Natural Gas: Worse Than Coal & Diesel in Greenhouse Emissions?

asiablues's picture

By Dian L. Chu, EconForecast

Natural gas has long been touted as a cleaner alternative because natural gas releases about half as much of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as coal does. Although the natural gas market is in the doldrums right now due to supply glut, with advocates like T. Boone Pickens pitching as the fuel of the future, many market players are betting on increasing natural gas demand from transportation fuels and the generation of electricity to continue for years to come.

Well-to-Wheel: 25% CO2 Reduction

Indeed, the U.S. Congress is considering a bill--Natural Gas Vehicles (Division B, Title XX)-that would push to replace diesel with natural gas in heavy vehicles. Part of the argument is that natural gas is substantially cleaner than diesel--about 25 percent less greenhouse gas emission.

In fact, a working paper by the International Energy Agency (IEA) says this much - On average, a 25% reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) emissions can be expected on a well-to-wheel (WTW) basis when replacing gasoline by light-duty vehicles (LDVs) running on compressed natural gas (CNG).

Lifecycle Analysis: 60% More CO2

However, not everyone is that certain about natural gas’ green prospect.  Dr. Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, indicates that using natural gas rather than diesel in vehicles could actually increase climate change, according to his preliminary finding dated Nov. 15 of a research paper to be under peer review.

“Using the best available science, we conclude that natural gas is no better than coal and may in fact be worse than coal in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint when evaluated over the time course of the next several decades.”

His preliminary analysis includes not only the amount of carbon dioxide from the combustion emission, but also the impact of natural gas leaks from Methane. By adding methane into the “lifecycle” calculation of climate impact, natural gas could be significantly worse than diesel and coal (see graph).

Howarth’s results show that using natural gas would emit the equivalent of 33 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule--about 60 percent more--than just 20 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule by using petroleum fuels.

Separately, MIT also came up with a study that on a CO2 equivalent grams per megajoule basis, diesel scored at 10.7 and gasoline at 14.4, with natural gas smacking in the middle at 12.5.

The two studies make different assumptions and therefore yield significantly different results. Although natural gas is the focus for both papers; they illustrate there’s a need for a more thorough study to fully assess the potential full impact before passing legislations promoting any fuel source.

Part of Natural Gas Vehicles (Division B, Title XX) U.S. Senate bill would incentivize the development of natural gas vehicles by providing $3.8 billion in rebates.  The rebate costs is to be offset by increasing the amount of money that oil companies pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, from 8 cents per barrel to 21 cents per barrel. And this 13 cents delta most likely will end up in our gas tank.

So, in short, in a rush to meet the emission goal, we could be subsidizing something that might or might not yield the climate change result as expected. It is standard practice in business decision process to look at the “total cost of ownership” (TCO) of a new product or service. Legislation should undergo a similarly vigorous evaluation process as well.

Dian L. chu, Nov. 22, 2010 

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mkkby's picture

Con-gress will legislate what it always does.  No thought of science or needs of the nation.  Only goal is paying back the lobbyists that greased them

All this will be solved by peak oil and peak debt.  Energy supply and EROI will cap growth about 20% above current world level.  After that we'll see how the industrial revolution winds down.  Lower growth and population over the long term.  That and only that will save the planet.  Because humans will never cooperate on any worthy goals.

Flakmeister's picture

  I went on about this a while back... the human mind has a real hard time with non-linear systems. Not our fault, its just how how brains work. When confronted with a non-linear system, the majority come up with faith-based solutions. Economics and Global climate change are two of the best examples....

GoldbugVariation's picture

What anti GW proponents fail to acknowledge is that the debate between the experts such as Richard Lintzen (anti GW) and Jerry Mahlman (director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the NOAA at Princeton for 15 years, and pro GW) is not about whether man-made carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse gases' in the atmosphere cause global warming - they all accept that, even Lintzen - but only about how much warming it is likely to produce in degrees fahrenheit.  Fair enough: that is a very difficult question to answer.

And to those who said "the atmosphere has no roof", the whole point is that the greenhouse gases are the roof.  Greenhouse gases work just like the glass on a greenhouse - they let the sunlight in during the day, but they don't let the heat out at night.  (OK, to be more accurate, they absorb some of the heat that should be radiated out to space, some of it gets through, some gets re-radiated back to earth - the exact mechanisms are complex but the point is that not all the heat that should get out to space at night, does get out.)

