Potential of liquefied natural gas use as a railroad fuel

Source: www.eia.gov

>” […]  Continued growth in domestic natural gas production, along with substantially lower natural gas spot prices compared to crude oil, is reshaping the U.S. energy economy and attracting considerable interest in the potential for fueling freight locomotives with liquefied natural gas (LNG). While there is significant appeal for major U.S. railroads to use LNG as a fuel for locomotives because of its potentially favorable economics compared with diesel fuel, there are also key uncertainties as to whether, and to what extent, the railroads can take advantage of this relatively cheap and abundant fuel.

Freight railroads and the basic economics of fuel choice  Major U.S. railroads, known commonly as Class 1 railroads, are defined as line-haul freight railroads with certain minimum annual operating revenue. Currently, that classification is based on 2011 operating revenue of $433.2 million or more [1]. While there are 561 freight railroads operating in the United States, only seven are defined as Class 1 railroads. The Class 1 railroads account for 94% of total freight rail revenue [2]. They haul large amounts of tonnage over long distances, and in the process they consume significant quantities of diesel fuel. In 2012, the seven Class 1 railroads consumed more than 3.6 billion gallons (gal) of diesel fuel [3], amounting to 10 million gal/day and representing 7% of all diesel fuel consumed in the United States. […]

The large differential between crude oil and natural gas commodity prices translates directly into a significant disparity between projected LNG and diesel fuel prices, even after accounting for natural gas liquefaction costs that exceed refining costs. […]

Given the difference between LNG and diesel fuel prices in the Reference case, railroads that switch locomotive fuels could accrue significant fuel cost savings. Locomotives are used intensively, consume large amounts of fuel, and are kept in service for relatively long periods of time. The net present value of future fuel savings across the Reference case projection for an LNG locomotive compared to a diesel counterpart is well above the roughly $1 million higher cost of the LNG locomotive and tender (Figure IF3-3).  […]

Relatively large changes in assumptions used to evaluate investments in LNG locomotives (such as a significantly shorter payback period or much higher discount rate) or in fuel prices would be required to change LNG fuel economics for railroad use from favorable to unfavorable. […] “<

 

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