Transportation sector is facing a challenging period where it is asked to play a key role in supporting the decarbonisation process and in guaranteeing a better air quality, especially in the high density urban agglomerations. Cost of the energy, energy security and availability, distribution infrastructure, energy density are key elements to be considered when looking for the transformation of such a complex system towards a more sustainable and decarbonised one. Concerning the use of the energy, transport solutions have to be conceived carefully starting from the customer needs, considering the different vehicle mission profiles, geographical conditions and, of course, local market conditions. This to ensure a wide market penetration to realise the final target to increase the air quality and to reduce the Green House Gas emissions.
This means that while global approach is fundamental to share a strategic vision and guarantee product competitiveness, local conditions will drive the deployment of the matching among fuels and powertrain technologies, asking for a multiplication of solutions: no silver bullet solution exists.
Cost of the energy, energy security and availability, distribution infrastructure, energy density are key elements to be considered when looking for the transformation of such a complex system towards a more sustainable and decarbonised one. Concerning the use of the energy, transport solutions have to be conceived carefully starting from the customer needs, considering the different vehicle mission profiles, geographical conditions and, of course, local market conditions. This to ensure a wide market penetration to realise the final target to increase the air quality and to reduce the Green House Gas emissions.
The use of natural gas represents one of the most effective key solutions to fight climate change and improve air quality in a cost-efficient way, particularly in the transport sector.
On top of the continuous engines and powertrains technological evolution, the use of natural gas, as Low Carbon fuel, results in an immediate reduction of CO2 tailpipe emissions, up to 23% compared to gasoline and up to 15% compared to Diesel.
Current ongoing developments on natural gas engine technologies (cfr EU H2020 projects “GASON” and “HDGAS”) are demonstrating the potential to develop for post 2020 high efficient engines with Diesel-like efficiency capable to take the maximum profit for the fuel characteristics, and providing an additional CO2 tailpipe reduction in the range from 10% to 20% compared to the current state of the art.
Nevertheless, CO2 emissions have to be considered all over the entire process (including, of course, also the other GHG sources like CH4 and N2O) : even under this perspective the benefit when using natural gas is confirmed, but numbers change dramatically when considering biomethane and synthetic methane: from the so called Well to Wheel perspective, reductions vs conventional gasoline and diesel are in the range from 80 to 95% according to the different production pathways considered.
Today’s production is mainly based on biomethane issued from anaerobic digestion from waste residues (municipal organic wastes, agricultural residues and animal manures) and the potential of production is estimated to largely cover the future need from the transportation sector. It is a clever approach to locally produce a clean and high quality fuel from waste material, participating in reducing the cost from waste disposal and producing at the same time high quality by-products like bio-fertilisers: a real good example of circular economy. On the other side, the production of synthetic methane based on the use of green hydrogen from renewable electricity and residual CO2 from industrial processes is a perfect way also to provide a flexible energy storage system to compensate the fluctuations from the renewable electricity production.
In both cases, the renewable methane so produced can be used directly in dedicated fleets or injected in the natural gas grid: and today’s natural gas engines are ready to run full renewable.
Over the GHG performance, Natural Gas is the cleanest fuel able to guarantee all over the operating conditions a particulate free combustion, aromatic free and near-to-zero NMHC (Non Methanic Hydrocarbons) as well as dramatically reduced NOx emissions. For these reasons both regulated and non-regulated emissions (e.g. ozone promoters, aldehydes, PAH) make Natural Gas the right fuel to quickly answer to the air quality issues, particularly in the urban areas.
Today’s applications are based on Spark Ignited engine technologies, based on robust and reliable 3-ways catalyst after-treatment solutions, and providing a huge reduction of combustion noise when compared to Diesel engines (halving the acoustic emissions level): this perfectly complies with operations in the urban areas over the night (e.g. door to door garbage collect).
Natural gas is a perfect fuel for preserving the environment in the Low Emission Zones.
Vehicle technologies are mature, affordable, safe and ready to provide a fast and strong contribution to the transportation challenge. Natural Gas represents itself a “family” of fuels, from CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) to LNG (Liquid Natural Gas), including all the corresponding bio and synthetic options, that are in measure to support effectively an environmental friendly and sustainable transportation sector, from the small city car up to the long haulage truck. Vehicle are available in a large range, from A-segment up to large sedans, from compact light delivery van up to buses and 40t trucks. Synergies among the light duty and heavy duty sector are multiple, from the engine/vehicle components and system point of view up to the fuel distribution infrastructure.
The most dangerous risk in the current scenario is to consider that only one silver bullet solution will answer the future transportation decarbonisation challenge; this sector is still largely depending on the use of conventional liquid fuel and a 100% switch to one solution, even in a 10 years scenario, is unrealistic. Support must be based according to a technology neutral approach where the focal element is the result from the technology and not the technology itself: for these reasons EU Institutions should maintain an open framework in order to consider Natural Gas and renewable methane as one of the more effective solution to mobility and transport through their beneficial effects.
Current discussion about the future CO2 regulation for post 2020 should take into account CO2 emissions not only from the tailpipe measurement (that is a need to target vehicle progress in terms of efficiency and fuel economy) but also considering the Well to Wheel approach. Calculation methodologies (e.g. CO2 credits) should be introduced to consider the benefit from renewable carbon neutral methane; this would create an increasing demand for a wider use of Natural Gas technologies that, today, are already set to run 100% renewable.
Today’s European CO2 legislation is considering the electric propulsion contribution (both in BEV and in PHEV) as CO2 free, as if the European energy mix were already based 100% on renewable energy sources (while today it account only on 30% among nuclear and renewables). This approach risks to create an unbalanced and artificial frame where, despite a huge amount of investments, the ultimate goal to decarbonise the transportation sector will not be achieved.
As Natural Gas Vehicles, Electric Cars are also ready to drive 100% with renewable energy but, in the meantime, why should they only benefit for a 100% CO2 credits?