The rising price of diesel, along with news that the UK Government will provide some funding for injecting biomethane into the natural gas grid, is creating a growing interest in using the renewable fuel for transportation throughout the UK.
However, while there are currently over 13 million gas vehicles operating in the world, the UK is still lagging behind:
- There are just 220 gas vehicles in operation in the UK;
- Italy has 760,000 gas-fuelled trucks on the road;
- The Ukraine has 200,000; and
- In Germany there are 95,000 gas-powered vehicles.
Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has moved into the driving seat by incorporating biomethane gas into its UK distribution operation. In a pilot programme, it is using a 14-strong fleet of 26-tonne Iveco Stralis trucks, operating solely on the renewable fuel. It has also invested in a temporary gas station, fully operational at its Enfield depot, where the trial vehicles operate from.
CCE commissioned Cenex to review and evaluate the test vehicles, comparing performance with that of its diesel-run fleet of Stralis trucks. Emissions, fuel consumption, economics, reliability and operability of the biomethane and diesel vehicles were compared. The results are positive.
CCE’s report on the trial finds the gas vehicle provided parallel drive performance and reliability levels. It also shows that ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2, NOx, PM and noise emissions are significantly reduced by using biomethane as a fuel source.
Key findings of the study:
- NOx emissions were reduced by 85.6% in the biomethane gas vehicle.
- The biomethane gas vehicle also showed a 97.1% reduction in PM emissions.
- Compared to the diesel Stralis vehicle, the biomethane-operated truck achieved a well-to-wheel GHG emission saving of 50.3% - this could be increased to 60.7% if a more efficient and a permanent station had been installed.
- The performance (acceleration, transmission and refuelling) of the gas vehicle was preferred by the drivers who operated both biomethane and diesel trucks.
Cost prohibitive for now
However, while these results are good, the report also states that challenges remain in terms of ownership cost. For instance, the gas vehicle had a payload penalty of 700kg due to the additional weight of the fuel tanks. Refuelling can also be seen as a hurdle: the gas truck consumes 34.9 kg/100km compared to the diesel truck, which consumes 31.9 litres/100 km (vehicle range of 222 and 584 miles for the gas and diesel trucks respectively).
Nonetheless, what the study shows is that modern gas grids, gas drier technology and the widely available liquefied natural gas and biomethane have resulted in a high quality fuel, putting an end to the perceived poor vehicle reliability that characterised the mid 1990s. Moreover, fleets incorporating back-to-base operations are ideal adopters of the technology given the current lack of publically available gas vehicle refuelling infrastructure within the UK.
For more information concerning the trial you can find the Cenex and CCE report here.
Robert Potts is from RPM Fuels and Tanks.