I have a masters degree in physics from a prestigious university.  No PhD, sorry.  Happy to take questions though.

mkkby's picture

You are wasting your time arguing.  The opponents are either industry shills paid to change the subject, or they're religious thinkers who can't be bothered to think for themselves.  Peak oil is the one and only thing that will save the planet. See my comments below.  Just watch and wait.

mogul rider's picture

So Dr Horvath why don't you provide full disclosure on your investment like investment professionals have to. Given the findings I can only guess where you put your cash.

Just asking?

Hug trees much?

Burning a chunk of coal and burning a gas are equal - who'd da thunk! I would have thought a fart would burn quicker.





Dan Duncan's picture

In order to be classified as "science" the discipline in question should either be falsifiable or it should offer predicitve value (which is different from "it makes predictions").

Climate "Pseudo-Science" offers neither.  It is definitely NOT falsifiable...There is no data point or combination of data points that could possibly change an AGW proponent's mind.  [Of course, the same applies to a skeptic, but the burden of proof lies with the proponets.]

As for predictive value:  Name a Climate "Pseudo-Science" prediction that actually came true.  From Global Cooling in the '70s to the devastation wrought by the hole in the ozone layer to the Katrina Events we were supposed to get each and every year....

Climate "Pseudo-Science" is adroit at making predictions.  But not so much so at making predictions which actually come true.  The fact of the matter is, it is not science.  It is a Belief System and a Lifestyle that is too highly correlated and ensnared by a US-Euro Leftist notion of an all-powerful government to be taken seriously as an objective, non-ideologically driven science. 


overmedicatedundersexed's picture

another thread by the gulf oil chicken little..

now Nat gas is dirty..LOL..guess when you have so many who have no idea about energy can sell them anything. ala al gore the planet can be attached to any non sense. 

a large percentage of the US population has mental illness as recently reported..most are

liberals and vote that we get insane

programs for insane nation.

ZippyBananaPants's picture

IQ145. You are right and the others are sold by the media.

viator's picture

What tripe.

There is no "global warming", do a little reading. As physicist Harold Lewis put i:

"It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist."


There is a movement afoot to try and prevent the development of the huge new natural gas reserves discovered in the shale formations of the US. Estimates of the reserves in these formations indicate they contain two hundred years or more of natural gas. The carbonphobic anti-capitalist enviros are fighting tooth and nail to stop drilling and development of this resource. Meanwhile, businesses and homes in the northern tier of the US are suffering very high fuel prices trying to keep warm this winter.


TDoS's picture

I agree, let's strip mine the planet!  Slash and burn every forest!  Level every mountain top!  We'll convert the living world into a trash heap!  Awesome!  Money is so cool!  I can't imagine anything better than making crap, buying crap, throwing the crap away, then starting all over again!  Kill, baby, kill!

mogul rider's picture

Finally,  A guy who gets it.

thanks party till ya puke bitchez

You Rock!

ddtuttle's picture

This is TOTAL TRIPE. At today's prices NG is about $0.42 per gallon equivalent of gasoline. As natural gas is used in vehicles it will obviously become more expensive. This will incent people to be more careful with it. Because of its increased value, I would assert that we will leak LESS methane into the atmosphere than we do today, not more. With oil shortages, and NG powered cars, we can also use captured biological methane. The bio-sphere emits billions of tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. By capturing just a tiny fraction of this, Hogwash's figures go completely out the window. We'll do this because energy will be expensive.

More importantly, as the price rises we won't flare nearly as much NG as we do now. Flared gas puts CO2 into the atmosphere without using the energy. If we use the gas instead of flaring it, it reduces the other forms of CO2 we need to emit.

Notice :
"Dr. Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology"
There is no mention of physics or engineering here.

As WIll Rogers once commented: There's no one so ignorant as an educated man when he gets off the subject he was educated in.

doolittlegeorge's picture

actually that's not it worked with oil.  when first discovered "oil was hugely expensive" but when the enormity of amount relative to demand was determined "the price collapsed for decades."  it took World War II for us to "determine a dependency" both for ourselves "and the world" it would appear.  nat gas is interesting "because there's so much of it."  i see nothing that says "as we use it more it's price can't still continue to go down."

mogul rider's picture

Hey c'mon man ecology is a science. I mean gee he passed BUGS 101 didn't he

RockyRacoon's picture

I just love all this global warming discussion.  Thanks to you all for the lively and informative banter.

the grateful unemployed's picture

everybody has a scientist in their pocket (like a mouse) so what do you know? there's a lot of Natgas, its cheap and it's burns cleanly according to most of them. So lets go, (disclosure, long UNG)

gwar5's picture

Dr. Richard Lindzen, MIT, has done 20 years actual science and measurements on effects of green house gases and has shown definitively the energy trapped by gases mostly just escape into space. There's no roof on our greenhouse. Who knew?

