Friday, November 4, 2011

Availability and Use of Alternative Fuels at U.S.

Since the petroleum "shocks" of the 1970s, the inflation-adjusted price of crude oil has generally declined until the spring of 2000 when prices increased due to renewed resolve by OPEC and some non-OPEC members to control crude oil supply to raise prices. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s several events combined to keep oil prices low: the end of the Cold War; a diminution in the market power of OPEC due to an increase in petroleum production from non-OPEC nations; and the cementing of U.S. security ties to the most important oil-exporting nations. Unfortunately, these developments have engendered a complacency on the part of the American public not unlike that which preceded previous oil shocks. The growing dependence of the U.S. on imported petroleum offsets the positive developments that have occurred in the global petroleum market over the past 20 years, i.e., the potential impact of a petroleum shock on the U.S. is growing regardless of its origin or whether it is politically motivated. Historically, periods of low prices have been followed by steep price spikes, of which we have just recently been reminded.

Based on information collected by the EIA in 2010, world crude oil reserves amount to about 1,380 billion barrels, and world natural gas reserves amount to about 187,1 trillion cubic meter. Of this total, the Middle East controls about 54 percent of the world's oil reserves and about 40 percent of the world's natural gas reserves (the former U.S.S.R. controls another 45 percent of the world's natural gas reserves). North American reserves of oil amount to just 5,5 percent of world reserves, and North American reserves of natural gas amount to just 5 of world reserves. Today, the Persian Gulf region holds about two-thirds of the entire world's known oil reserves. The U.S. imports more than 53 percent of its petroleum-much of it coming from the Persian Gulf region. EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2010 estimates that this oil importation will increase to 62 percent by the year 2020.

The world's oil resources are as concentrated as ever in the OPEC nations, notably in the Persian Gulf. EIA projects that by 2020, OPEC's market share is likely to reach the levels of the 1970s, as its share of world supply grows from 41 percent in 1992 to 52 percent in 2000 to over 65 percent in 2020. In addition to concern about concentration of oil resources, new concerns have recently been raised that the peak in oil production could occur within ten years. Economic growth in the Pacific rim is giving rise to a growth in world oil demand that could well lead to a short-supply situation within the next five to ten years. Recent analysis by EIA indicates that the world oil production peak may not occur for another 20 to 50 years. Regardless of when the peak is reached, crude oil prices are likely to increase significantly in advance of peak production.

The costs to the U.S. economy from a future oil price shock could be enormous. Based on analyses of previous oil shocks, recent studies have estimated the macroeconomic impacts as reducing U.S. economic activity by an average of over 2 percent per year for three to four years or more, which translates into gross national product (GNP) reductions in the range of six hundred billion dollars over three years, up to possibly $3 trillion over fifteen years if the lost economic growth were not subsequently made up.

Unfortunately, unlike other energy using sectors, which have introduced substitute fuels and fuel switching flexibility since the oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s, the transportation sector remains overwhelmingly dependent on petroleum-based fuels (approximately 95 percent of transportation energy coming from petroleum) and on technologies that provide virtually no flexibility. The transportation sector currently accounts for approximately two-thirds of all U.S. petroleum use and roughly one-fourth of total U.S. energy consumption. Highway transportation petroleum consumption has risen from 121 billion gallons per year in 1979, when CAFE was enacted, to 155 billion gallons per year in 1999 (28 percent over 20 years). EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2000 projects U.S. dependence on imported petroleum will grow to 54 percent in 2000 and 60 percent in 2005.

In light of this dependence of the transportation sector on petroleum (and recent sharp increases in the price of gasoline), it is clear that substitution of petroleum-based transportation fuels (gasoline and diesel) by non-petroleum-based fuels ("replacement fuels," including alternative fuels such as electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, liquefied petroleum gas, methanol, and natural gas) could be a key means of reducing the vulnerability of the U.S. transportation sector to disruptions of petroleum supply and have significant benefits to the U. S. economy. Even moderate uses of alternative and replacement fuels in place of petroleum can bestow significant economic benefits by reducing the global demand and price for oil. Displacing petroleum with alternative and replacement transportation fuels helps hold down petroleum prices in two ways. First, reducing the demand for petroleum decreases the world price for oil. Although the actual impact will depend on precisely how OPEC responds, a reasonable rule of thumb is that a 1 percent decrease in U.S. petroleum demand will reduce world oil price by about 0.5 percent, in the long-run. Short-run (one year or less) impacts would be even greater, due to the short-run inelasticity of oil supply and demand.

A second benefit of increased alternative and replacement fuel use is its potential to reduce the impact of a supply shortage on prices. As evidenced in the industrial and utility sectors, the existence of alternatives to oil provides potential substitutes for oil in the event of a production cutback. Since it is precisely the non-responsiveness of transportation oil demand to oil production cutbacks that makes oil price shocks possible, increasing competition for oil by using alternative fuels reduces the ability of oil suppliers to constrain supply in order to increase the price of oil.

Availability of Alternative Fuels

The National Energy Policy Development Group, in its May 17, 2001, report on the National Energy Policy states that, "The lack of infrastructure for alternative fuels is a major obstacle to consumer acceptance of alternative fuels and the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles." The report further states that lack of infrastructure, "is also one of the main reasons why most alternative fuel vehicles actually operate on petroleum fuels, such as gasoline and diesel." The report's discussion of alternative fuel vehicles includes the statement that, "ethanol vehicles offer tremendous potential if ethanol production can be expanded." Additionally, the report states that, "a considerable enlargement of ethanol production and distribution capacity would be required to expand beyond their current base in the Midwest in order to increase use of ethanol-blended fuels."

