Gas & LNG as transportation fuels: Role and perspectives for road transport

Public and political opinion has recently shifted in favour of taking action to improve air quality in urban areas, where health concerns have become linked to nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions. Road transportation is one among many causes of such pollution, along with thermal power generation and industries.

But unlike the latter two, road transportation has the potential to evolve rapidly: a vehicle’s lifetime is typically much shorter than that of power generation facilities and industrial assets. While recent announcements have been made by some European cities regarding a strict ban on thermal engines in the long term, other transition measures can be envisaged for road transportation to improve air quality in urban areas.

Such a goal can indeed be achieved in many ways. First, by reducing the pollution arising from the diesel fleet; vehicle manufacturers are researching engines with improved efficiency and lower emissions. Indeed, the passenger car market is already reacting to a growing proportion of gasoline car sales. Then, vehicle manufacturers are also developing all-electric offerings. Thanks to recent and upcoming improvements in battery technology, all-electric cars are poised to become common for personal transportation.

Recent projections have up to one-third of European passenger car sales being all-electric by 2025. Challenges still exist, however, for reducing emissions in long-distance freight transport. Fuel for freight transportation often requires an energy density that is simply not obtainable from current and upcoming battery technology. Likewise, hydrogen is not viable at industrial scale for both technical and economic reasons.

The solution? Natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), which bear many advantages for road freight transportation. First, there are obvious environmental benefits, as natural gas emits 20% less carbon dioxide than gasoil, virtually no nitrogen oxides, and no particulate matters. Second, natural gas is technically versatile as a road transport fuel, as it can be used either as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for short-haul / regional freight or as LNG for long-distance heavy-duty trucks. LNG in par, in particular, emerging in the latter format with key truck manufacturers launching tractors performing as well as their gasoil-fuelled counterparts.

Third, there are key economic benefits. Natural gas is competitive and backed by mature underlying markets, especially in regions like Europe and the U.S., but almost equally so in any region of the world thanks to growing and converging global LNG markets. Lastly, regulation shows encouraging measures, with attractive excise taxes versus that of gasoil, and regional initiatives such as the European Union’s Blue Corridor promoting the construction of a pan-European network of small-scale LNG and gas assets.

While laudable, the development of gas as a road transport fuel has long been considered as unfeasible. Our presentation will focus on project progress and updates on how limitations can be overcome in the mid-term.

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If you are interested to hear more from Olivier Tison and his views on the energy sector in Europe as well as many other industry experts, register for your EAGC delegate pass today!

Image courtesy of Gunvor