Also, the vast ocean's ability to absorb greenhouse gases in dynamic equilibrium is, well.... vast.  Moreover, every square meter of the planet naturally emits 97% of all greenhouse gases and man only contributes about 3% (dead stuff rotting because of bacteria, even the bacteria rot). CO2 was >5000 ppm 450 million years ago in the Ordovician Period -- today it is only 388 ppm. NYC was under a mile of ice just 11,000 years ago.

Methane? Cows fart methane because my neighbor nearly died proving it when he was 14 years old. Dinosaurs were bigger and we're still here.


IQ 145's picture

 It's very surprising to dig into the hard science behind the global warming fantasy; it becomes apparent that actual warming is probably impossible. The entire idea of "greenhouse gas warming" was invented by an astronomer whose rather primitive attempts at putting formulae to the global temperature didn't come out the way he wanted. Human beings have no idea whether or not there is any warming caused even by water vapor; which in the "normal" scientifice world; ie. without UN, media, support, is usually creditted with %98 if the effect. It's entirely possible that there is no greenhouse gas warming on this planet; never mind the tiny effect that could be caused by CO2. Basically, Richar Lindzen has demonstrated that the vast majority of the infra-red available as a function of daily solar heating simply re-radiates to space. this was done with up to date nasa satelitles. If you put 10,000 bb's in a wooden frame about 13" square, and then added three bb's that were painted white, you would have a good representation of the role of c02 gas in the atmosphere. 300 ppm is nothing. it's a joke.

bjennings's picture

And the earth is just 6,000 years old.

gwar5's picture

You mean as measured by movement of planets, like a sundial, and such?

Of course, we have known for over 100 years that our four dimensions of space-time are malleable and time is not linear. There also exists at least another 7 dimensions to our known four; there are multiple/infinite universes; and, quantum entanglement means everything is connected infinitely across our space-time. The distance humans perceive between objects is just the illusion that objects are not connected across space-time -- but the effects of gravity on both tell us this is not so -- hence Unified Field theory.

But I digress! I meant to say that the global warming fraud is just another Aryan pseudo-science by leftist supremacists.




bjennings's picture

Wow!  You must be pretty smart. Well, I go poo-poo in da pottie.  That was some nice babble anyway.  I guess you are saying that since there are no widely accepted unified field theories there must be a god and we should probably throw out all theories of probability while we're at it since we all know that the future is in God's hands and is meaningless to attempt to predict an outcome.  I guess we should just dummy up and default to our preacher.

Uncle Remus's picture

just another Aryan pseudo-science by leftist supremacists

I've had my suspicions...

pragmatic hobo's picture

just wait until they perfect the technology to liquify NG on the cheap ... you will be hearing "peak NG"

Thunder Dome's picture

Encana bitchez!  (ECA)

Clinteastwood's picture

 "we could be subsidizing something that might or might not yield the climate change result as expected."

Absolutely true Dian.  

Your piece is absolutely useless.

IQ 145's picture

 No; we could not. There's absolutely nothing we could subsidize that would have effect at all on global climate. 77% of the surface of the globe is seawater. Human beings are entirely insignificant. It's all political bullshit. The only socially useful application I have for my life long education in hard science is to tell you this; please use your computer to find out more.

snowball777's picture

And the heat content of that seawater is monotonically rising.

keating's picture

1. There is a lot of coal. Plenty of good coal in locations that can be reclaimed from their Nat. park status.

2. There are a lot of technologies to clean nasty minerals out of coal smoke.

3. Remember, CO2 is our friend and keeps our little plant friends alive.

4. Simple thermal solar is closing in on Coal as a cost per kWh.

5. As the price of petroleum goes up, other solutions will happen.

6. You can buy cars today that get almost 60 mpg.

7. Keep the government out. Private solutions will work fine...

IQ 145's picture

 There's a video on you tube of a railroad train using two chinese coal burning locomotives hauling 6,000 tons of American food across the heartland to shipping terminal on the great lakes. Of course, this was an experiment, with "special permission" from the lunatics in Washington. We don't make steam locomotives anymore; but we damn sure can; and we have enough very cheap coal to move freight and food alll over the United States for next to nothing. The problem; ? they make smoke !! This "problem" was welcomed everywhere in the US during the 19th. and early 20th. century as a mark of progress and economic welfare; which is simply corrrect. Hell will freeze over before human beings influence global weather by making "smoke" with railroad engines. Of course, this answer is far too simple. Before you get all excited about responded with the propagande you've been fed all your lives; read that again; it says 6 ,000 tons. Railroads are for real.

