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Alternative fuels and the human intestine

It’s interesting to see that, on a global scale, just 2% of the gas fuel resources are used for powering the world’s transport industries.  Obviously, oil is the big natural resource that’s being used to power transportation needs, with 47% of annual oil production being tied up with powering the world’s transport industries.  Biofuels on the other hand, while a great idea, are still in the infant stages of being a major player.  So biofuels make up a pretty tiny proportion of the world’s transportation fuel requirements.  What would make using gas and biofuels more attractive, and what is holding them back?  There are researchers who are working hard to overcome the downsides of Biofuels and gas.

Biofuels should be the fuel of the future with crop fuels sounding like they should be a win-win scenario.  Biofuel is mostly made from plant-based materials, and Biodiesel and Ethanol are the two main fuels that vehicles are able to run on.  In a perfect world, we would grow masses of crops for obtaining the material used in biofuel production.  However, the shortage of grain stocks and the surge in food prices has led to a big problem in the viability of sustainable production of biofuels.  Corn and soy are correspondingly used for flour, baked goods, meat, dairy and processed foods containing corn syrup and soy, and most economic analysts agree that the increased biofuel production has contributed to the rise in food prices.  This isn’t the sort of news we need to hear.  Ideally, land needs to be separated and portioned for biofuels over and above the land needed for food production.

To gas we go, and, certainly, you can’t argue with the very low CO2 emissions that come from burning gas as a transport fuel.  Researchers are finding ways for making gas a better option to use as a transport fuel – as there has been one or two issues with gas powered vehicles.  A more positive finding shows researchers are looking at a gas fuel tank based on the serpentine tubes of the human gut.  Now that’s cool.

Emissions from natural gas engines are 10% lower than those of an equivalent petrol engine.  However, there is a practical difficulty for gas because the combustion-ready density of methane is lower than for petrol, and about 30% more fuel is needed to cover the same range as a petrol equivalent vehicle.  To cope with a higher volume of gas fuel, the reality is that the high-pressure fuel tanks need to be fatter and heavier, which not only takes up a lot of space but it correspondingly dents what could be a better fuel efficiency.  It also increases the price of producing the car.

To save space, “Otherlab of San Francisco”, with funding from the US government’s energy research arm, ARPA-E, has found that the human body maximises storage capacity by folding the intestines back and forth.  They’ve endeavoured to design a gas fuel tank mirroring the serpentine intestine, so in place of the big, bulky, single large, high-pressure tank, multiple banks of thin, pressurised metal tubes are bent and distributed throughout the car.  So a close up of the new gas fuel tank would reveal it folding back and forth, hugging the inside of the wheel arches, roof supports and front wings. They are also looking at designing a gas fuel tank with a flexible honeycomb-like assembly that is able to conform to any shape within the car.  This technology, they reckon, could make cars running on natural gas a whole lot more attractive to motorists.  I’m not so sure, though, if I would want a potentially explosive gas fuel tank any closer to my body than necessary!

One comment

  1. John Aquilina says:

    The Australian Government needs to drop all its ancillary taxes (not GST) on CNG & LPG for Motorists & Transport operators for 20 years. This would provide instant market demand for companies to research and develop better Gas storage & Gas systems for engines.

    Distribution wouldn’t be an issue once car numbers approached 20% of the national fleet used gas – bowsers would be everywhere – no additional funding by Government.

    The LPG conversions subsidy scheme was a joke. LPG fitters upped their prices as did kit suppliers. Commercial operators who couldn’t claim the subsidy suddenly saw the cost of a typical conversion rise from $2800 to over $4000.

    Forget Biofuel – why put food grade crops under even more upward price pressure by limiting land to farm food we eat. Its MUCH easier to grow Fuel grade corn & grain, can be genetically modified without the ferals causing a fuss, and Farmers don’t get those pesky Woolworths buyers dumping a whole crop of Corn because of one brown kernel. We keep supporting Biofuel – then be prepared for $10.00 loaves of bread before long.

    Its Simple – Just use what we have shitloads of – CNG & LPG!!

    March 26th, 2013 at 9:00 pm