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Comparison of Life Cycle Greenhouse Gases from Natural Gas Pathways for Light-Duty Vehicles

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journal contribution
posted on 17.12.2015, 09:39 by Fan Tong, Paulina Jaramillo, Inês M. L. Azevedo
Low prices and abundant resources open new opportunities for using natural gas, one of which is the production of transportation fuels. In this study, we use a Monte Carlo analysis combined with a life cycle analysis framework to assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) implications of a transition to natural gas-powered vehicles. We consider six different natural gas fuel pathways in two representative light-duty vehicles: a passenger vehicle and a sport utility vehicle. We find that a battery electric vehicle (BEV) powered with natural gas-based electricity achieves around 40% life cycle emissions reductions when compared to conventional gasoline. Gaseous hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles have comparable life cycle emissions with conventional gasoline, offering limited reductions with 100-year global warming potential (GWP) yet leading to increases with 20-year GWP. Other liquid fuel pathways (methanol, ethanol, and Fischer–Tropsch liquids) have larger GHG emissions than conventional gasoline even when carbon capture and storage technologies are available. Life cycle GHG emissions of natural gas pathways are sensitive to the vehicle fuel efficiency, to the methane leakage rates of natural gas systems, and to the GWP assumed. With the current vehicle technologies, the break-even methane leakage rates of CNG, gaseous hydrogen FCEV, and BEV are 0.9%/2.3%, 1.2%/2.8%, and 4.5%/10.8% (20-year GWP/100-year GWP). If the actual methane leakage rate is lower than the break-even rate of a specific natural gas pathway, that natural gas pathway reduces GHG emissions compared to conventional gasoline; otherwise, it leads to an increase in emissions.

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