Thorny Xi's picture


Methane, as LNG or CNG at 2400 PSI, delivers far less energy per gallon when burned, and even less when the compression energy used is factored, and, per Wikipedia, while "the energy efficiency is .. lower .. with modern diesel engines. Gasoline/petrol vehicles converted to run on natural gas suffer because of the low compression ratio of their engines, resulting in a cropping of delivered power while running on natural gas ([less power by] 10%-15%)." 

Have you seen any real evaluation of the use of CNG/LNG in heavy-duty transport-grade diesel tractor engines? I haven't... and would like to see some - as part of my own work.  Anyone? 

Ignoring all of the infrastructure costs, which probably can't be paid in a scalable, timely manner now that the financial system is insolvent and even the IEA states that global conventional oil production has already peaked, and ignoring the "fracking" issues (I live and teach integrated energy technology at the ENCANA Campus of a local college in Garfield County Colorado, where Halliburton "proved" the technology (and yes, where some people really can light their tap water on fire), ignoring climate change and everything else ... nothing but uranium has the energy density of diesel and modern life absolutely depends on that energy density, and at what historically has been and is a nearly-free cost. (I laughed at a comment someone made, maybe here on ZH, the other day - "If you think $3.00 a gallon for energy is expensive, go out and push your car for 15 miles.")

If we're going to burn natural gas, we should make electricity with it and retrofit the national rail system to use it, while adding and rebuilding the rights of way needed to haul freight and people by rail to the 90% of the country that doesn't have rail service anymore.  70,000 miles of rail construction will be required - we'll have to rip up those scenic walking and bike paths (the bicycles can use the former highways) that used to be rail rights of way - but the cost of this will be far less than trying to save the trucking industry, an absurd construct from an energy-expended-per-ton-of-goods transported standpoint, even without factoring in the energy used to build and maintain the asphalt highways.

Or, just get used to life in 1850 - a more likely outcome for most people within a generation, if they make it through the transition...







doolittlegeorge's picture

i've said this a million times so i'll say it again:  has anyone ever asked the public safety efficacy of using nat gas as a fuel source for tractor trailers?  we do use nat gas to power some city buses--but they're the most advanced and safest form of transportation on the highway.  when it comes to tractor trailers they are the most UNSAFE vehicles ever invented.  as they say in the bizness "at temperature everything burns."  unlike diesel "nat gas is one big bomb."  and of course "history is a good guide" since "we'ver had 2 lng tankers explode"--on in Boston and one in Tokyo Bay.  Basically "they were similar to a thermonuclear device going off" and resulted in mass casualties.  It was only in the 90's when LNG transportation began reappearing--and of course it's here to stay now.  I can't speak to CO2 but from an engineering perspective the "movings parts" theory of engine design says to me nat gas beats gasoline engines with ease.  diesel engine technology of course operates on the theory of "compression" as opposed to ignition so "in theory you could power your diesel engine with bananas" since "if sufficiently compressed we all explode at some point."

revenue_anticipation_believer's picture

Thorny Xi

"Have you seen any real evaluation of the use of CNG/LNG in heavy-duty transport-grade diesel tractor engines? I haven't... and would like to see some - as part of my own work.  Anyone? "

but, of course, .....interesting...

but not interesting if merely to 'prove' that a given engine size will do 'better' with diesel fuel than CH4 CNG/LNG...THAT is self evident.. and that 'per gallon' has less energy density...THAT is self evident...NOW LETS GO POUND/POUND, not 'gallon'  sir you intentionally 'mislead'  tell me why is that??


Anyway, regards Railroads...per tonne mile, THAT is self evident by far...trucks are doing FAR too much freight carriage..and vehicle roadways 'subsidize' the comparative economics....rail tracks need to be RE-ESTABLISHED, along the original trackways, now (fortunately) mostly 'preserved intact' as public throughways...etc...

In Europe THAT return to rail carriage is official policy...needs to be same USA....note Warren Buffet certainly was QUITE aware of THAT when he bought his railroad....nothing 'patriotic' about it...

WHO ARE YOU, really? 'encana technical college instructor' or what?   

In other words, What 'investment book/position' are you pushing?  YOU KNOW WHAT....i think that you are one of the official 'anti-methane/natural gas' guys....officially AGAINST Colorado Natural Gas, Fracturing formations, pollution of water wells RIGHT???  Yah, ONE OF THOSE.....right? 'get Chevron outa here'   huh!  say it aint so...Malthusian Killing Team Member...




