FUELSPACE

FuelSpace is a blog focusing on the emerging commercial space economy, space exploration, energy production, technology and innovation. We also cover the skills that enable great achievements in these areas including sales and persuasion, productivity, self-discipline, and leadership.

Infographic: How Often is Earth Struck by Asteroids?

Do you think asteroid impacts here on Earth are a rare occasion?  Think again. Check out this newly released infographic from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near-Earth Object Program Office. More details can be found here

Earth is being machine gunned by asteroid impacts all the time. Bolide Event Map from NASA/JPL Nearth-Earth Object Program Office. 

Earth is being machine gunned by asteroid impacts all the time. Bolide Event Map from NASA/JPL Nearth-Earth Object Program Office. 

European Space Agency Makes History: Lands Spacecraft on Comet

In an incredible feat involving decades of engineering, the European Space Agency (ESA) made history today by landing a spacecraft on a comet for the first time. The Rosetta space probe left Earth on an Ariane 5 rocket on March 2, 2004 and spent the next decade sling shotting around the solar system picking up speed using the gravity of planets and asteroids.

The European Space Agency Rosetta Spacecraft.  Image Credit: European Space Agency and Wikimedia Commons

The European Space Agency Rosetta Spacecraft.  Image Credit: European Space Agency and Wikimedia Commons

After a 31-month hybernation, Rosetta was awakened by her controllers on Earth to begin her primary mission: rendezvous with a comet. On August 6, 2014 Rosetta finally arrived at her destination...

The Rosetta spacecraft snapped this space selfie upon arrival last August. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Rosetta spacecraft snapped this space selfie upon arrival last August. Image Credit: European Space Agency

Rosetta's destination is known as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. An enormous ball of rock and ice hurtling through space at more than 83,000 miles per hour (135,000 km per hour). How big is this sucker? In space, size is relative and can be difficult to judge. So here is a picture of the comet sitting on Los Angeles to give you a sense of scale

Rosetta's destination: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image Credit: European Space Agency 

Rosetta's destination: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image Credit: European Space Agency 

Image Credit:   Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles

Image Credit: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles

Upon arrival, Rosetta began orbiting the comet and collecting data to aid in the most difficult part of the mission -- landing its scientific payload on the surface of the comet. The lander, named Philae, is designed to study the comet's nucleus, composition, and activity level. After sifting through five possible landing sites, the ESA gave the all clear to proceed with separation of Rosetta and Philae. On November 12, 2014 the Philae descended to the comet and attempted to fire a harpoon system to attach to the surface. The harpoon failed,  and the lander ultimately "bounced" on the surface several times before finally coming to a complete stop.   

The Philae lander descends to the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander descends to the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander resting on the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander resting on the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

This marks the first time in history humanity has successfully landed a spacecraft on a comet. This feat comes only a few years after the first landing of a spacecraft on asteroid, which was achieved by the Hayabusa spacecraft and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in November of 2005. Apparently November is a good month to land on a celestial body! Comets are distinctly different from Asteroids in that they are made up of ice, dust and rocky material as opposed to the metallic makeup of most asteroids. Comets typically form far from the sun where their water stays frozen as ice. As they approach the sun with their elongated and extended orbits, the ice begins to vaporize and give comets their distinctive "tails". We will continue to post new photos and details from the mission as the Philae begins its science mission. Congratulations to the ESA on this amazing technological achievement! 

NOVEMBER 17, 2014 UPDATE: After landing on the surface of the comet, Philae completed its science mission and returned data to the nearby Rosetta craft. However, it has been determined that Philae landed in the shade of a large cliff that may potentially block the solar energy necessary for Philae to continue. As of this writing, Philae had gone into hibernation mode in the hopes that as the comet approaches the sun, Philae may possibly be re-activated. Below is the first image ever taken from the surface of a comet!

The first image ever taken from the surface of a comet.  Image Credit: European Space Agency. 

