Biogas ‘now practical’ for long-haul trucks

By Categories: NewsPublished On: Tuesday 28 February 2017

Truck operators will soon be able to secure supplies of certified renewable biogas from a network of filling stations run by energy company CNG Fuels.

The Solihull-based company is now sourcing its entire compressed natural gas (CNG) supply from biomethane digesters processing waste from food production.

This gas is fed into the national gas distribution network, and equivalent amounts are drawn and compressed at the company’s own high-capacity refuelling stations. The first two are in operation at Leyland, Lancashire and Crewe, Cheshire.

CNG Fuels is developing a nationwide network of refuelling stations on major trunking routes fed by the high-pressure gas grid.

Daughter stations can be sited in customer depots within 100 miles of CNG Fuels’ ‘mother’ stations, and will deliver gas by trailer at a similar price per kilo.

Including fuel duty, biomethane CNG retails at 65p/kg before VAT (the equivalent of 49p/litre for diesel), and prices are even lower for bulk purchases.

Biomethane from CNG Fuels is independently verified as renewable and sustainable, and approved under the Department for Transport’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) scheme.

The gas qualifies under the initiative, generating Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates (RTFCs), as it originates from anaerobic digestion plants (waste treatment facilities that break down organic matter) which are not supported by the Renewable Heat Incentive or other subsidy schemes.

CNG Fuels’ customers will be issued with documentation stating that they have purchased sustainable, renewable fuel, whilst setting out its carbon content. This is likely to be useful for organisations seeking to quantify the efforts they are making to reduce their carbon footprints.

CNG Fuels is targeting operators of high-mileage heavy trucks, who stand to make the biggest financial savings and carbon impact. Its current customers’ vehicles travel an average of 125,000 miles every year, and CNG-powered trucks are more expensive than those that use diesel.

However, when large trucks are covering this mileage, fuel savings can recoup the extra cost within around two to three years, the company says.

Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels, said: “Renewable and sustainably sourced biomethane is the most cost-effective and lowest-carbon alternative to diesel for HGVs, and is attracting increasing interest.

“We are expanding our refuelling infrastructure nationwide to help fleet operators save money, cut carbon and clean up our air. We are proud to be the first company in the UK to offer its customers RTFO-approved biomethane, and are pleased to be able to do so at the same price as fossil fuel gas.”

Retailers Waitrose, John Lewis and Argos have, together with haulier Brit European, already committed to using the fuel in long-haul articulated trucks – and Waitrose has just launched what it claims is the most advanced fleet of CNG-powered trucks in Europe, to handle deliveries to its stores in the midlands and north of England.

The 10 Scania P340s are the first trucks in Europe to be fitted with twin carbon-fibre gas tanks from American company Agility Fuel Solutions. These have an operating pressure of 250 bar, and offer a 500 kg weight saving over previous steel-tanked gas trucks, while extending range from the 300 miles achieved before to 500 miles.

Unlike predecessor ‘dual-fuel’ vehicles which used diesel as an ignition medium and an emergency range extender, the new Scanias run on pure gas using a factory-built spark ignition nine-litre engine,producing 340 bhp at 1,900 rpm and 1,600 Nm of torque between 1,100 and 1,400 rpm.

Each of Waitrose’s new CNG trucks costs 50 per cent more than one which runs on diesel, but will repay the extra costs in two to three years with fuel savings of £15,000 to £20,000 a year depending on mileage.

Its vehicles are likely to operate for at least five more years, generating overall lifetime savings of £75,000 to £100,000 compared with a diesel equivalent. CO2 emissions are said to be reduced by 100 tonnes a year compared to the equivalent diesel.

Justin Laney, general manager central transport for the Waitrose parent company The John Lewis Partnership said: “With Europe’s most advanced CNG trucks, we will be able to make deliveries to our stores without having to refuel away from base.

“Using biomethane will deliver significant environmental and operational benefits to our business. It’s much cleaner and quieter than diesel, and we can run five gas trucks for the same emissions as one diesel lorry.”

Iveco backs gas

Iveco is claiming exact like-for-like performance parity between liquid natural gas (LNG) and diesel for its Stralis NP heavy truck.

Speaking at a press event in February, product director Martin Flach said the truck’s spark ignition Cursor 9 engine had exactly the same power (400 hp) and torque (1,700 Nm) as its diesel equivalent, and also delivered 17 per cent more power and six per cent more torque than its nearest gas competitor while being 10 kg lighter than the diesel engine it was derived from. It also had an industry-leading automated transmission.

By tweaking the exhaust system and repositioning the battery, Iveco had been able to squeeze some extra tankage onto the truck, giving it a 1,500 km range on a single fill.

While the gas fuelling system and spark ignition might be uncharted territory for some, Mr Flach pointed out that the clean nature of the LNG fuel meant that the truck required no EGR, no SCR, no particulate filter and no post-combustion fuel injection.

The truck can also be specified for CNG fuels, although the lower density of the gaseous fuel has a significant impact on range.

Gas power is also available on the company’s Eurocargo distribution truck and Daily light truck/van, too.

On a like-for-like basis, gas costs UK operators 25 per cent less than diesel on average, while actual fuel consumption was reduced by 40 per cent. When the greater capital cost of the Stralis NP truck is taken into account, Iveco estimates that the total cost of ownership will be some three per cent lower than the equivalent diesel vehicle.

Besides the savings in CO2, which arise because natural gas (methane) is a low-carbon fuel with each molecule consisting of four hydrogen atoms and just one carbon atom, combusted gas also yields much lower quantities of NOx and particulate matter than diesel, making it particularly appealing for urban operations.

Greenhouse gas impact and consumption of fossil fuels can also be lowered by sourcing biomethane produced from organic wastes.

The spark ignition system on pure gas engines removes the distinctive ‘diesel knock’ from the engine and reduces sound pollution by three decibels, which equates to a halving of the perceived noise level.

Gas being lighter than air, it will disperse rapidly upwards in the event of a tank being breached, and it has a relatively limited range of flammability, Mr Flach said. Because they are designed to withstand great internal pressures, gas tanks on vehicles are far less vulnerable to perforation in the event of an accident than diesel tanks are.