Amid diesel backlash and bans, transport firms look to natural gas

Renewable gas ‘will provide a carbon neutral, fully renewable fuel that can be used to reduce our agricultural and transport emissions’

Amid the backlash against diesel engines and pending bans on diesel cars in certain European cities, many commercial vehicle operators are looking towards natural gas as an alternative.

Its benefits are not only in terms of emissions but also lower operating costs. From the supply side, vehicle manufacturers are investing substantially in developing a broader range of commercial vehicles from trucks, buses and vans, with Iveco and Scania leading the way and with the Volkswagen Group setting ambitious targets.

Natural Gas power for the Irish market comes in two forms – Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) with the former an in-house factory product and the latter transforming the drivetrain through a conversion unit provided in the main by a third-party specialist. While LPG is readily available through a selected service network across Ireland through Calor or Flogas as an extension to its main body of business, the supply of CNG is sparse but this is being addressed by Gas Networks Ireland.

Gas Networks Ireland (formerly known as Bord Gais Networks), recently announced a €6.5 million finance package co-funded by the EU's Connecting Europe Facility, which supports the roll-out of up to 14 CNG filling stations. The first of these publicly assessable stations is currently being installed at the Topaz facility at Dublin Port and will be fully operational by mid-August. A station in Cashel, Co Tipperary, will follow by year end.


According to Dan FitzPatrick, commercialisation manager, Gas Networks Ireland: “Fleet operators around the country can now switch from vehicles powered by heavy emission fuels to a cleaner and cheaper gas alternative. The switch to CNG will facilitate a fuel-cost saving of up to 35 per cent, a 22 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, a 70 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions and an 80 per cent reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions compared with diesel.

Speaking at a recent conference organised by Fleet Transport magazine, FitzPatrick said: "Development of the CNG network will also ensure that renewable gas becomes part of Ireland's transport fuel mix providing the only fully carbon neutral fuel source for commercial transport."

The financial incentive has a value of €700,000 offered on a sliding scale targeting one or two vehicles per fleet.

The bottom line is that Ireland has to substantially reduce its carbon footprint in transport and introducing natural gas and renewable gas into mainstream transport will lessen the threat of substantial fines from the EU if targets are not met. Renewable gas will provide a carbon neutral, fully renewable fuel that can be used to reduce our agricultural and transport emissions, while providing enhanced security of supply.

At the end of May, the Minster for Transport, Shane Ross, published the Government's plan for alternative fuels infrastructure for transport up to 2030. Most alternative options are considered. It is likely that electricity will fuel the majority of passenger cars, commuter rail and taxis; while natural gas and biofuels will play an increasingly important role for larger vehicles such as heavy goods vehicles and buses.

Of the commercial vehicle manufacturers, Iveco has the lead in natural gas technology. With a broad selection of CNG powered trucks, buses and vans, it is seeing the benefits of its ongoing investment in this alternative arena, with the advances made in reducing emissions, increasing power and lowering road noise appreciated by drivers.

"CNG is a safer solution. Gas is lighter than air and dissipates rapidly. It has a very limited range of flammability – while high-tech, ultra-protected gas tanks are much safer than their diesel or petrol equivalents. It's cheaper, as on average CNG costs 25 per cent less than diesel, and with consumption 15 per cent lower that adds up to a 40 per cent cost saving," according to Martin Flach of Iveco Ltd.

Consistent sales growth of CNG-powered vehicles from 1.3 million units in 2000 to 23 million in 2016 has led the Volkswagen Group to look at natural gas as one of its alternative fuel sources of the future. Its CNG-powered range of cars and commercial vehicles now totals 19, with many more models to come throughout its various brands, from Audi, Skoda, Seat and Volkswagen cars and vans as well as MAN Truck & Bus and Scania at the heavy-duty application end.

It’s perhaps a little ironic that the public backlash against diesel was partially driven by the emissions scandal surrounding the VW Group, yet it seems one of the firms best positioned to benefit from the move to alternatives.