The ice-cold alternative

When natural gas is cooled to minus 161 degrees Celsius, its energy density is increased. This makes liquefied natural gas a driving force in the development of new climate-friendly technologies for long-distance transport. In Europe, however, LNG lacks the infrastructure, and it is not yet economically viable.

Executive Summary

1. Demand In the United States and China, LNG plays an important role in goods transport. The infrastructure is in place and the necessary vehicles available. China is promoting LNG as a climate-friendly alternative. 

2. Pioneer
of LNG development in road transport in Europe is the Netherlands. HGVs fuelled with liquefied natural gas have been on the roads there for years. In 2015 there were around 500 vehicles.

3. Production The United States produces LNG at competitive prices. Tax relief, CO2 regulations and state subsides for investments in clean fuels are encouraging companies to make the switch.

4. Learning An effective combination of the coordination efforts and regulatory instruments in China, the US, and the Netherlands could serve as a model for Germany, says the German Energy Agency.

FAST AND CLEAN: The LNG-fuelled Stralis from Iveco packs 480 HP under the hood. Photo: Frederik Laux

The fuel of the future already exists. It costs less than diesel and produces 16 percent less CO2. And emissions of other pollutants can be reduced by up to 90 percent or even slashed to zero. HGVs with LNG-fueled engines have a range of up to a thousand kilometers with just one tank of fuel. As if that weren’t enough, the engines are so quiet that delivery runs for the city center can even be scheduled at night. The name of this miracle energy source is liquefied natural gas (LNG). Its content by volume of natural gas, which is liquefied by cooling, is 600 times greater than conventional autogas or compressed natural gas (CNG). Furthermore, from the perspective of the economy, LNG increases national energy security and reduces dependency on imported crude oil. It is also an alternative in industries with a high demand for energy, and large combustion engines that must fulfill increasingly strict environmental standards.

It is therefore no surprise that LNG is already used as a fuel for ships, both at sea and on inland waterways. The road freight transport industry also discovered LNG several years ago. And yet this miraculous fuel has not yet arrived on the roads in Germany. You could say that it’s a bit like the chicken and the egg scenario. Although sufficient amounts of LNG would theoretically be available, there are still no refueling stations in Germany. Not one. As long as this remains the case, no German logistics company is going to buy a vehicle that runs on LNG. Apart from the lack of infrastructure, there are also regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome in Germany, explains Christopher Olvis, project manager of the network for the fuels and drive systems of the future at Energieagentur NRW. He says that suitable locations for LNG refueling stations are now being investigated, and that the infrastructure needs to be developed wherever there is a demand. In his opinion, synergy effects between roads, waterways, and industry would be an enormous advantage, particularly in the initial phase of the LNG market. Despite the numerous challenges, Olvis is confident that Germany can build a sustainable LNG infrastructure.

EU TARGETS DRIVE GERMANY

CLEAN TECHNOLOGY: The tank of the Iveco Stralis holds 189 kilograms of LNG. Photo: Frederik Laux

With aim of ensuring security of supply, the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is focusing on the diversification of fuels and drive systems through its mobility and fuel strategy. EU legislation also supports LNG as a fuel together with its associated infrastructure. In September of 2014, the EU Clean Power for Transport legislative package came into effect, which requires the development of the infrastructure for four alternative fuels of the future. LNG is considered to be especially promising. The goal is to establish a minimum infrastructure that will, by 2025, see LNG refueling stations along key transport routes.

North Rhine-Westphalia is set to become a pioneer in Germany. In a cross-border project called “LNG an Rhein und Waal,” partners in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands have identified a common need for LNG refueling stations in the region. This demand could be met with five refueling stations by 2018. The federal state in the west of the country is the obvious choice to be a pioneer, as LNG-fuelled ships are already sailing on the Rhine. Furthermore, HGVs with LNG engines have been driving on the roads of its neighbor, the Netherlands, for many years. The development would enable road freight companies to extend their radius beyond their national borders. “The market players in North Rhine-Westphalia see the economic and ecological potential of LNG as an alternative fuel, even given the low price of diesel,” says Olvis.

“Germany can benefit from the experiences of its Dutch neighbors when it comes to introducing the fuel on the market.” In the Europe-wide Blue Corridors project, things have already been taken one step further. They have cracked the chicken-and-egg problem and have already built a number of refueling stations. The goal of this EU-backed consortium of 26 partner companies is to promote LNG as a fuel for heavy-duty vehicles all over Europe. Gas suppliers such as Eni and the German association Erdgas mobil are involved. Also on board are technology companies such as Linde and the British Hardstaff Group, as well as the Spanish gas logistics company Ham. Large HGV manufactures like Renault, Volvo, and Fiat are likewise committed to the project.