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that there are 5,236 alternative fuel refueling sites as of May 2001, with alternative fuel refueling sites in all 50 states. In comparison, there were 4,676 alternative fuel refueling sites in the U.S. in 1995. Unfortunately, while ethanol is the alternative fuel that most of the dual-fuel vehicles that have been produced can operate on, less than three percent of the alternative fuel refueling sites offer ethanol.

The Federal government, and specifically DOE, the General Services Administration and the Department of Agriculture are involved with efforts to promote the use and expansion of alternative fuels and the alternative fuel infrastructure. A major focus of these efforts is the development of different feedstocks for ethanol and on partnerships that result in the expansion of the ethanol fueling infrastructure.

DOE runs the Clean Cities Program, which unites public-private partnerships that deploy AFVs and build supporting infrastructure, with the common goal of building the alternative fuels market. Within these partnerships reside fuel suppliers, which are continually committing to providing facilities, fuels and services.

DOE also operates the Office of Fuels Development (OFD), whose primary focus is on working to reduce the cost of replacing imported oil with ethanol made from domestic resources such as corn fiber, bagasse and rice straw. OFD programs look to the longer term, with efforts investigating more advanced ethanol conversion technologies utilizing plants, trees and other feedstocks grown specifically for energy purposes. OFD also includes a vital outreach and educational effort under its purview - the Regional Biomass Energy Program (RBEP). The specific goal of the RBEP is to increase the production and use of bioenergy resources, and help to advance the use of biomass feedstocks and technologies.

DOE and the General Services Administration (GSA) are jointly managing a program called the Federal AFV USER Program, whose goal is to support the expansion of an alternative fuel infrastructure by concentrating large quantities of Federal AFVs and substantially increasing the use of alternative fuels in Federal AFVs in six selected areas: Albuquerque, NM; Denver, CO; Melbourne/Titusville/Kennedy Space Center, FL; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Salt Lake City, UT; and the San Francisco Bay area.

In August 2001, the USDA announced that its agencies will use ethanol fuels in their fleet vehicles where practicable and reasonable in cost. USDA's more than 700 E-85 flex-fuel vehicles will use ethanol fuel where those vehicles operate in geographical areas that offer E-85 fueling stations, and USDA agencies will purchase or lease alternative fuel vehicles, including E-85 flex-fuel vehicles, for geographic areas that offer alternative fueling.

Presented below is information on the number of sites providing each alternative fuel and some additional information on where these sites are located.

Latest figures are dated at 10.25.2011 from U.S. Department of Energy.

Ethanol: There are 2454 ethanol (E85) refueling sites(10.25.2011) in the U.S., up from 37 in 1995. Ethanol refueling sites can be found predominantly in the Midwest, close to the major supplies of ethanol. Efforts by DOE are underway in Minnesota to help construct a number of ethanol refueling sites. As seen with the CNG, fuel suppliers can rise to meet the demand by developing the necessary infrastructure. Although the trend in alternative fuels is in the direction of E85 use, the infrastructure has been slow to develop because these vehicles could use conventional fuel. However, it is important to note that even if relatively few of these vehicles are actually being operated on E85, it is still valuable to be increasing that capability throughout the fleet because it could potentially contribute to the future transition away from petroleum, could spur an increase in the number of E85 refueling sites, and provide consumers an alternative if there are gas shortages or gas prices increase significantly.

Further, studies have shown that refueling stations need at least 200 steady customers for any single grade in order to make profitable use of the facilities. Though large numbers of flexible-fuel vehicles are being sold, they are spread out over the entire nation, and achieving a "critical mass" of 200 that use a single refueling station is still difficult to achieve. The small number of outlets available today points out the need to intensify the E85 refueling infrastructure. In addition, it is safe to say that many people who have purchased flexible-fuel vehicles do not know they could use E85. More public education in areas where E85 refueling stations exist is needed to inform people so that they are aware they can use E85.

Methanol: There are only two methanol (M85) refueling sites in the U.S., significantly down from 88 in 1995. Both of these sites can be found in California. The total number of methanol (M85) refueling sites has been dropping in the past few years, due to the lack of M85-capable flexible-fuel vehicles.

Natural Gas: There are currently 910 CNG refueling sites and 43 LNG refueling sites in the U.S., down from 1,065 CNG refueling sites in 1995. Natural gas refueling stations are usually located in urban areas near the major concentrations of natural gas vehicles, and are frequently constructed on a company's site to serve its fleet vehicles.

Electricity: There are 4012 electric recharging sites in the U.S., up from 188 in 1995. The vast majority of electric recharging sites can be found in the Southwest (California and Arizona), where the majority of electric vehicles are being sold. There is also a large concentration of electric recharging sites in Alabama and Georgia, where electric utilities have been proponents of electric vehicles. The availability of public refueling is not as important for electric vehicles as it is for other alternative fuels, since most (if not all) operators of electric vehicles will have a charger located at the vehicle's storage yard or garage to recharge the vehicle when it is not being used.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG): There are currently 2556 propane sites in the U.S.. LPG is sold throughout the U.S. as a home heating fuel, and many stations offering refueling of propane tanks also offer vehicle refueling.

Biodiesel: There are currently 610 biodiesel refueling sites in the U.S. The National Biodiesel Board counts seven major suppliers of biodiesel as members, located mostly in the Midwest. Biodiesel can be pumped through conventional diesel refueling equipment, so widespread availability of biodiesel would not pose a major obstacle with respect to infrastructure.

As of May 2001, there were 2454 public E85 refueling outlets in operation. 

Above you will find a listing of Alternative Fuel Station counts by state and fuel type, CNG-Compressed Natural Gas, E85-85% Ethanol, LPG-Propane, ELEC-Electric, B20-Biodiesel, HY-Hydrogen and LNG-Liquefied Natural Gas.

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