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15 January 2020

Renewable gas to foster transport decarbonisation

As the European Commission has pointed out several times, and based on multiple-sourced studies, gas in transport is ready to play its role as essential enabler for the 2050 net-zero emission transition.

The climate change phenomena and the protection of our environment, starting with air and water quality, are at the heart of an intense agenda for the next legislative period. We have to kick-off an evolutionary process where the industrial, economic, social and cultural dimensions will be heavily involved. To find the right orchestration is one of the biggest and unprecedented challenges for policy makers.

Time has come to consider all forms of new energies and look to the future model of mobility that will translate our needs. We have to act within a net-zero emissions framework while following a realistic roadmap and choosing possible solutions already for today.

How to shape the future of our transport system

On 18 November, at the World Energy Outlook 2019 launch event, Dr Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, said that “we do not have the luxury of picking winners and all technologies will need to play a role in a transition to carbon-neutrality.”

Building on these words, customer’s needs cannot be forgotten. Solutions need to cross-cover personal mobility in urban areas and freight transport for long haulage missions. To widespread the market, they must be affordable, cost-competitive and easily accessible. In other terms, taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place, ensuring competitiveness and environmental benefits by matching the most stringent requirements in terms of pollutants and CO2 emissions reduction.

Natural Gas technologies as enabler for carbon free mobility

Gas vehicle technology combines exactly these features with a wide range of solutions: providing carbon neutral mobility from highly efficient Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) passenger cars with optimized on-board storage capacity, to an extended portfolio of heavy-duty vehicles. Urban buses and coaches are also available with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) while trucks are delivering the same performance as their diesel counterparts, also in terms of vehicle range, offering a CO2 emissions reduction of up to 20%. Currently, there are over 68 original gas models available all across Europe.

President-elect Ursula von der Leyen: clear support for gas in transport

Already in September, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen expressed in her mission letter to Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy her support for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG):

Gas will have a role to play in the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy, notably through carbon capture and storage. You will assess how sources of supply can be diversified at competitive prices, in particular by making full use of the potential of affordable liquefied natural gas.

LNG delivers much needed flexibility and energy reliability, enabling the integration of intermittent renewable energy and provides access to affordable energy. Fuel energy density and the adequate development of the fuel distribution infrastructure are key factors to guarantee the flexibility that logistic operations need. With this, LNG is suitable to cover also other sectors like maritime and rail, thus supporting an overall sustainable multimodal transport system.

Going even further with renewable gases

To fuel this fleet and to lower its carbon footprint even more, thus accelerating the decarbonisation process, biomethane (renewable gas) can be easily used. Natural gas infrastructure and vehicles are fully compatible with renewable gas, without extra costs. Through renewable gas from municipal waste or Power-to-Gas production pathways, close-to-zero greenhouse gas emissions are achieved. In a recent study from CERRE, a production potential of 124 bcm renewable gas at EU level has been estimated.

The Natural & bio Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA Europe) estimates that the current gas vehicle fleet of 1.4 million vehicles will grow to about 13 million vehicles by 2030. While today natural gas vehicle fleet consumes 2 bcm of gas, the association forecasts that approximately 9 bcm of renewable gas would be needed to fuel Europe’s 2030 fleet all across Europe.

The flexibility of the system, from infrastructure to engines, makes natural gas a future proof technology. Renewable gases from various sources, can be blended and used as vehicle fuel at any share. The adaptability is functional not only to the market needs, but also to the fluctuation in renewables production as synthetic methane produced from surplus of renewable electricity offers high capacity of storing energy in the existing network.

Circular economy: net-zero carbon emissions in transport

Natural gas provides a bridge to a circular economy based on the generation of energy from waste, as biomethane. The circular economy is “the number one priority” for the European Green Deal. And renewable gas is ready to lead by example. In addition to sectorial coupling, it offers sectorial integration with waste management and agricultural sectors.

It enables a clever approach to the treatment of waste materials, which would have otherwise been disposed of, with all consequent emissions. While generating sustainable energy, high quality by-products like bio-fertiliser are produced too. Indeed, the so called biomethane “done right” (that is generated from city waste, manure or agricultural waste), has a CO2 balance of well-to-wheel on the top of any currently known energy source in the automotive industry.

Natural and renewable gases are a ‘natural’ piece of the European Green New Deal and a quick and easy way to complement a complex system that will gradually change our way to move and to transport freights around the world. Recognizing their role for transport decarbonisation in the future revision of the legislative measures is the best way to create safe, secure, sustainable and efficient system in favour of European citizens’ mobility and companies’ logistics. And this needs to start as soon and fast as possible.

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This article has been published on 15 January 2020 on Euractiv and can also be downloaded as pdf here.