IQ 145's picture

 "Energy efficiency" is actually meaningless. Compression for pipeline delivery is a very small hickey. All the engineering knowledge to make over the road tractors that operate on LNG already exists. the research was done in the '30 s and '40s.. It's not a problem. Any engineering decision like this depends on market forces; unless the government decides to " help you "; in which case you're really fucked.

delacroix's picture

why can't we run the rail system , on cng?

the grateful unemployed's picture

isn't there a Natgas to hydrogen technology currently for sale, which doubles the output of the gas?

IQ 145's picture

 No. and there never will be. This is not the problem, the answer is that Uranium and Thallium, ugly gray rocks, can boil water to make steam; that's all. We appointed Jane Fonda national nuclear engineer and that's where we fucked ourselves. Democracy is fucked because it consists of the power wielders posteruring and making regulations to satisfy whatever fraction of the ignorant populace is making noises at the moment. Please study the examply of France; your computer has alll the information.

Flakmeister's picture

  Almost an intelligent comment.... I do think you mean Thorium.

I am almost starting to empathise with Trav....

snowball777's picture

Biggest block to new nuke plants: the INSURANCE industry.

Uncle Remus's picture

Then let's put those SOBs on the short list with the bankstas.

Madcow's picture

be thankful for the plentiful natgas that is plentifully available across north america - 

russki standart's picture

Who carez if Natural Gas produces more CO2? AGW is a fraud and a lie designed to rob the great unwashed of even more money via green taxes. Fuck the greenies, let them find real work or eat out of garbage cans.

snowball777's picture

Please take Occam's razor and apply it to your wrists...remember to cut lengthwise.

Confuchius's picture

Why is valuable space being taken up on our favorite site discussing "greenhouse gases"?

There is only one greenhouse gas. Water Vapour. 95%+ of "greenhouse effect".

CO2 is what all life depends on to exist.

Greenhouse gas discussions are merely a tool of the criminally insane "elite" to distract everyone from their depredations.



IQ 145's picture

 98%. And yes it's a very interesting case study in mass delusion. The media is very powerful. The actual point of the exercise seems to be increased power and authority for the UN; who unquestionably started the whole thing; and aside from that, simple ignorance on the part of the proletariat.  The first, really shocking, thing about Albert Gore's movie was the elimination of the medieval warming period; which all educated persons are familiar with. Since it was as warm, or warmer, then, then it is now it is impossible to attribute the present character of global climate to human activity. But he"s a failed federal politician and an attorney, so what did you expect , honesty, reality ? How about huge personal profits; that's what was actually at stake.

curly's picture


If you're not a hopeless AGW zombie, please go look for the "coming global ice age" scare from the '70s, but more importantly, the Arctic oscillation, Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation, the Pacific decadal oscillation, El Nino, La Nina, Medieval warm period (ever wonder why Greenland was named "green" land -- hint happened way before those evil SUVs roamed the earth), convection, radiation, radiative forcing, lying with statistical models, solar, lunar and planetary cycles, and think a little; don't be a stupid sheep or useful idiot.  

Just don't do it on 0hedge.  And for god's sake, don't rely on CNN or USAtoday or wikipedia as authoritative sources on any remotely technical question.

Jesus.  Who are you fuckers?  14 year old girls who think Al Gore is cute?


SamuelMaverick's picture

+1.  This CO2 scam is a joke.  Good thing I have enuf papers hanging on the wall to read these 'results' and laugh.  Too bad the MSM and the corrupted environmentalists do not do their jobs. Here is a flashback to the seventies; global cooling, wear a sweater, humans are evil, we will run out of oil by 1995. 

IQ 145's picture

 It has to be commented on and informed against constantly; it's very, very dangerous propaganda/ amd it's closely connected to the "business world"; if Obama and the loonies had been able to pass "cap and Tax" legislation, you never would have tired of bitching about the disastrous effects it had on the economy; it's better to try to encourage one more person to use their computer for what it was designed for; "informatin technology; and look up the facts.

IQ 145's picture

 It has to be commented on and informed against constantly; it's very, very dangerous propaganda/ amd it's closely connected to the "business world"; if Obama and the loonies had been able to pass "cap and Tax" legislation, you never would have tired of bitching about the disastrous effects it had on the economy; it's better to try to encourage one more person to use their computer for what it was designed for; "informatin technology; and look up the facts.