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24 September 2019

The European Green Deal: time to start!

The climate change phenomena and the protection of our environment, starting with air and water quality, are at the heart of an intense calendar for the next legislative period. It is a very challenging exercise, where the needs to preserve our environment will have to kick-off an evolutionary process where the industrial, economic, social and cultural dimensions will all be heavily involved. The right orchestration will be able to set the criteria for a positive energy transition.

This is an important opportunity to relaunch the debate about new energies, for and around the future of mobility and transport. We have to look to the long term target for net-zero emissions but also keep in mind, that at the same time we need realistic roadmaps which are able to provide concrete solutions already from today on.

Increasing energy demand and emissions: need for solutions

The urgency to multiply solutions to reduce pollutants in urban agglomerations and GHG emissions at global scale asks for a 360-degree approach. The environment needs “democratic” solutions, across different social and local conditions, if we really want to make a positive impact on climate change and on the quality of the air we breathe.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 90% of the population living in urban areas is subject to an excessive exposure to ground ozone and particles emissions today.

And despite the progress in vehicles technology, an increase of energy demand of the transport sector is expected. This increase is mainly related to the movement of freight, while the average CO2 emissions of our car fleet has now increased for the second year in Europe.

How to shape the future of our transport system

As first step, it is key to analyse customer needs, looking to solutions able to cross-cover from personal mobility in urban areas to freight transport for long haulage missions. Solutions must be affordable, offering a competitive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and must be accessible, as based on technologies and infrastructure already in place. All this, of course, must match highest requirements in terms of pollutants and CO2 reduction.

Natural gas technologies are offering a wide range of solutions: from dedicated, highly efficient CNG passenger cars with optimized on-board storage capacity, to an extended portfolio of heavy-duty vehicles. CNG urban buses and coaches are today also available with LNG while trucks are delivering the same performance as their diesel counterparts, also in terms of vehicle range.

The progress in the use of LNG in trucks is impressive: fuelling infrastructure grew throughout a few years to more than 220 stations in Europe and is serving a fleet of more than 6 000 trucks on the road today.

Running on natural gas means to save more than 50% of fuel costs compared to gasoline and approximately 30-35% compared to diesel, thus offering a positive TCO for owners.

Despite this, a lot must be done to continue the development and use of natural gas vehicles and to support a homogeneous realisation of refuelling infrastructure all-across Europe.

Full compatibility with renewable gas: positive consequences for our environment

At the same time, creating better regulatory conditions to recognize its role towards the decarbonisation target is also a mandatory step. In fact, over the immediate reduction in CO2 emissions, natural gas offers a full flexibility to implement renewable gases without any impact on vehicle and infrastructure costs.

Renewable gases can be produced from a wide variety of sustainable pathways, from anaerobic digestion process through biomass gasification and synthetic processes (the so-called Power-to-Gas). All these production pathways are leading to a product that is 100% compatible with natural gas and therefore easy to be directly used on vehicles or injected in the grid.

In a recent study from CERRE, a potential of renewable gas only produced from anaerobic digestion and gasification of 124 bcm at EU level has been assessed. This is well above the current consumption of the NGVs sector (2 bcm) and also the future forecast in 2030 (approximately 30 bcm).

Benefits in terms of GHG reduction compared to natural gas range from 80% (e.g. biomethane from municipal waste) to 95% (e.g. with Power-to-Gas). But we can even obtain overall negative emissions when biomethane is produced from liquid manure in the agricultural/farming sector: this means that running with such a fuel has the same effect of a forestry which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere!

In a medium-long perspective, also hydrogen can be blended up to a certain percentage into natural gas and used vehicle fuel. Some experimental fleets have already demonstrated the technical feasibility and the environmental benefit of such a solution, using blends containing up to 20-30% v/v hydrogen.

Conclusions and necessary considerations for our future

All these aspects illustrate the huge value of an NGV fleet and its refuelling infrastructure. Without impact on costs, they contribute to a fast acceleration of the decarbonisation process.

This must also be considered both in future revisions of the Directive on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure (DAFI), and also in the Energy Taxation Directive in order to ensure the adequate conditions to further support the development of ‘gmobility’.

For all of these reasons, natural gas & renewable gas are a ‘natural’ piece of the European Green New Deal and a quick and easy win to complement a complex system that will gradually change our way to move and to transport freights around the world. And this needs to start as soon and fast as possible.

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Find the related article 'CO2 emissions and carbon neutrality' here, and 'Going beyond Well-to-Wheel: Life Cycle emissions' here.