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Liquefied natural gas (LNG) a viable lower-carbon alternative to diesel for heavy-duty long-haul trucks

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a viable lower-carbon alternative to diesel for heavy-duty long-haul trucks, but the necessary infrastructure for it in Europe is lacking. Volvo Trucks is involved in efforts to establish ‘blue corridors’ with strategically placed filling stations to make the fuel more widely available.
The transport industry accounts for around 25 per cent of Europe’s total carbon dioxide emissions, so competitive alternatives to diesel are sorely needed. Natural gas is one such alternative; admittedly it is also a fossil fuel, but it offers many environmental advantages over diesel – and it’s cheaper too. But when liquid biogas (LBG) becomes more widely available, the carbon footprint of the vehicles using it will be reduced by up to 70 per cent.

"We are confident that liquefied gas will come to be used as a fuel throughout the world. It is a clear trend in meeting energy needs and we are part of this", says Lennart Pilskog, director of public affairs at Volvo Trucks. Volvo Trucks, which is a member of the Natural & bio Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA Europe), was the first and is still the only manufacturer in Europe with a methane-diesel system.

Manuel Lage, general manager of NGVA Europe, says that the technology for driving on LNG is proven, and that there exists a will among haulage firm owners and gas suppliers to push the issue forwards. "When it comes to long-haul transport with heavy vehicles, no other alternatives can match LNG at present," he says. "We feel it is the perfect solution for long-distance transport needs."

In many European cities there is an expanding infrastructure for compressed gas – including biogas made from waste products – on a local level. But it is not possible to run heavy long-haul operations on compressed gas because the tanks are heavy and take up too much space. In liquid form, however, gas has a lower volume, making it more suitable for long-haul operations.

Though in order to run long-haul transport on LNG throughout Europe, a filling station infrastructure must first be established. And so the idea of ‘blue corridors’ came about, offering a network of LNG refuelling stations for heavy vehicles. Establishing such an infrastructure will not be simple, because gas suppliers, vehicle manufacturers, haulage firms and various political/administrative organisations at both regional and national levels have to have their say, and extensive coordination will be needed.

"The challenge is that this has to be coordinated between various parties," says Pilskog, adding that Volvo has been active in the Swedish BiMe Trucks demo project, which is similar to the blue corridor project, but on a smaller scale. "Right now the focus is on locating large customers who are willing to test and build up specific routes. Interest among smaller customers will grow when they see that it works and when they appreciate the economic benefits. But this will take a few years."

There are already a number of LNG filling stations in Europe, so the work of establishing blue corridors is already underway. Using these stations as a starting point, it is possible to identify a number of potential corridors suitable for development. "If you take a map and mark the sites of the existing filling stations, you can easily draw various possible transport routes and then identify whether a filling station is missing on any of these routes," says Lage. In order to boost that process, the EU Commission is currently setting up an €8 million project for a large-scale trial of LNG corridors.

"I hope we’ll have around 200 trucks driving in these blue corridors to demonstrate that LNG is a well-functioning alternative for long-haul transport in Europe," says Manuel Lage. "This is no pipe-dream – all the necessary technology is already available. The market is ready for the commercialisation of LNG."

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