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Title: Corn Ethanol: The Surprisingly Effective Route for Natural Gas Consumption in the Transportation Sector

Proven reserves and production of natural gas (NG) in the United States have increased dramatically in the last decade, due largely to the commercialization of hydraulic fracturing. This has led to a plentiful supply of NG, resulting in a significantly lower cost on a gallon of gasoline-equivalent (GGE) basis. Additionally, NG is a domestic, non-petroleum source of energy that is less carbon-intensive than coal or petroleum products, and thus can lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Because of these factors, there is a desire to increase the use of NG in the transportation sector in the United States (U.S.). However, using NG directly in the transportation sector requires that several non-trivial challenges be overcome. One of these issues is the fueling infrastructure. There are currently only 1,375 NG fueling stations in the U.S. compared to 152,995 fueling stations for gasoline in 2014. Additionally, there are very few light-duty vehicles that can consume this fuel directly as dedicated or bi-fuel options. For example, in model year 2013Honda was the only OEM to offer a dedicated CNG sedan while a number of others offered CNG options as a preparation package for LD trucks and vans. In total, there were a total ofmore » 11 vehicle models in 2013 that could be purchased that could use natural gas directly. There are additional potential issues associated with NG vehicles as well. Compared to commercial refueling stations, the at-home refueling time for NG vehicles is substantial – a result of the small compressors used for home refilling. Additionally, the methane emissions from both refueling (leakage) and from tailpipe emissions (slip) from these vehicles can add to their GHG footprint, and while these emissions are not currently regulated it could be a barrier in the future, especially in scenarios with broad scale adoption of CNG vehicles. However, NG consumption already plays a large role in other sectors of the economy, including some that are important to the transportation sector. Examples include steam reforming of natural gas to provide hydrogen for hydrotreating unit operations within the refinery and production of urea for use as a reductant for diesel after treatment in selective catalytic reduction (SCR). This discussion focuses on the consumption of natural gas in the production pathway of conventional ethanol (non-cellulosic) from corn through fermentation. Though it is clear that NG would also play a significant role in the cellulosic production pathways, those cases are not considered in this analysis.« less
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  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
VT0604000; CEVT008
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center; National Transportation Research Center (NTRC)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
Country of Publication:
United States
ethanol; corn; natural gas