The Importance of Space Exploration: Why We Must Press On

Last week was hard for the commercial Space industry. An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket headed to the International Space Station exploded shortly after launch. Then Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, the first craft built specifically for space tourism, crashed in the desert after firing its main rocket engine, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot. What followed was a media flurry surrounding the "deep uncertainty" of the commercial space industry, and this article explaining why Virgin Galactic is a apparently a waste of time. So...listen up people. 

In the distant future, our sun will expand and destroy the planet we call home.  Image Credit: Wikipedia - Future of Earth

In the distant future, our sun will expand and destroy the planet we call home. Image Credit: Wikipedia - Future of Earth

Space exploration is one of the most important endeavors our civilization will undertake. If we are unable to extend our reach into the solar system (and beyond), then humanity is destined for extinction. If humanity cannot develop a method to reliably track and redirect asteroids, we will go extinct. If we find a way not to destroy this planet we call home, and we decide to simply enjoy our time here, we will go extinct.  Earth has an expiration date. Yes, it is (hopefully) true that that date is very, very far into the future, but it is a date regardless. Ultimately we need that time to develop the technologies that will allow us to meet the insanely difficult challenge we are up against. But we have to get started today, and we must keep moving forward, forever.  This is one movement that cannot end. It is the only way to ensure the continuation of our species. The hoard of billionaires investing in space exploration are not doing it because it is some hobby, as the media likes to claim. They do it because they view the world on a longer horizon than only their short lives. They see a civilization with a much greater destiny. 

Virgin Galactic's goal is to commercialize space travel through selling tickets to wealthy individuals. This is very similar to Space Adventures, founded by Eric Anderson in 1998, which helps coordinate visits to the ISS by private citizens.  Space Adventures still operates today and Eric Anderson has gone on to co-found Planetary Resources, one of the first private space mining ventures. Saying that commercial space travel should not involve the sale of tickets to wealthy individuals is one of the most short-sighted statements you can make.  ANY activity that creates a sustainable business around space travel of any kind is worthwhile.  Why?  Do you really think Virgin Galactic has the ultimate goal of "being a roller-coaster ride for the rich and famous"?  Of course not.  That is the same as saying SpaceX's ultimate goal is to put a plant on mars. It is not the goal, it is just the beginning of a much greater journey. The hard part about commercial space activity is developing a business case around something that is incredibly expensive, dangerous, and difficult. We are just now beginning to understand what these industries are and how they will generate a profit for investors. Virgin Galactic focuses on selling tickets to wealthy individuals because this is the path of least resistance.  It is a great place to start, and this is no less noble than the other commercial space endeavors currently underway.  Space-capitalism works just like terrestrial-capitalism. You must start somewhere. Space tourism will play an important role in the commercial space economy for the simple fact that it will be one (of many) economic drivers that enables future space exploration technology.  Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic will continue to push the envelope to make the impossible...possible. Having a rocketplane in humanity's technological arsenal is a good idea, regardless of how we get there and how it is funded.

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two.  Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Robert Zubrin lays out one of the best cases for the exploration of frontiers in his book  The Case for Mars .   Image Credit: Wikipedia

Robert Zubrin lays out one of the best cases for the exploration of frontiers in his book The Case for Mars.  Image Credit: Wikipedia

Space exploration creates incredible business opportunities both here at home and in deep space. History has proven that frontiers and exploration generate waves of technological advancement. The American western expansion was followed by the greatest explosion in innovation the world had ever seen.  In a short 100 years after this frontier was closed,we saw the electrification of cities, telephones and radios were released, and aviation grew from the Wright Brothers to the safe commercial airline travel. We saw the introduction of interplanetary spacecraft, antibiotics, computers, television and nuclear power. A frontier is a core component of human advancement.  Unfortunately, there are no terrestrial frontiers left on this planet, we have colonized the majority of the planet. Looking to history again, we know that civilizations without frontiers fall into stagnation, decline and resource wars. This idea lies at the very heart of commercial space exploration. Having a lofty goal and an unexplored place to expand into is the deepest driver of innovation that exists. Along the way, we will develop new technologies that will enrich humanity on a day-to-day basis. We will set the bar higher than we ever have, and we will find incredible business opportunities along the way. Just look at the moon race, the number of technological spin-offs that resulted from the program is staggering. If a technology is cordless, fireproof, automated, or lightweight and strong, there is a good chance it was born at NASA. 

