Using gas as a transport fuel

With many logistics companies switching to gas (both LNG and CNG) and biomethane to power their heavy good vehicles (HGVs) – Isaac Occhipinti, Head of External Affairs at Gas Vehicle Network (GVN), highlights the opportunities offered by gas as a transport fuel.

There are around 35 million vehicles operating on UK roads. Over 40% of our road transport CO2 emissions, along with nearly half the nitrogen oxide (NOX) and a substantial amount of particulate matter, is produced by just 11% of these vehicles, comprising light commercial vehicles (LCV), heavy goods vehicles (HGV), buses and coaches. A staggering 20% of the total transport sector greenhouse gas emissions, however, come from the UK’s HGVs. A vehicle type that does not lend itself well to the electrification agenda, HGV’s provide the perfect opportunity for natural gas to be used to decarbonise transport.

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are the most challenging road vehicles to transition to electric or hydrogen power, a practical and affordable solution is 20 to 30 years away. This is why major logistics companies across the UK are today switching away from diesel to biomethane gas as a transport fuel, which can be supplied as both gaseous and liquefied fuels. The trucks are being produced by truck manufacturers and the refuelling infrastructure is being developed.

Gas as a transport fuel offers enormous potential to transform not only our gas grid, but also the transport sector. There are around 35 million vehicles operating on UK roads. Over 40% of our road transport CO2 emissions, along with nearly half the NOX and a substantial amount of PM, is produced by just 11% of these vehicles, comprising light commercial vehicles (LCVs), heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses and coaches; a staggering 20% of all transport sector GHG emissions come from the UK’s 208,000 HGVs.

If just one per cent of vehicles in the four classes above were replaced by natural gas-powered equivalents, the UK would benefit from a CO2 saving of over 64,000 tonnes per annum and a reduction in NOX emissions of some 13 tonnes. Unsurprisingly, the impact on emissions for each of these vehicle classes is disproportionately higher the heavier the vehicle. Gas HGVs are already a commercial success story, having been adopted by many of the UK’s largest retailers, including Primark, Ocado, Waitrose, Argos, and John Lewis, who recognise their emissions reduction credentials combined with excellent driving cycle performance and lower running costs. 

In the absence of a viable all-electric alternative for HGVs, it is clear that to reduce emissions from freight transport and haulage, the Department for Transport’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan should recommend a role for gas HGVs as a key method for decarbonising heavy goods transport. This will unlock the investment needed for building the additional required refuelling infrastructure, in turn creating jobs and building back better.

Biomethane is today’s ultra-low carbon fuel of choice for fuelling HGVs and in particular for trucks travelling long distances. When sourced from certain feed stocks, biomethane is not only an ultra-low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions fuel but is a negative GHG fuel.

Wastes that would otherwise lead to significant methane emissions are used to produce a renewable and sustainable road fuel. No other green technology is currently available to fuel heavy, long-distance, logistics operations. It’s an obvious choice for our climate obligations.

The findings of the new Low Emissions Freight Trial (LEFT) report published in November 2020 outline that biomethane gas fuelled HGVs could reduce carbon emissions by up to 85% on a well to wheel basis. It also notes that additional capital and maintenance costs in gas vehicles compared to diesel, pay back in two years at 160,000 km/year. By switching from diesel to renewable biomethane gas, fleet operators could see savings of up to £29,000 per year, approximately 52%.

A recent Cadent report states that ‘transition must start now to achieve Net-Zero by 2050’. What are we waiting for? The infrastructure is being expanded, refuelling is as easy as it always has been and take up by fleet operators is growing year on year. There is no other sector of the UK economy where large CO₂ emissions cuts can be so quickly and cost-effectively implemented as that of HGVs and in particular the heavy duty long-distance truck sector.

What we need to do now is work together to realise the potential of gas as a transport fuel: end users need to be informed of the benefits of gas as a transport fuel, suppliers and vehicle manufacturers must continue to invest, networks must work with suppliers to provide the gas to (CNG) refuelling stations and to help with station construction, and finally, government must provide the support and confidence in the sector that is required for a smooth transition.

The Gas Vehicle Network’s report entitled; A Green Recovery- Delivering a rapid & cost-effective CO₂ reduction for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), showcases gas as a transport fuel. The report provides government and industry with all of the information they need to understand the key benefits. It is becoming increasingly clear that gas (biomethane) can, and will deliver substantial financial and carbon savings for fleet managers and Government to 2030.

The Gas Vehicle Network (GVN) is a trade association that represents participants from across the Gas industry supply chain that play a role in the use of gas as a transport fuel including; network operators, infrastructure providers, vehicle manufacturers, fuel providers and logistic companies. The Network works with Government and other agencies to develop the framework within which the industry will operate. GVN is a division of the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA). 

Image courtesy of Gas Vehicle Network (GVN).

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