The wonderful world of methane 2

So, what will the new breed of methanopreneurs be hatching under their wings? Short answer – I don’t know. Yes folks, even I don’t know the future. Not even one second into the future.

But even if we cannot predict the force and direction of the wind, we can still become better sailsetters. 

And we sure may speculate a fair bit on where things will turn to in the future. It’s New Year’s Day so when is there a better time for speculation about what’s going to come than today?

I hope none of you fell asleep because of the lame introduction. I just could not resist it. 


The big obvious one is mobility so let’s enter the race with that.

2020 and beyond is going to see LNG as a marine fuel go mainstream. It is THE obvious fueling solution for any newly built ship. 10 years ago, adopting LNG as fuel for a newly built vessel was seen as taking a chance. It has worsened the risk assessment of the investment. 

Today, not going for LNG as fuel for a newly built vessel is seen as an unacceptable risk. 

Price plays a role as Marine Gas Oil is dearer than LNG. In time, only the use of LNG and MGO will comply with air emissions rules enforced by most countries. 

Don’t count on hydrogen and electric ships. They are expensive pipedreams. In other words, they are child disease-riddled lab rats. And they have been hyped up to be the new wonder drug.

But now, the long-dreaded air emissions regulations are in force. It’s the real world now instead of wishful thinking or what could be. And in reality, things need to work for real. Reality has no patience with fluffy ideas and temper tantrums. 

2020 will also see massive new investment in LNG as a trucking fuel. Hauling companies have started to understand that limitations on the use of diesel can be circumnavigated with LNG. Plus, companies have come to understand that this is no lab rat. It is a cost-effective solution ready for action right now. Just look at what happened over the last 18 months in Europe alone. 

Once there are more and more LNG fueling stations, other operators will come to try some new things. And it won’t only be trucking. Coach companies and maybe even construction companies. Filtering technology for diesel puts quite a financial burden on them. And the diesel scandal has more or less killed warm and fuzzy feelings for this fuel. LNG gives them a realistic alternative to play with.

The threat of no-diesel zones and ever-tightening emissions regulations start to hurt. Transport companies carry most of the burden. I spoke with a transport company executive months ago on why they consider LNG as a fuel for their trucks. He told me it was not so much for the money. It was rather for the territorial limitations the use of diesel is now placing upon them. Some areas have become hard to access with diesel. And he expects things to get even worse. So, something had to be done.

Let’s face it: anything that can be done with diesel can be done with LNG just as well. Cleaner and soon even cheaper. The still existing price markup for new LNG vehicles will erode. During the 2020ies it will reverse. 

Ever-mounting filtering obligations on diesel will make this part of the technology onerous. Hardly any solution other than going for LNG will remain on the table for those living in the real world.

2020 is also scheduled to see the launch of the first Starship – at least on a trial basis. What’s most exciting is that it uses LNG as a fuel for its Raptor engines. 

Blue Origins New Glenn also aims to use Methane-fueled engines so this seems to be the chosen path of the future. This will take methane to space and in time, make it the preferred fuel for launching anything there. The stated reason for choosing this fuel is that it can be synthesized from CO2 and water in other heavenly bodies. Nobody wants to deal with fickle and dangerous hydrogen on a Mars base it seems.

The only domain not yet planning for a lot more LNG use as a fuel is aviation but even that might change. Boeing’s Sugar Freeze project has not made a lot of news lately. That said, after its airliner disaster and increasing flight shaming, the company might reconsider. It might discover LNG as a clean fuel solution for aviation to reverse fortunes. Just speculating of course but that’s what we did all day – didn’t we?

There is no place in mobility that could not be efficiently and competitively run by methane – be it LNG or CNG. Being cheaper and cleaner than diesel but just as reliable and technologically mature means that it will slowly mop up the market. OPEC, it’s you I am talking to. This is the biggest threat you have to face yet and you have faced quite something those last years.

Let’s come to power production.

The current drive towards wind and solar puts all developed economy grids towards the limits of their capabilities. Some of them are already beyond what’s reasonable. They start to feel the effects of too much flicker power in the grid.

Coal is being taken down at a rapid clip. Nuclear still has a bad reputation. Vital backup of rotating masses preventing the grid from collapsing takes quite a punishment. 

When people have suffered through their first cold and dark winter, their minds will change and they will want solutions. Solutions that work and that are quick.

But it takes time to build a new nuclear plant or a coal block.  Especially with all the surplus regulations, we have in place today.  And when one is in dire straits., time is the one thing you don’t have. 

The fastest solution is gas turbines. Many of them. This will also transform electricity production from big centralized towards something that looks way more distributed. This will also take quite a burden off the grid as it’s easier to store gas than power. Even LNG tanks are cheaper to build and run than batteries. And they provide untold other benefits such as cold energy than can be used.

We must be realistic – in the long run, we will need new baseload power to do the heavy lifting. Gas can do that too but nuclear provides much better energy density. That won’t happen for some time though. And once it does, we will need all the methane we have for mobility anyhow.

Remains, heat generation.

This is hard to do with wind and solar. Sure you can produce heat with electricity but the wastage is enormous. Turns out that a good old flame still holds the keys to this process.

So the same thing that holds true for electricity generation also is true for process heat. We are stuck in a rut. Alarmist script dictates that we eliminate all things fossil. But that very thing gets rid of the working bits of our energy system. And those are not easily replaced.

Except of course by Natural Gas. It sets in motion a nice Perpetuum Mobile. And that will be hard to break.

But worry not – Natural Gas is the one thing that will save the day.

But aren’t we wasting the planet by burning all that non-renewable methane? Turns out we might be wrong about renewables altogether.

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