So tuck yourself in, this is going to be a long journey. The commercial space industry is here to stay. It is led and staffed by people who want to leave a mark on civilization itself and literally reach for the stars. They will not back down due to failures, and we cannot let them. To ensure the survival of our species, we must press on.  

CNG vs. LNG for Heavy Duty Trucks: Which One is Right for Your Fleet?

Speaking to fleets and truck dealers on a regular basis, it has become clear there is a large amount of confusion as to which form of natural gas is superior. Both Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) are worthy fuels if you are need to improve your profitability and increase your competitive advantage by moving to a lower cost fuel. I will spoil the surprise by telling you upfront that neither of one of these is superior to the other. They are simply different, and different fleet operations have different priorities. Most natural gas fuel providers have only invested in one technology or the other. For example, Trillium specializes in CNG stations, and will tell you CNG is vastly superior. If you talk to Shell, they will likely pitch you on the benefits of LNG.  People sell what they know, and very few fueling companies in the industry (with the exception of Clean Energy) do both.  This creates a good amount of confusion for fleets trying to determine the best fit.  So what should you do? Simply evaluate your fleet priorities based on the information below and you can quickly decipher which fuel is best suited your needs. 

1. Introduction to CNG & LNG

Let's start with the basics. CNG and LNG are the same fuel, but stored in a different physical form on board your truck. CNG is a gaseous fuel that is lighter than air. CNG stations tap into the local gas utility lines and compress the gas up to 3,600 pounds per square inch (psi).  It is then dispensed into vehicles and stored in a high pressure storage cylinder that looks like this:

On tractor units, the CNG tanks are typically mounted on the frame rails, behind the cab, or a combination of the two, as seen below:

A Freightliner Cascadia powered by a 12L Cummins engine and equipped with an Agility Fuel Systems CNG storage system mounted behind the cab and on the frame rails

A Freightliner Cascadia powered by a 12L Cummins engine and equipped with an Agility Fuel Systems CNG storage system mounted behind the cab and on the frame rails

LNG is the same fuel, but it is stored in a cryogenic form.  At approximately -260 F, natural gas turns into a colorless, odorless liquid fuel. It is produced at an industrial processing facility and then trucked to the fueling station where it is stored as a liquid.  It is dispensed into vehicles at as a cryogenic liquid. 

2. Fuel Cost

CNG is almost always going to be less expensive than LNG. This is primarily due to the lack of transportation costs to get the fuel to the station. The CNG distribution system is already in place via our nation's natural gas pipeline system. This is not the case with LNG. LNG must be trucked into the station and is therefore more costly.  Costs can vary depending on where you are getting the fuel (onsite vs. retail station).  In general, you can expect to pay around $2.20 for a Diesel Gallon Equivalent (DGE) of CNG and closer to $2.50 for a DGE of LNG. Both fuels provide significant savings compared to diesel fuel, but CNG is typically going to be even more affordable.

3. Fueling Experience: Heat of Compression vs. Boil Off

The fueling experience is a bit different with each fuel. CNG is very similar to fueling with gasoline and diesel fuel.  It requires no special protective gear and minimal training.  There are two types of CNG stations, time-fill and fast-fill.  You can read about those in detail in our previous CNG station blog post here. CNG stations designed for trucking applications tend to be fast-fill, and they have a unique problem known as heat of compression. Heat of compression means that compressed gas shot into the fuel tanks at a high rate gets very hot. The CNG tanks account for this heat by allowing room in the fuel tanks for the gas to expand as it cools. This means if you are carrying 100 DGEs of fuel, you will likely only get about 80 usable gallons of fuel onto the vehicle. The problem is worse on a hot day and less noticeable in cold weather. This leads to a need to increase your fuel storage on-board the vehicle.  I will discuss the impacts of that below in the weight section. 

