University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Can America run on natural gas?

At her departure, Castlen Kennedy was joined by Professor Chip Groat, left, and Paul Wilson, a vice president of Texas Gas Service, a sponsor of the trip.

At her departure, Castlen Kennedy was joined by Professor Chip Groat, left, and Paul Wilson, a vice president of Texas Gas Service, a sponsor of the trip.

Castlen Kennedy got an unusual start to the research for her master’s degree thesis: A group of people gathered on Wednesday (May 18, 2010) to wish her good-bye and good luck.

Kennedy was not, as she noted, headed into the library.

Rather, she and a friend hit the road in a vehicle powered by compressed natural gas. They are travelling 2,300 miles from Austin to Boston using only compressed natural gas to power a Chevrolet Tahoe.

The subject of her thesis is the viability of natural gas as a transportation fuel. On her trip, she will stop at CNG fueling stations in Houston, Baton Rouge, La., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Chapel Hill, N.C., Virginia Beach, Va., Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York.

She’s using social media to stay in touch and document her journey. She’ll post on Twitter, Facebook and on her web site, GreenAmericanRoadTrip.com. She’ll also upload videos.

Kennedy is pursuing her master’s degree in energy and earth resources, a joint program through the Jackson School of Geosciences and the Lyndon B. John School of Public Affairs. Her supervisor is Michael Webber, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering in the Cockrell School.

Kennedy received an undergraduate degree at the university and then worked for a couple of years at Apache Corp., an oil and gas exploration company. Apache and several other natural gas-related companies are sponsoring her trip.

She departed on her trip from the parking lot in front of the LBJ School.

With the drone of hundreds of vehicles, no doubt running on gasoline, on nearby Interstate 35 in the background, Kennedy said she wants to test the advantages and challenges of natural gas for powering vehicles.

She said there an abundance of natural gas in North America. It burns cleaner than gasoline and costs less than gasoline. Challenges include the scarcity of natural gas fueling stations and the extra room it takes to store in a vehicle. Because it is a gas, it takes up more room than gasoline.

Castlen Kennedy hits the road.

Castlen Kennedy hits the road.

Chip Groat, one of Kennedy’s professors, said it is good to see a student look for real-world information “in the front seat, behind the wheel of something that’s going to be a part of our energy future–that is the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.”

Find out more about Kennedy’s take on natural gas in an article she wrote for an LBJ School publication in March.

The trip should end in Boston in five days. Then Kennedy returns to campus for summer school for more thesis work, which probably means at least some time in the library. She doesn’t expect a crowd.

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