LNG for road freight: pros and cons
While the world is looking for an alternative to diesel fuel for road freight, some of the biggest truck manufacturers consider the liquefied natural gas as the most commercially viable option for heavy long-haul operations.
Liquefied natural gas, simply known as LNG, showed its high economic efficiency during the dedicated tests that were carried out by Iveco in Poland. They confirmed a suggestion that LNG is cheaper than diesel and it could reduce fuel costs by up to 40 per cent. The efficiency of LNG depends on the delivery distance and the weight of freight. For instance, the transport of goods that weigh up to 13,8 tonnes proved to be the most cost-effective by reducing fuel consumption up to 26 per cent compared to diesel. On the basis of its Stralis NP heavy goods vehicle, Iveco also considers lower service contract cost as one of the main advantages of the LNG-powered trucks. The average return on LNG fuel per kilometre driven is 0,084 euro, the company’s 2016 research reads.
Most LNG trucks run a distance at a range of approximately 600-700 kilometres. It is enough for most daily haulage work. If needed, heavy goods vehicles can be fitted with dual tanks to increase their range to more than 1,000 kilometres. “Natural gas is competitively priced in many countries, and there are sufficient reserves to justify large-scale use. Our focus on LNG vehicles is creating new prerequisites for our customers to run fuel- and cost-efficient operations,” said Lars Mårtensson, environment and innovation director at Volvo Trucks.
Between gas and biogas
In 2017 Volvo Trucks presented its first LNG-powered models, FH LNG and FM LNG. The vehicles with 420 or 460 horse powers were designed for heavy regional and long-haul operations and are able to power with liquefied natural gas or biogas (LBG). Both fuels consist of methane but the biogas can be extracted from waste materials, compost or plant matter and subsequently liquefied. Volvo Trucks regards this fuel as the most environmentally friendly and even suggests that its usage allows the road freight sector to achieve zero-emission operations.
Since the future of the biogas is still hazy, LNG is being considered as one of the most appropriate alternatives to the diesel fuel. Besides economics, LNG-powered trucks are two times quieter and much safer (LNG is less toxic, less flammable and lighter than the air). But the main advantage of the liquefied gas that truck manufacturers emphasise is the relatively lower environment impact.
Volvo Trucks claims that its FH and FM gas vehicles emit 20 per cent less CO2 than diesel-powered vehicles. Given the fact that a truck covers 120,000 kilometres per year, it produces 18 – 20 tonnes less CO2 emissions per year. Scania states that its gas heavy goods vehicles with gas engines emit 15 per cent less greenhouse gas. Iveco’s study showed 95 per cent particulate emission and 35 per cent nitrogen oxide emission reduction.
However, there are also studies questioning the figures declared by truck manufacturers. The tests provided by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) for the Government of the Netherlands showed that the gas trucks are up to five times worse for air pollution than the diesel freight transport. The test results are in sharp contrast to the mentioned data provided by the truck manufacturers. ”The three LNG trucks tested emit 2 to 5 times more poisonous NOx than the diesel truck with the lowest test result when driven in a combination of urban areas, regional routes and motorways. When driven in towns and cities, the gas trucks release 2 to 3,5 times more NOx than the tested diesel truck with the lowest emissions. Trucks powered by biomethane (biogas) would have the same air pollutant emissions as trucks running on fossil gas because the fuel characteristics are the same,” the study states.
The road test also recorded some reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the vehicles of Scania, Iveco and Volvo but this small benefit is almost completely neutralised by the way of extraction and transportation of the gas, including methane leakage. T&E argues that the governments of the EU member states should “stop encouraging the uptake of polluting LNG trucks by ending the extremely low tax rates that fossil gas for transport enjoys in most countries”. The high price and maintenance costs are also a big disadvantage of the LNG-powered trucks. In 2018, the average price difference between an LNG vehicle and a comparable diesel analogue was 25,000 – 35,000 euros. Last but not least, the usage of the LNG-powered trucks demands a remarkable expansion of the existing fuelling stations network.