LNG is cryogenic liquid and therefore requires a bit more training as well as protective eye wear and gloves (see below). This may be a consideration if your fleet already has dedicated fueling personnel. This is not rocket science, it's just basic safety. Keep in mind diesel fuel is also highly toxic -- we are just used to diesel as a fuel because it is so prevalent. No fuel is safe enough enough to bathe in, except maybe solar.  

LNG is not compressed, and therefore it has no issues with heat of compression. Instead, it gets it own special issue -- boil off.  LNG is stored at -260 F and has a natural tendency to heat up.  As it heats up, it begins to boil in the tank and will eventually vent off. If you leave a fully fueled LNG vehicle in Las Vegas in the summer for two weeks, you will lose about 5% of your fuel.  In practice this is rarely a major problem. You don't normally fuel your trucks so you can leave them idle for two weeks. Your fleet is your workhorse, and if you're reading this article, you probably use your workhorses for a specific job.  If you a fueling your truck every day or two, you will not notice any major boil off issues. 

4. Fuel Economy

Regardless of how you are storing the fuel (CNG vs. LNG) , once the fuel hits the engine, it is a gaseous fuel. Speaking specifically about the current Cummins 12 L gas engine, fuel economy is going to be a bit lower when compared to a current diesel engine.  On a DGE basis, you can expect to see a 5-20% loss in fuel economy with natural gas in general. This is true with both CNG and LNG trucks. This impacts the final economics of the program, but it is typically not a deal killer.  As always, transmission choice, driver training, gearing, etc. will heavily impact the final fuel economy. You need to monitor drivers and attempt to improve this in the same way you do with you diesel fleet. You don't get a free pass just to ignore these details just because you are now using an alternative fuel. 

5. Weight, Range & Incremental Truck Price

The primary driver of the choice between CNG and LNG comes down to weight and range. You can simplify this entire evaluation by asking yourself this one question:

How sensitive is your operation to weight and how far do you need to go before refueling?  

Lets start with CNG. CNG cylinders are very safe and very strong due to their pressure requirements, but these attributes come with one downside: weight. Despite numerous advances in material sciences, CNG fuel systems continue to add significant weight to the truck when compared to a traditional diesel vehicle. You get to delete the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and the Diesel Emission Fluid (DEF) system on the truck (which your maintenance team will love).  However, if you add 80 DGEs of CNG storage, you can expect to add at least 1,000 lbs of weight.  

Work closely with you dealer and the fuel tank manufacturer to get the exact weight difference between the diesel and CNG platform.  If your trucks have a shorter route and you only need 60 DGEs of fuel to get through the day, this may not be a major issue. If that is the case, then CNG is most likely the best fit. This is also good time to right-size your fuel storage spec. Most fleets these days carry WAY too much fuel.  I think this is a basic driver / range anxiety concern. Are you burning 50 gallons / day and carrying 100? Why? Don't carry fuel you don't need. You obviously want a buffer, but be realistic. Take this opportunity to actually determine the correct fuel storage spec.  You will need to make sure you account for the heat of compression factor we discussed above. If you are burning 50 gallons a day and will be using a fast-fill CNG station, a spec of 70-80 DGEs is very reasonable. 

This leads us to the final factor: incremental truck cost.  Natural gas trucks carry a premium over diesel units. The vast majority of the incremental cost of a CNG truck is due to the fuel tanks. They are expensive. A 100 DGE fuel storage system can easily add $70,000 to the truck price.  So again, make sure you have the right fuel spec nailed down.  If you have shorter routes, and right-size the fuel storage spec, you should see a payback period somewhere between 2-3 years.  Conversely, if you need 1,000 miles of range before refueling, you CAN do this with CNG, but is it cost effective? There are CNG storage systems well above 200 DGE available now.  But this will obviously add a lot of weight and a LOT of cost.  So if you find yourself looking at that option, it may be time to shift over to an LNG evaluation. 

