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Federmetano Conference


Technologies such as liquid natural gas and diesel/LNG powered engines, where natural gas represents a sensible and convenient solution for trucks, even over medium-long distances. This sparked a debate during the latest Autopromotec event, waiting for the European “blue corridors”

Lucia Scatolin



Tomorrow’s industrial vehicles will be powered by natural gas. Many city busesare already using it, not to mention delivery or waste collection vehicles as well as many light commercial trucks. The expansion of the infrastructures and the development and fuel supply systems will promote long distance travelling, making LNG and diesel/LNG hybrid engines more and more popular even on medium-long distances. As Italian transporters are finding it increasingly harder to make ends meet in favor of East European companies as well as the ever increasing cost of fuel, Autopromotec arranged a conference where many of the alternative fuel industry players met.


Italy is ready: now for cars, tomorrow for trucks

Italy is the seventh country in the world for the number of circulating natural gas powered vehicles (961thousand vehicles, including cars); has 1061 CNG filling stations, 41 of which located on motorways, a great leap forward from the 420 in 2003: these figures were highlighted by Dante Natali, president of Federmetano (National Federation of Natural Gas Suppliers and Distributors). Natural Gas, once confined in specific geographical areas, has recently received new life from industrial powertrains: with city buses in Ravenna and Udine starting the trend during the nineties.  The use of this technology on buses marked a change of mentality: if, at one point, the choice was dictated mostly by an economic benefit, the above-mentioned two cities opted for natural gas powered vehicles to reduce harmful emissions as well. Today, 60% of the distribution of CNG can supply trucks and buses thanks to large access roads, and adapters that allow the switch from small nozzles for cars to NGV2 couplings. In the South, many areas still lack CNG filling stations, while in the North of the country the market is growing fast; nine distributors are not connected to the national supply network but gasify natural gas that comes in liquid tanks from Spain.

Only one of which, in Piacenza, can also directly supply LNG. Progress, as highlighted by Alfonso Simoni of the Department for Land Transport, has been made possible by the development of laws regulating both transport and natural gas storage, keeping up with new technologies or even stimulating their evolution. The basis for international, national and European regulations and agreements currently managing the transport of new fuels, are the UN1971 and 1972 for compressed and liquid natural gas respectively. Just recently, a change of rules has allowed the registration for LNG powered vehicles, previously not counted among fuels even though it could be transported on roads, using simpler road-tankers than those required for CNG. Natural gas is essential both for the strategy aimed at reducing emissions, with Italy expected to reduce non-industrial pollutants by 20% and industrial pollutants by 40% by 2030 (for other sources of emission, including transport, the share is still to be determined). Sebastiano Serra, of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, underlined, in particular, the 2020 deadline and how difficult it would be to reach the planned emission reduction without immediate action. Heavy duty road transport can play a key role in the reduction of harmful emissions, especially through hybrid drive conversion kits for vehicles already in circulation, even more so if government incentives will be available. On the other hand, the current technology (still at an embryonic stage) makes large-scale application difficult for electric vehicles. The important role played by fuel distribution companies was underlined by Massimo Prastaro, responsible for ENI’s retail development projects, who photographed the current situation relating to LNG in Europe, which sees Spain leading the way with 318 circulating trucks, as well as the Benelux with 314. By 2030, according to current estimates, between 10 and 20% of European industrial vehicles will travel on LNG. Potential obstacles are represented by taxation and vetoes of some countries, which have, for example, blocked the development of an LNG powered airplane. Furthermore, Italy needs a terminal for the unloading of LNG from tankers: today there is the possibility of obtaining supplies from France or Spain, but at high costs. The Blue Corridors project involves four European corridors along the main east-west and north-south routes, with 100 heavy duty vehicles engaged on long distance travelling and 14 service stations (two of which in Italy); the implementation phase started in 2013; the infrastructure will be complete by 2017, as 27 partner companies from 11 countries participate in the project. The LNG distributor in Piacenza has, since the beginning of the year, supplied 70 tons of fuel in 631 different filling operations; traditional customers are LC3’s Iveco trucks, soon to be joined by those of Smet, as well as a number of Spanish operators.


Ready to satisfy 85% of the requirements

The need to know the full potential of natural gas has been the focus of the intervention of Maria Rosa Baroni, president of NGV Italy, as a result of an in-depth analysis of the Italian natural gas chain supply. Container terminals are ideal locations for natural gas filling stations; the future scenario foresees a CNG station every 150 km and one for LNG every 400. One risk, however, is represented by powerful hydroelectric and nuclear lobbies in certain countries, that by pushing the EU towards limiting imports of fossil fuels could also affect the natural gas market. Moreover, a greater and better communication between the various CNG network players is essential; this is the reason behind the creation of an LNG national coordination group. Coordination that must receive an important contribution from car manufacturers, as pointed out by Clément Chandon, head of Iveco’s CNG business development, after analyzing the current availability of CNG powered vehicles. The range produced by the Italian manufacturer, as he pointed out, can cover 85% of all transport needs. With two drivers and a double tank, an LNG powered truck can cover shifts of 800 km per day, reducing NOx emissions by 70%, and particulate emissions by 98%, not to mention an 80% reduction of unburned hydrocarbons; compared to Euro 6 standards, CO2 emissions falls by 15%. But CNG/LNG-powered trucks does not mean having to rely only on new vehicles: Roberto Roasio of Ecomotive Solutions has analyzed fuel conversion on currently circulating trucks. Engines can keep the diesel cycle by burning natural gas up to 80/90% and diesel at 10/20. A mixture of air and natural gas is injected in the cylinder, while the injection of diesel fuel serves to trigger the combustion. The system is compatible with both liquid and compressed natural gas, as well as biogas (which in its liquid form is 98% pure), so far approved for Euro 5 engines only; Euro 6 is still in approval phase. Among the various converted trucks, one is in regular service: it has a 116-liter diesel tank supported by an 89-kg tank for natural gas, which allows a 700 km distance range. Operating costs have dropped by 8,000 euro over a total of 40,000, with a conversion payback evaluated in around 23 months. Along with Public Institutions, oil companies and vehicle manufacturers, the meeting welcomed one last, important point of view: that of component manufacturers. Renzo Ciucci, of HVM, a tank manufacturing firm,  described the various types of storage security systems aimed for LNG cryogenic storage, which must maintain temperatures of -162 ° C at a pressure of 1 bar. These tanks cannot be produced using tanks of different types, but must be specifically designed and built with a chamber to guarantee the necessary vacuum; they can withstand a fire that develops 590 ° C for up to 5 minutes and maintain the pressure for an hour after a fall of 9 meters. Westport’s Andrea Varisco concluded the meeting with his speech. Westport is a company that converts diesel engines into mixed-fuel engines and recommends CNG to its customers for travelling distances of up to 500 km and LNG beyond that. They have recently converted a 100-ton truck operating in the Dominican Republic timber industry as well as some Ro-Ro tractors, ending with agreements established with Iveco in Spain and Scania in Russia. The conversion of an Opel Vivaro minibus and a heavy duty Iveco Stralis were recently performed in Italy as well, with annual savings on operating costs of 4 and 10 thousand Euro respectively.

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