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Common currency: Energy production adding new terms to vernacular

Alan Zemek

In my 2010 book, "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity," I predicted innovation in the energy sector of the economy would become the engine that pulls us out of the doldrums.

After binging for decades on easy credit and an over leveraged financial system, consumer spending reached as high as 70 percent of the economy and consumers had indebted themselves to the brink of bankruptcy. Something radical had to happen, and it looked like innovation in energy technology was the best hope.

In all honesty, it was more a prayer than a prediction, because in 2009 things looked bleak for any hope of economic recovery. When 70 percent of the economy stops spending money it's a long way down to the bottom of the cliff.

Fortunately the revolution in energy production and distribution technology is already here. There is a new vocabulary out there that is already percolating into the vernacular.

"Fracking" is one that has melded into the popular consciousness in just a couple years or so. Here's another new one that I think you are going to hear a lot in the near future: "GEGs."

GEGs are "gasoline-equivalent-gallons." About two-thirds of our oil consumption is used for transportation fuel, and gasoline is the most prevalent form used, so alternatives to gasoline are equalized for price, energy content, and CO2 emissions in the expression of a GEG, or gasoline-equivalent-gallon.

This provides an easy to understand performance indicator for comparison. You are going to start hearing a lot about GEGs, and it will usually be preceded by the words "compressed natural gas" or CNG.

The potential for CNG as a transportation fuel is staggering: CNG costs about $2 a gallon compared to $3.50 a gallon for gasoline - an immediate 40 percent savings in fuel costs. CNG also releases about 24 percent less CO2 than gasoline, about 2.2 tons less CO2 released into the atmosphere per vehicle per year.

That is worth repeating: 2.2 tons less CO2 released per vehicle per year. Here at last is a fuel that is more economical and cleaner burning than gasoline that can be made widely available from U.S. domestic on-shore production that can radically transform the American economy to the envy of the world.

None of it has to be imported. Roustabouts and environmentalists alike should be standing shoulder to shoulder on this one.

Can't find a CNG powered car or a CNG filling station? That is about to change. General Electric has developed a "CNG in a Box" module that can be plugged into an existing low pressure natural gas service line and become a CNG filling station for use by existing retail gasoline stations.

The revolution is starting. In the last nine years CNG fuel for highway-rated vehicles has increased 230 percent to over 200 million GEGs.

But here's the real kicker: With startup funding provided by the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) GE plans to develop an at-home CNG refueling station that will attach to domestic natural gas lines to compress gas and refuel a tank in less than an hour.

The goal is to have something about the size and cost of a washing machine in your garage to refill your CNG powered car from the same gas line that runs your furnace, your water heater and your kitchen stove.

Ideally, the device would ultimately cost no more than $500, or around one-tenth of the price of current technology.

Bye-bye OPEC.

Hello GEGs.

Alan J. Zemek is a Park Rapids area developer and author of "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity." You can follow his blog, or comment on this article on his website, www.genera