LNG storage tanks are essentially highly insulated diesel tanks.  Fully loaded, they will weigh less than a comparable CNG system. They will also cost less in higher storage specs. For example, a 100 DGE storage system might be a $70,000 premium with CNG, but only $40,000 with an LNG system.  So you get the same basic range, with a lower incremental cost and a lower weight penalty. This may be worth the slightly higher fuel price of LNG. If you are extremely weight sensitive AND you have a long range route, LNG is worth a look. This why you see rail, mining, and marine vessels all going to LNG. They all have extreme range requirements and are incredibly sensitive to weight limits.   

Summary & Resources

I know this is a lot of information, but don't make it too complicated. Trucking firms and logistics providers no longer have the option of simply ignoring this transition. If you competition reduces their fuel cost by 40% and you do not, you lose and they win. Period.

If you have shorter routes and are not ultra weight sensitive, CNG is most likely going to be a better fit. Trash trucks, for example, are almost always CNG because they typically have short routes. CNG works well in this application and quickly improves profitability.  If you are running long routes and max out the weight each and every time, LNG needs to be in your evaluation. A good example might be a sand and gravel hauler running a 700 mile round trip before refueling. This is probably a good fit for LNG. I recommend starting with a CNG evaluation and determining if you would need to run additional routes to move the same amount of product.  If you do, then take a look at LNG and see if you can do it without additional routes.  Put your dealers to work for you and have them work up costs and weight comparisons on both options. Then put your fuel partners to work and take a look at fueling locations already available + onsite fueling options. You can typically justify a new fueling location with 25 trucks phased in over five years.   

For payback, below are links to both a simple payback on the incremental truck cost, as well as a much more advanced calculator that allows you to input the weight of the tractor and trailer.

Simple Payback Calculator

Advanced Payback Calculator 

The Alt Fuels Data Center is a great resource that can show you station locations, as well as financial incentives that may be available in your State. For example, Colorado has a $20,000 tax credit for heavy trucks natural gas trucks, as well as a grant that can supply an additional $22,000 per truck. ($42,000 per unit!)  They also have a 1,000 lb weight exemption for natural gas trucks, making CNG a VERY attractive option. Many other States such as Texas and Pennsylvania also have vehicle incentives currently available for natural gas truck purchases.  

Alt Fuels Data Center Fueling Locations

Alt Fuels Data Center Incentives By State

If you need help during these evaluations don't hesitate to contact me. I am happy to help answer any questions you may have. 

Asteroid Mining Firm Prepares for Historic First Launch

Asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources plans to launch its first spacecraft next week. If all goes according to plan, the company's A3 spacecraft will launch aboard an Orbital Science Corporation Antares rocket on October 28.

UPDATED 10/28/2014:  The Orbital Sciences Antares Rocket carrying the A3 demonstrator exploded shortly after launch. Orbital Sciences is reporting a "vehicle anomaly" as the cause.  The mission is now under evaluation by NASA. Video of the event can be found here.  We wish Planetary Resources the best and hope to see the new A6 on the launch pad very soon. 

The craft is named after the Star Wars droid manufactured by Arakyd Industries, a probe deployed to locate galactic resources. The A3 is being sent to the International Space Station, where it will released into space via one of the station's airlocks. The A3 is a low-cost nanosatellite designed to test the avionics, attitude determination, propulsion, and control systems for the upcoming Arkyd 100 space telescope. The Arkyd is an optical and hyperspectral sensing telescope that will begin prospecting for asteroid mining targets in late 2015. It will mark the first time that a space telescope has been deployed for a commercial purpose. 

The Arkyd 100 Space Telescope Image Credit: Planetary Resources 

The Arkyd 100 Space Telescope Image Credit: Planetary Resources 

Asteroid mining continues to be a hot topic here on Earth. The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August, and next month will deploy the Philae lander onto the comet's surface. In July we saw the introduction of the of the Asteroid Act -- the first piece of legislation designed to facilitate the commercial exploration of space resources. Now that business enterprises and nations are developing the technologies required to exploit space resources, space lawyers are hard at work laying the legal foundation for the new space economy. Check out the infographic below detailing how this new industry will take shape. 

