In sustainable mobility, natural gas offers a low-emission alternative to petrol and diesel – without any restrictions in practicality or convenience.
As the coronavirus pandemic slowly subsides, mobility is gradually returning to our lives. The first holiday trips are possible again and people are also travelling more on business. But this also means that another topic is returning to the public discussion with renewed urgency: how climate-friendly is our transport of people and goods?
When it comes to the topic of CO2 reduction in mobility, many people think first – and often exclusively – of electric cars. Yet these are not the only alternative to the diesel and petrol engines currently in use. Natural gas vehicles could also make a decisive contribution to making German road traffic sustainably greener. And this step is urgently needed, because mobility is responsible for about 20 percent of annual CO2 emissions in Germany.1
According to a study by the specialist institute EWI, up to 20 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent could be avoided annually if one fifth of the German vehicle fleet were to be converted from oil-based fuels to natural gas by 2030. This corresponds to the annual CO2 emissions of about 2.5 million two-person households. A considerable amount, which points to a particular advantage of natural gas vehicles: their CO2 emissions are up to a quarter lower than those of petrol-powered vehicles.
Natural gas vehicles have a better carbon footprint than oil-based fuels. Overall, natural gas as a fuel can save more than 30 percent of CO2 emissions compared to petrol and about 25 percent compared to diesel. The climate-friendliness of gas-powered vehicles also increases when regeneratively produced biogas is added to the fossil fuel natural gas. With pure biogas operation, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by an impressive 97 percent.2 Nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions are also significantly reduced through the use of natural gas drives. Natural gas vehicles have therefore long since met the strict Euro 6 emissions standard and are therefore already allowed to drive in all environmental zones. Although natural gas vehicles in series production are still somewhat more expensive than their petrol-powered counterparts, there is support available. For instance, some municipal utilities and regional gas suppliers promote the purchase of natural gas vehicles with premiums or fuel vouchers.3
One advantage of natural gas over electric vehicles is their longer range: Already today, one tank is enough for distances of around 800 kilometres, depending on the model.4 In addition, many natural gas cars also have another tank for petrol, which further increases their range. This means that they can also be used on longer journeys without any restrictions. That is why the entry into natural gas-based mobility with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuel was also interesting for car manufacturers. Since the mid-1990s, more and more car manufacturers have offered series-produced vehicles with natural gas drive – from small cars, through family cars and minibuses, right up to limousines. For this reason, more and more fleet operators and taxi companies are now also opting for natural gas vehicles. In addition to passenger cars, more and more buses with natural gas engines are also on the roads in Germany.
And the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also an obvious choice for the rapidly growing heavy goods traffic, before the electrification of motorways for long-distance trucks can be seriously considered. A switch to LNG trucks is already financially worthwhile thanks to the exemption from tolls that will apply until 2023 and the continuation of vehicle subsidies within the framework of the fleet replacement programme for HGVs. In addition, the refuelling situation has once again improved significantly: across Germany, the number of LNG stations has risen to currently 46. Many more filling stations will follow in the current year.5
Partly due to these advantages, demand from logistics companies for natural gas trucks rose sharply as part of the "Energy-efficient and/or low-CO2 heavy-duty vehicles" (EEN) funding programme initiated in mid-2018. Of the total 5,034 vehicles applied for by the end of 2020, 4,355 were LNG commercial vehicles, representing 87 percent of all funding applications. In addition, CNG commercial vehicles accounted for a further 12 percent (602 vehicles). Consequently, 99 percent of funding applications are for gas-powered trucks, which means that vehicles with electric motors play virtually no role in the heavy-duty sector.6 This is ultimately also reflected in the new registration statistics of the Federal Motor Transport Authority: with almost 1,400 newly registered natural gas vehicles, the tractor segment set a record in 2020. Natural gas tractor units recorded increases of over 80 percent compared to the previous year. New registrations of natural gas trucks over 12 tonnes also rose sharply, by 31 percent.7
As these figures show, natural gas contributes to sustainability in mobility – without any cuts for consumers in terms of availability, practicality and convenience.
1 Umweltbundesamt: Emission sources: www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/klima-energie/treibhausgas-emissionen/emissionsquellen
2 Zukunft Gas: environmental protection through natural gas fuels? www.erdgas.info/erdgas-mobil/erdgas-als-kraftstoff/umweltvorteile
3 Zukunft Gas: Switch to CNG – get subsidies: www.erdgas.info/erdgas-mobil/erdgas-fahren-rechnet-sich/foerderung-erdgas-fahrzeuge
4 Zukunft Gas: vehicle models with natural gas: www.erdgas.info/erdgas-mobil/erdgas-fahrzeuge
56 Zukunft Gas: Climate protection expectations clearly exceeded – record demand for natural gas in heavy goods transport: www.gas.info/presse-publikationen/newsroom
7 Energate Messenger: Record sales at LNG filling stations: www.energate-messenger.de/news/210726/rekordabsatz-an-lng-tankstellen