The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Shifting Into Drive, Powering Past Impossible

Mary Leshper

Mary Schaper
Posted February 2, 2018

Every day natural gas and oil help Americans power past impossible. This year Energy Tomorrow is looking at ways natural gas and oil do this – through the energy they provide and also by making possible so many products we rely on. Today, a dive into building a better future through auto industry innovations coming to us from natural gas and oil.

We’ve written before about how natural gas and oil, and the products derived from them, help make today’s automobiles more modern, efficient and safe, from the vehicles racing on the NASCAR circuit and Indy to the family car. This week at the Washington Auto Show we got an up-close look at a broad range of cars, including a fair number of futuristic concept cars and technologies. The show runs through this Sunday at the D.C. Convention Center.

Among the vehicles are some of the fastest and greenest, as well as cutting-edge, self-driving and alternative-fuel vehicles. And while internal combustion engines still power the largest share of vehicles on display, a growing number of fuel alternatives are being driven by innovations from natural gas and oil.

A hybrid combustion-electric vehicle won the 2018 Green Car award for luxury vehicles. The Karma Revero (below) features an internal combustion generator that powers the battery-driven electric drive train. The car can go 50 miles on the initial battery charge before the combustion engine generator kicks in and its 12-gallon fuel tank powers the batteries for another 250 miles, giving the Revero a total range of 300 miles on a single tank of gasoline.

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Car manufacturers continue exploring ways to reduce vehicle emissions. Combining combustion engines with batteries and electric motors has produced one of this year’s greenest cars.

Even in the greenest vehicles, natural gas and oil help the auto industry power past impossible and improve air quality. Lightweight, synthetic materials like carbon fiber and plastics reduce overall vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency. New fuels from natural gas and oil are also showing up in cars and trucks.

Take Toyota’s Mirai – a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) – has an electric motor that gets its power from a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen. Most probably don’t know that this hydrogen fuel is most commonly made from natural gas. Through a process called reforming, the hydrogen and carbon molecules in natural gas are separated and hydrogen is obtained. In a fuel cell vehicle, that hydrogen is mixed with oxygen and is a catalyst to create a reaction that generates electricity for the motor. FCVs can get up to 70 MPGe. The byproduct of hydrogen fuel cells is H2O – water to you and me!

Even the fuel tanks in the Mirai come from oil and gas extracts (below). The vehicle has two storage tanks for fuel, both tanks are made from layers of plastic, carbon fiber, and glass fiber-reinforced plastic to create an incredibly protective receptacle for the hydrogen fuel. Plastics are derived primarily from natural gas and oil. The resins used to create carbon fiber also come from petrochemicals.

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Energy companies are investing in these fuels and the infrastructure to distribute them. As hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become more common, hydrogen fuel pumps like the one shown below will begin popping up to keep the vehicles moving.

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Although lots of people think electric vehicles are free of petroleum and gasoline, that’s false. All electric vehicles exist and operate thanks to natural gas and oil.  Synthetic materials made from petroleum keep them light but also strong, and the electricity that charges their batteries most likely is generated using natural gas as the primary fuel. In the U.S., natural gas is the leading fuel for electricity generation (about 32 percent in 2017) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects it will remain the leader in the months ahead.

In these, and many other ways, natural gas and oil are powering innovative new vehicles, and helping improve environmental progress – powering us past the impossible on America’s roads and highways.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Schaper is a Digital Communications Manager for the American Petroleum Institute. She previously worked on Capitol Hill for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Digital Director and for Senator Lisa Murkowski. Before coming to D.C., she spearheaded digital strategy for Murkowski's successful Senate write-in campaign in 2010. Schaper enjoys traveling and taking in the local culture alongside her husband, their son and loyal springer spaniel.