We will be closely tracking the progress of the A3 launch here on FuelSpace, subscribe to our news feed to get the latest updates!

BrainFuel: What I learned from Canceling My Cable (Hint: It is Awesome)

About a month ago, my wife and I decided to cancel our cable and ditch the TV. Why would we do the unthinkable? The initial reason was just money. We were sinking a lot of hard-earned cash into the void that is cable programming. However, it turns out the real reason you should do this is that life is vastly superior when you don't watch TV. It is an interesting concept to understand before you have actually made the leap. Oh...just in case you never read this message, it is most likely because our cable provider (who now provides only our internet service) found it, deleted it, and then removed me from my home late at night with a bag on my head.  So here is what I have learned. 

1. TV is one of the reasons you feel so rushed

Do you feel rushed? Are you always thinking about what you need to do next? Are you playing with your kids while you plan tomorrow's staff meeting in your head? This is the driving force behind the mindfulness movement in America.  If this sounds familiar, it is because we always feel rushed to move on to the next "thing" we have to do.  This is standard operating procedure for most busy professionals. Canceling your cable is one of the easiest ways imaginable to remedy this situation. Once TV is gone, you have a lovely chunk of time back when you don't need to be watching the latest episode of Naked Dating.  It takes about a week, but eventually you stop rushing through your evening so you can get to the couch and sit down and zone out. The evenings begin to feel longer, slower -- as they should. It's quite lovely. 

NOTE: My Internet has now gone out three times since I began this article. Never used to happen before I canceled my cable. They are punishing me for my insurrection.

2. You will find amazing things to fill your time with

When this little experiment first began, I admit I missed the ol' tube. I wondered what I would do now that I had all this time on my hands. Would I be bored? Turns out the answer is no. You will find very rewarding things to fill your time with. Combine this with insight #1 above and you have a really nice recipe for productive and enjoyable evenings. I spend more time cooking, and actually enjoying the process of cooking now that I am not so rushed. I found out that I like to write. Look mom...I have a blog!  No seriously, this entire blog is primary a result of not having TV.  I read, I write, I cook, I tend to the garden, I take the dog on more walks. I used to have zero books by my bed.  Now I have three. I exercise more and no longer feel like I have to be somewhere to be (that somewhere used to be the couch). It's liberating. The problem is this: TV turns off your brain completely. It does not relax you, it simply puts you in full zone-out mode. Have you ever watched children when the TV gets turned on?

It's truly frightening.  I was surprised to find a new, highly-creative version of myself surfacing each evening. Sitting at the table again (I forgot we had a dining room table) has been a gateway to new ideas. Problems get solved. Work frustrations get vented and released. Enjoyable and funny conversation happen. You will find yourself relaxing in a much more natural way -- one that does not involve artificial daylight

3. You will not miss out on anything

I will miss the news!  I will miss the Bachelor and have nothing to talk to the people at work about! Oh no! Turns out, this is not an issue. I am not advocating canceling your Internet (I'm not crazy, people! I have a blog). Smartphones keep us constantly connected, often to a fault. Soon your phone will be implanted into your arm. One of the things you absolutely do not need to worry about is information under-load. I still know what's going on in the world; my Google alerts still seem to find me. If we really want to see a movie, we go to a friends house or (gasp!) to the theater. Crazy, I know. But worry not -- you will be just as connected and informed as you were prior. You will just be calmer and more sane when absorbing your news the next day. 

Give it a try. It is harder than you think to pull the trigger. Commit and do it. Call the massive conglomerate you shell out cash to each month and tell them you don't want what they are selling. They will offer you the world (Do you want one million channels free for one month?  Yes?! Regular rates apply including, but not limited to, your first born child, your car, and your good health. Call TODAY!)

Don't fall for it. Don't waste your precious time and money. Just cancel. Write to me and let me know how you feel after one month.