For the development of LNG engines, a leading a role is being played by the globally operating commercial vehicle manufacturer Iveco. Since the end of 2014, the company has offered an HGV which runs on liquefied natural gas cooled to minus 160 degrees. The engine was designed by building on experiences with natural gas as a fuel. In Southern and Eastern Europe, around 5,000 Iveco buses and thousands of smaller transport vehicles have been running for years on CNG as quiet and environmentally friendly city buses. Compared to CNG, which is merely compressed, LNG offers a significant volume advantage. With just one tank, it would be possible to drive from Munich to Flensburg – about 950 kilometers – if there were any refueling stations. “We are reality-ready,” says Manfred Kuchlmayr of Iveco. In other words, they’re not the reason for the delay. “The most important incentive is and will remain refueling stations,” observes Kuchlmayr. Practice has shown that when a refueling station is available, the road transport companies are quick to react. “We received a big order for 50 HGVs from Piacenca in northern Italy, which is where the first LNG refueling station of the Blue Corridors project is located.”

NUMBER OF LNG SHIPS TO DOUBLE

Shipping is an industry in which liquefied natural gas is already used as a common alternative to diesel and heavy fuel oil. Unlike with road transport, here fuel logistics provides an additional incentive. Transporting natural gas by ship is the alternative to pipelines, which is why the large LNG terminals are located on the coast. When LNG is returned to a gaseous state, it can then be fed into the network. Germany obtains the majority of its gas directly from pipelines and does not yet have a LNG terminal. However, it is connected via the pipeline network and can therefore access the large terminals in Rotterdam and Zeebrügge. With a view to diversification, Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel are currently being discussed as locations for medium-sized terminals. Although the German government sees this as a constructive step in line with its diversification strategy, it is hoping that private investors can be found for the terminals.

BIGGEST IN EUROPE: The Dutch liquefied natural gas terminal in Rotterdam has three storage tanks, each with a capacity of 180,000 cubic meters. Photo: Alamy

With an abundance of natural gas in Norway and the only existing liquefaction plant in Hammerfest, the Scandinavians are located directly at the source of LNG. Numerous ferries in the area are already operating with environmentally friendly liquefied natural gas. Norway has around 50 LNG ships. In Europe as a whole, a total of 90 ships are currently using LNG as a fuel. “This figure is likely to double by 2017,” says account manager Gerben Dijkstra of Rotterdam Gate terminal. His prediction is based on the order books of the shipping companies.

Another key factor is the German cruise company Aida, which is committing itself to the fuel of the future in several ways. Aida ships will be supplied with electricity from a mobile LNG hybrid barge while they are docked in the Port of Hamburg. This will reduce emissions of particulate matter and other pollutants to zero. Furthermore, in 2016, two of Aida’s 11 ships will be crossing the ocean with dual fuel engines, using LNG instead of diesel whenever the infrastructure permits. From 2019, Aida will be the first cruise operator in the world to increase its fleet by two ships that are exclusively fueled with LNG. This will enable Aida to calmly navigate its way through the sea of increasingly strict international emission regulations.

LESS CO2 IN ROAD TRANSPORT

Germany is gearing itself up for the future with liquefied natural gas. In an analysis examining the potential for the use of LNG in heavy-duty road freight transport, the German Energy Agency (Dena) concludes, “LNG is the only financially feasible option in the short- to intermediate term that can reduce oil dependency and the GHG emissions of heavy-duty road-freight transport.” Government incentives have already been introduced through reduced tax on fuel and vehicles.

Holland, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries in Western and Northern Europe already have a relatively high density of LNG refueling stations. Traditionally, these are the countries that have been transporting their natural gas in liquid form for many years. From a global perspective, the LNG-fueled future is already underway. According to the Dena study, approximately 50,000 trucks were fuelled by the climate-friendly alternative in 2012, the majority of which are in China.

RESEARCH ON LNG AIRCRAFT

Aviation is the only transport industry that has not yet produced a fully developed concept for liquefied natural gas. Detailed studies have already been conducted by NASA in cooperation with Boeing, as there is considerable excitement about LNG’s high energy density and combustion properties, which enable an especially high level of turbine efficiency. However, the additional technology that this requires is currently too heavy, and effectively results in a negative energy balance. In spite of this, experts are confident that LNG will play a leading role, although it will be some time before a safe and production-ready LNG propulsion system arrives on the market. According to predictions by NASA, the earliest we can expect to see aircraft flying with the fuel of the future will be in 2040.

Text: Marijke Engel

VISION: The Vindskip freight ship, developed by the Norwegian company Lade AS, will be powered with wind energy. When the wind drops, an LNG engine will kick in.

FIRST EVER: The Isla Bella sails under an American flag and is the first container ship powered by LNG.

Interview: »Politicians need to do more«

Michael Schaarschmidt, Head of Product Management at Zukunft Erdgas on LNG in Germany

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