Habitually the domain of the taxi industry, will stepping back into gas be the way forwards to reduce emissions? Words by Chris Mullett.
When fuel prices are low nobody gives a hoot about the cost of filling a tank. But, as prices rise, as they are doing so currently, the cost of fuelling a vehicle takes on a greater significance.
The carmakers used to add a gas conversion to their product portfolio, hence the Mitsubishi Magna and Ford Falcon that arrived completely converted for those that favoured LPG. Aftermarket suppliers also claimed to be able to convert any existing petrol-fuelled engine to run on LPG, resulting in some conversions that worked exceptionally well, but others that unfortunately didn’t, providing problems with starting on cold mornings and smooth running with the engine at idle.
In the first five months of last year, (VFacts MAY YTD 2017), only seven private buyers of new vehicles in the light commercial segment opted for LPG. In the non-private buyer segment for new vehicles the number reached just 22 sales. Fast forward to compare these statistics with the first five months of this year and the sales figures for both segments using LPG were zero. In every category of vehicle purchase, diesel-fuelled vehicles rule the day.
When taking a new look at the benefits of Australian natural gas fuels, they are only cleaner, cheaper and healthier than diesel – they offer a feasible alternative for heavy transport. Natural gas vehicle technology is mature, proven in real-world applications, and is the only other technology that has a commercially available product for cars, heavy-duty trucks, buses, forklifts, trains, marine vessels and stationary energy.
Australia has 43 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, or 200 years supply, and is the world’s second largest exporter of LNG. A recent report by the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics noted that natural gas fuels are likely to have one of the lowest costs of production of any fuels in Australia to 2050.
Natural-gas-powered heavy trucks emit up to 23 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel-powered trucks. In one study, converting one diesel truck to natural gas reduced emissions by almost 35 tonnes of CO2 per annum – equivalent to removing around 12 cars from the road.
In North America and Europe many more trucks run on natural gas, and numbers are growing. In Norway, the government approved the construction and operation of natural gas passenger vessels, in Canada three new natural gas ferries have been contracted, and, in the USA, BC and Staten Island Ferries are studying options to retrofit their diesel vessels to run on natural gas.
The lower cost of diesel when compared to that of petrol led to its increasing popularity in Western Europe. But with members of the European Union now focusing their sights on lowering exhaust emissions and improving air clarity in their cities, the diesel engine has fallen from grace.
Cities in Western Europe are now banning all but the latest Euro 6 emissions technology diesel vehicles from entering congested city centres. Those vehicles that conform to Euro 3 or Euro 4 levels are being sold off and transported to Eastern European cities where the tighter emissions regulations have yet to be enacted, adding their high levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions to an already unhealthy inner-city environment.
In London alone, up to 500,000 motorists will be faced with the requirement to change their pre-2011 cars because of the additional cost of the 12 Euro per day Toxicity Charge spreading from the centre of London into the suburbs. Owners of relatively new Euro 4 petrol and Euro 5 diesel-engined vehicles, such as were at the centre of the VW Dieselgate furore, have until 2021 to remove them from inner-city streets.
While the spotlight for future development all seems to be aimed at suggesting battery-powered electric vehicles are the solution, the cost is currently prohibitive and the touring range inadequate.
As the tide of public interest ebbs and flows towards alternative fuels, Gas Energy Australia (GEA) has made the somewhat obvious suggestion that one of the simplest ways to dramatically reduce current vehicle emissions – as well as provide greater domestic fuel security – is to switch away from oil‐based fuels to gas.
Gas Energy Australia CEO, John Griffiths, said that Australia has well established and extensive gas vehicle refuelling infrastructure, has been a world leader in the development and deployment of gas vehicle technology, including the new LPG Autogas Centre of Excellence which opened in Melbourne last year, and has significant reserves of LPG and natural gas.
“We have recently heard from the car industry that some of our most popular vehicles may be removed from the market or face increased charges as part of new vehicle emission standards being considered by the federal government. This doesn’t have to be the case.
“Gas‐powered vehicles are already helping car manufacturers meet tough European CO2 emission standards, and the same could easily be done here in Australia. Converting our cars and trucks to gas would significantly reduce carbon emissions by up to 25 percent, which is not only better for our environment but would also cut motorists’ running costs,” said Mr. Griffiths.
Australia has significant gas reserves that could provide gaseous fuels – like LNG, CNG and LPG – that can be used for transport with current technology and also for off‐grid power generation and many industrial uses. A range of passenger, commuter and long‐haul road transport, trains and ships can already use these fuels – either alone or as part of hybrid technology.
Natural gas fuels – LNG and CNG – are clean, cheap and produced locally from Australian natural gas, which is abundantly available in Australia and is found underground in many different types of rock formations. They can also be produced from biomethane recovered from renewable sources including wastewater, landfill, agricultural or forestry waste.
Natural gas and biomethane are both methane, which is colourless, odourless, non-corrosive and is one of the safest fuels available. The natural gas we use at home to heat water or cook meals can be liquefied to form LNG or compressed to form CNG.
Depending on the application, natural gas fuels come in a number of different forms including, liquefied, compressed and high density, all with their own benefits and characteristics.
CNG is made by sending the natural gas through a gas dryer and compressor, where it compressed to less than 1.0 percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure.
High Density Compressed Natural Gas (HDCNG) is a new technology for storing natural gas, which means vehicles can drive longer and need to refuel less often than current CNG.
LNG is created by cooling natural gas and reducing its volume by more than 600 times, making it easier to transport.
These processes increase the energy density of natural gas, which makes it manageable to store the gas in tanks, and used to fuel vehicles or transported without the need for pipelines. But, no matter what form it is stored, it is still natural gas.
“Switching just a proportion of Australia’s transport and other energy uses from oil to abundant Australian gases would significantly reduce the need to build expensive oil reserves, increase our domestic fuels security, and help insulate Australia from current events in the Middle East, while reducing our dependency on foreign oil imports.
“Producing gaseous fuels here and developing the niche manufacturing that comes with it provides Australian jobs – while importing oil from offshore refineries only produces offshore jobs,” said Mr. Griffiths.