A case in point is centered on the displacement of non-domestic liquid fuels with natural gas; compressed or liquefied. To mount a large-scale conversion to this inexpensive and plentiful fuel for the transportation sector will require a change in the fuel supply infrastructure. It will also require the conversion of our current fleets and the new ones being produced by our original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In all of these cases there will be a need to adapt and alter well-developed, current vehicle technology to accommodate the use and needs of this fuel source. All of these changes will, of course, need to meet the environmental and policy requirements.
There are a plethora of companies that advertise a capability to convert at least a small number of available vehicles in a variety of styles, models and sizes. Some are regional or national and even more are global. Some are quite competent while others have promised results that will be years in the making. While it may not have a significant impact where any of these systems originate, as long as they perform, the future of these conversions, the services provided, and the infrastructure to support this effort should ultimately be based domestically and regionally if the market supports it; again, another self-sufficiency issue.
Since it appears that many of these systems are still in the early development and proof stages, it might be a great idea to get them all together and help facilitate a relationship between the users and the suppliers. This would help to level the playing field a little and also allow for a synergy of those efforts that might be complimentary, especially if they are of a domestic origin. It will also allow the potential end users to understand their options and better calculate their return on investment.
What has been proposed and is now starting to take place is a series of regional meetings to attract potential users into a forum with suppliers and infrastructure developers. It is also the intent of the organizers to involve regional investors and government agencies that have a stake in the outcome of this effort. These formal meetings and the informal forums created would invite the conversion capable companies to work with the end users.
The interested OEMs are also invited to participate along with the civic and governing authorities that would have an impact on this initiative. In some cases this venue could also accommodate a poster and commercial booth expo as a means to provide useful and timely information. Finally, in many cases this venue can accommodate a u-drive demonstration area for participants to evaluate and discuss the future of this technology while watching it work for them.
These meetings being scheduled in the near future are in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but clearly edging into several other adjoining states. The shale gas plays in these areas will see the largest expansion in the use of natural gas for the transportation sector over the next few years. This is the logical place to start leading the country to energy self-sufficiency and it also contains the resources to create and support the commercialization of the innovative technologies that will be needed as the use of natural gas proliferates.
What an interesting time to be alive. While it may not be on par with the discovery and use of steam and electricity or the development of nuclear power or even the space program, it may yet be heralded in the future as a major turning point in our nation's history and particularly our citizens' decisions to take back control of our destinies by first insisting on self-sufficiency, starting with energy.
Smith is a professor of mechanical andd aerospace engineering and director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications at WVU.