You know, I was discussing things recently on the topic of global warming -- and it came to me. We track carbon dioxide emissions and focus on industrial carbon dioxide, but what about methane? How many million tons of methane are released each year?This article from the EPA
has some interesting facts about US methane release. In particular, atmospheric methane (CH4) breaks down faster than CO2, but is 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas. (I attribute some of this this to the fact that methane breakdown partly involves de-oxygenating ozone, leaving water and CO2.)
I think if we had a national or worldwide movement to use and produce methane-powered vehicles (most forklifts are run off natural gas, for example), we as a planet could improve this situation greatly -- there'd be less CH4 and more CO2, but it would cut the greenhouse problem by and enormous amount. Plus, there'd be incentive to capture methane emissions, reducing their release to the atmosphere.
Now look into steam-powered engines, and you can have methane-burning cars that run low-pressure combustion (less CO2 release) and get excellent fuel mileage. I watched a show on the Science channel recently that showed a steam engine -- a rotary piston engine like you have on airplanes, but run on steam -- used to run electric generators and various other small engines. And since the internal fluid is water, which can be used to lubricate the system, you don't even have to add oil! Just be sure to maintain your engine regularly.
The oil industry produces a lot of methane, much of which is simply vented or burned off (producing a lot more CO2). If we increased methane usage, we would have incentive to capture more methane for sale to the public, reducing that problem.
I think a goal of 1-5% of vehicles sold being methane burners would be reasonable and achievable within ten years, don't you? Maybe we could revive the US auto industry on that basis, and put steam factories back in Detroit and Chicago. ;)
Not to mention, most electric power is generated via steam turbines. Methane as a fuel for these places would reduce toxic emissions quite a lot, I'd say, since oil and coal have a lot of sulfur, mercury, radioactive substances, and other toxic materials in them.
But then we'd have to start manufacturing methane...Edited at 2014-04-10 01:15 am (UTC)