LNG's road transport potential
Long range opportunities for LNG as a road fuel may lie in the truck market
The spread of affordable small-scale liquefaction facilities is opening up new opportunities for LNG as a road fuel. While the pros and cons are broadly similar to those of CNG, LNG does have one big advantage, which is that it can hold the same amount of energy as CNG in a tank occupying about one third of the space. That is a boon for the trucking industry, whose vehicles can hold LNG tanks big enough to travel farther-useful for plying routes where the refuelling network may be patchy.
In June, European manufacturer Iveco unveiled an LNG-fuelled heavy truck model with a range of up to 1,500km-the longest in the sector, the company claims-a feat made possible through a combination of large LNG-storage capacity and engine-efficiency improvements.
If LNG is going to catch on in road transport, then trucking is its obvious home. Besides, the long range possible and the lower emissions than diesel, there is little prospect of battery power making the same inroads in trucking as it is doing with cars. No one has yet developed a battery pack capable of providing the large amount of sustainable power needed by a heavy-duty vehicle. So if haulage companies need to reduce emissions and cut costs in the long term, LNG holds promise.
The European Commission (EC), the EU's civil service, launched a strategy for low-emissions transport in July, showing it thinks LNG's transport future lay mainly as an alternative to diesel for trucks and coaches, as well as in the marine sector.
Cedigaz, a compiler of gas data, has projected worldwide demand for LNG as a road transport fuel of 45m tonnes in 2025 growing to 96m tonnes in 2035, with China accounting for almost half of the market. That would be a sizeable boost for LNG suppliers, even if LNG remains a niche fuel in the whole transport segment.
China is already estimated to have well over 100,000 LNG-fuelled trucks on the road, but there are only around 1,500 heavy-duty trucks running on LNG in Europe at the moment and only some 70 refuelling stations to serve them along several transport corridors, according to trade body NGVA Europe. Meanwhile, its counterpart NGVAmerica says there are just 123 LNG refuelling stations in the US.
The EC says the potential of natural gas could be increased significantly with the use of biomethane and synthetic methane produced through power-to-gas technology. The institution prefers synthetic methane to gas produced from a well, because it can be created by using surplus or off-peak electricity from renewables to separate out the hydrogen in water and combine it with CO2 to create methane. This effectively provides a method of storage for surplus power production from renewables.
If LNG does grab more of the truck market, its market share could escalate rapidly, as truck fleets tend to have a faster turnover than car fleets. The growth of small-scale LNG facilities to service other areas of the economy, such as power and marine-fuel bunkering, will also help support the road transport sector too.
This article is part of a report series on Gas in Transport. Next article: Compressed natural gas set to rise in emerging economies