Australians are known as early adopters, with the take-up of smartphone and tablet technology making us one of the most prolific groups of technology users globally (per head of population). Something does seem to have gone amiss, though, when it comes to the adoption of alternative fuels.
Last year, Delivery reported on the lack of enthusiasm evident in the take-up of LNG- or CNG-fuelled vehicles, with none being registered for either private or light commercial use. One year later and the statistics have not changed, with VFACTS for 2018 showing not one LPG vehicle registered. We’re also not much more enthusiastic in embracing electricity as a power source, with just two privately registered and 14 non-privately registered LCVs.
There’s more enthusiasm from passenger car buyers, with electric power featuring in 495 non-private SUVs and 195 private SUVs, plus 401 non-private and 245 private passenger cars. Hybrid technology fared better, with more activity to return sales figures of 4101 private and 8627 non-private passenger cars, with 654 private hybrid SUVs and 946 non-private hybrid SUVs. (Source: VFACTS).
Does this lack of sales indicate a lack of interest on the part of buyers? Or does it demonstrate a lack of passion for introducing new technologies on the part of the car and LCV importers, who − with the exception of Renault − have not brought new alternatives into the Australian market?
Some of the answers lie with the Federal Government, where ministers steadfastly resist the notion of climate change and − unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America − refuse to consider providing incentives to purchasers of non-polluting technologies.
When taking a new look at the benefits of Australian natural gas fuels, they are cleaner, cheaper and healthier than diesel. 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. Support for the adoption of LNG by the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics came in the form of a report that noted 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.
Natural gas fuels – LNG and CNG – are clean, cheap and produced locally from Australian natural gas, which 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 a form of 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 is compressed to less than 1 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 frequently 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 in what form it is stored, it is still natural gas.
Blue Bus Innovations of Luton, England, has become the first company in the UK to operate compressed natural gas-powered (CNG) minibuses after ordering three IVECO Daily Line Hi-Matic 16-seater alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs).
The gas vehicles provide Blue Bus Innovations with performance comparable to diesel. However, managing director Tazio Puri Negri was more impressed with their green credentials – producing 12 per cent fewer NOx emissions, 76 per cent less particulate matter, and up to 95 per cent less CO2 emissions when fuelled using bio-methane.
The CNG vehicles (Daily 50C14GA8s) are built on a 4100mm wheelbase and are powered by IVECO’s 3.0-litre, 140 hp (104 KW) engine. Interior noise levels are reduced by using natural gas engines, with a noise reduction of at least 4dB compared to its diesel equivalent.
One of the UK’s biggest commercial vehicle leasing companies is offering customers the chance to try out AFVs before committing to a long-term lease. John Fletcher, MD at Dawsongroup truck and trailer, said: “We are giving immediate access to the technology, to work alongside existing operations without the need to plunge into a high-level capital investment programme.”
The Dawsongroup fleet includes a 12-tonne Iveco Eurocargo powered by CNG and a dual-compartment Paneltex refrigerated body, with a hydraulically driven fridge unit from Swedish firm Hulstein.
Dawsongroup said it is also working with Paneltex to bring a range of electric trial vehicles to its rental line-up in the near future.
Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Renault have AFVs of their major model ranges available now, but until buyers can see an incentive for their purchase at a higher cost than conventional power systems, it’s unlikely we’ll make progress in this area. It’s a situation that only time and attitude will change.