Energy for economic growth
August 16, 2011
By JJ PIRKO , Tribune Chronicle | TribToday.com
How about some job-creating sustainable energy projects to revitalize our region and reduce our dependence on foreign oil? After four decades of economic disaster and decline, triggered by the rising cost of energy since the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, we are emerging as a hotbed for developing new sustainable energy industries.
Here on the "Tech-Belt" Ohio-Pennsylvania border, we are turning "garbage gas" and "sewage sludge" into electricity. We are building wind, solar and geothermal energy projects, and training our people to work with this technology. Energy for transportation fuels and public utilities can be produced locally to bring down prices by increasing the supply. An algae biofuel plant is planned where a steel mill once stood. In Columbiana County, Baard is still attempting to convert coal into aircraft and diesel fuel. Another company is preparing to de-polymerize recycled plastic into oil, and the list keeps building.
For almost three years, I have been promoting our region's achievements and potential through the Pickens Plan organization, a network of entrepreneurs, inventors and activists. When I met with T. Boone Pickens in September, he was aware of the sustainable energy progress in our region, including the V&M Star steel mill designed to produce the drilling pipe needed in the Marcellus/Utica shale gas fields.
We already have the technology to convert trucks, buses and cars to run on methane (natural gas) that is a proven, practical alternative for petroleum-based motor vehicle fuels. The trucks serving the Port of Los Angeles and many major metropolitan bus fleets have converted to natural gas, because it reduces air pollution in smog-filled cities.
One of my Pickens Plan associates is quoted: "Using U.S. DoE data (Edition 28 - Transport Energy Book), the energy content of natural gas is 960 BTU/CF LHV while the energy content of diesel is 128,700 BTU/gallon LHV. Therefore one MCF of natural gas works out to 7.46 gallons of diesel." At $4 per gallon for diesel, that would cost almost $30, compared to 1 MCF of natural gas costing about $4 wholesale. The savings are about $174 every time we do not have to fill a 50-gallon tank with diesel fuel. The capital cost of converting vehicles to natural gas would soon be repaid with fuel-cost savings and reduced engine maintenance costs from this cleaner-burning fuel.
Production and distribution capacity must be built in lock-step with the growth of demand for natural gas vehicle fuel. Start with "closed-loop" transportation systems, like buses and local delivery trucks, which drive their routes and return to a central maintenance and refueling station. The NAT GAS Act (HR 1830) would create tax incentives for businesses to convert their vehicles to natural gas. This bill has been co-sponsored by Tim Ryan, D-Niles, Steve LaTourette, R-Bainbridge, and Jason Altmire, D-4th, but has not made its way onto the floor of Congress. Post office trucks, school buses, mass transit, and city / county / township truck fleets are another good place to start, saving taxpayers from the rising cost of imported oil.
Natural gas is also produced from sewage treatment sludge, agricultural waste and landfills naturally fermenting garbage. The Carbon Limestone Landfill produces enough electricity (13-14 megawatts) from "garbage gas" to power a small city. Struthers has a biodigester designed to power a pair of 375-kilowatt electrical generators.
Sewage treatment plants, old landfills and industrial brownfields are also ideal sites for shale gas horizontal drilling sites, drawing gas from more than a mile from the wellhead. These tend to be secure locations that are already environmentally damaged, and are usually distant from homes, schools, shopping centers and other populated areas. These facilities can serve as community gas and electric suppliers, reducing utility costs and providing non-tax revenue to support municipal governments. Utility costs, especially electricity, are a major factor when attracting companies.
Energy runs our economy, and we are developing it here.
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