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From Austin to Boston – using natural gas

Castlen Kennedy is planning a road trip to Boston. A graduate student at UT, Castlen will take advantage of the summer break in classes to travel from Austin to Boston with one of her best friends (her terrier, Ralphie will be staying at home). Together they will travel over 2,000 miles in a Chevy Tahoe fueled by natural gas.

As Texans, we know a lot about natural gas. We use it in our homes to cook and heat water, natural gas power plants supply almost half of our state-wide electricity demand, and the North Texas Barnett Shale is the second largest producing on-shore natural gas field in the United States.

T. Boone Pickens recently drew attention to the potential for natural gas as a transportation fuel with his Pickens Plan. He travelled around the country (including a stop on UT Austin’s campus) to promote natural gas as a bridge fuel. T. Boone said that natural gas will enable us to transition from our current dependence on foreign oil as we build a sustainable renewable energy economy – a short-term step in a long-term plan.

Castlen’s road trip will demonstrate how natural gas could serve as a transportation fuel in the United States. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) will fuel Castlen’s retrofitted Tahoe on its trip up the eastern seaboard. This “cleaner, cheaper and domestic” fuel will be pumped into her tank at limited filling stations along her path, giving her a range of about 200 miles per tank (much less than a conventional gasoline tank).

Castlen has designed her trip to make sure that she will be able to make it Quincy Market without calling for a tow truck. The limited number of natural gas filling stations between Austin and Boston has forced Castlen to add a few hundred miles to her journey than if she’d been driving a conventional vehicle.

I was curious if this increase in miles traveled would cost her more money. A quick calculation with rough numbers:

Natural Gas Tahoe: (1 tank per 200 miles) * (8 gge per tank) * ($2.59 per gge) * (2,100 miles traveled) = $218

Gasoline Tahoe: (1 gallon per 21 miles) * ($2.75 per gallon) * (1,900 miles) = $249

Looks like Castlen may actually save money on fuel over the entire trip.

Castlen will document the economic costs and environmental impacts of her trip, comparing them with conventional fuels. I am excited to see what she finds.

To follow Castlen on her journey, check out her blog The Green American Road Trip

Categories: Transportation
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