of rolling stock and infrastructure.

There was no need to modify trucks for the Interstate, or develop new engineering: it was just an expansion of what we already had. So, the disruption was different: it disrupted a different industry (rail), not the target industry (trucking and passenger cars).

So....have you seen any interest in the trucking industry for in-freeway rail?

Engineer-Poet said at February 25, 2011 12:13 PM:
I suspect way too many overpasses would have to be rebuilt for trains.
I guess Obtuse... er, Bruce, doesn't understand what dual-mode vehicles means.  No higher, no wider, just adding the capability of running on rails (and possibly taking power from them).  No changes to overpasses required.
Engineer-Poet said at February 25, 2011 12:15 PM:

Quoth Nick:

There's chicken and egg problem between the vehicles and the new in-freeway rail. Both electrified rail and LNG for aviation require simultaneous changes of rolling stock and infrastructure.
Semi-true.  A dual-mode vehicle can continue to operate on pavement but will ride rails when they are available.  The reduction in rolling resistance makes rail attractive to drivers even if not electrified; the reduction in maintenance costs makes rail attractive to cash-strapped governments when rebuilding time comes around.  Electrification eliminates diesel consumption, engine noise and emissions, which makes it attractive to just about everyone.
have you seen any interest in the trucking industry for in-freeway rail?
Nobody in a position to do anything about it has gotten behind the idea; the trucking industry isn't known for pushing revolutionary changes.  But if they were suddenly given the option of a system which eliminated many of their structural disadvantages to freight rail and political vulnerabilities on other grounds, I doubt they'd fail to get on board.

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