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Transport sector ready to gamble on LNG and Biogas

Licia Balboni president of Federmetano (Photo Agency of Press Dire)



Widely regarded as the underdog of the motor-fuel industry, the Natural gas sector is now seeking its revenge focusing on environmental sustainability and innovation. 

Emiliano Costa

Widely regarded as the underdog of the motor-fuel industry, the Natural gas sector is now seeking its revenge focusing on environmental sustainability and innovation. Biogas and LNG (Liquefied natural gas) are the two key factors behind the supply chain’s decision to invest in innovation in order to perform the long awaited technological leap in the automotive sector. In fact, the development of this Energy carrier is receiving significant credit as a valid alternative, given the increasingly stringent emission regulations imposed on traditional fuels. Licia Balboni, president of Federmetano, is perfectly aware of this. During the Metanauto 2018 event, Federmetano gathered a number of transport operators, institutions representatives, university professors and entrepreneurs in Bologna to discuss strategies and programs aimed at enhancing the sector’s expertise and skills. "We must stop considering natural gas only as a transitional energy carrier - said Balboni opening the conference -. Natural gas is the perfect alternative, ready at hand, for a more sustainable mobility. This is not about choosing one technology over another. The real challenge is to bring together different virtuous models, which would include both natural gas and electricity, and make them coexist. The use of natural gas in the automotive sector is nothing new. For years now, high performance engines have been making the most of this fuel. Currently, more than a million natural gas powered vehicles are travelling on Italian roads, about 2% of the total traffic. A figure destined to grow given the decision by many car manufacturers to invest in this type of fuel. A greater use of these vehicles, supported by public incentives and local policies in line with what is already happening with electric vehicles - free parking and access to historic centres and other restricted traffic areas – would encourage, according to several operators, a quicker renewal of the current circulating fleet. On average, cars in our country are 11 years old and the age rises to 13 when it comes to heavy duty vehicles. In addition, choosing to use natural gas as a sustainable fuel would trigger significant investments in the two most relevant products in the sector, LNG (liquid natural gas) and biogas. The latter, besides having a very low environmental impact, would also favour a circular economy system. In fact, bio-methane results from the purification of biogas, the production of which comes from processing biomass, the waste of agro-industrial enterprises and the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW). "We believe that a real revolution, as far as understanding the real potential of this energy vector, can only be achieved through a cultural project that includes on-going communication and dialogue with central and local governments, road transport companies and associations and with the general public - said Balboni -. What they must all understand is that natural gas is the perfect alternative, ready at hand, for a more sustainable mobility.


LNG, a revolution in the transport sector 

The use of liquid natural gas in heavy duty vehicles is transforming the road haulage scenario. LNG is increasingly popular and destined to grow over time with soaring sales volumes by 2040. According to some estimates, LNG by 2030 is expected to account for half of the expected bunkering activities and 30% of the total freight transport. According to the speakers who took the stand at Metanauto, LNG represents a low-cost and efficient solution capable of significantly reducing emissions. Given the treatment used to purify gas, a meaningful quantity of particulate matter, SOx and NOx would be eliminated. The network of distributors currently in the country boasts 1,290 filling stations, 47 of which are on motorways. For the time being, the presence of an attendant is required for refuelling, but as of next year, the first self-service stations are expected to become operative. A small step forward which constitutes a further incentive to use natural-gas-powered vehicles. As far as liquid natural gas is concerned, only 31 stations are available at the moment. In this case, however, the greatest issue is related to supply. Our country depends almost exclusively on foreign depots - Barcelona and Marseille first and foremost - where our LNG comes from. This entails an additional cost for those who use it and therefore a higher sales price. For this reason, several Italian gas companies have launched a series of projects to create depots in the country. The first, and eagerly awaited, should be in Ravenna where, by 2021, 20 thousand cubic metres of LNG could be stored.


Bio-methane, a sustainable Energy source

The demand for Natural Gas is on the rise and to meet the growing use of gas – estimates speak of between 69 and 70 billion cubic metres by 2030 – besides restricting emissions, one of the possible solutions, according to experts present at Metanauto 2018, is increasing the production of bio-methane. But this project depends on a significant upgrading of the entire supply chain, including new and innovative production and distribution plants, a key factor in promoting the use of bio-methane whether for Energy production or domestic heating. An ambitious program indeed, but one that needs time, given how far behind our country is in the “green economy” sector. On the other hand, boosting the use of natural gas in the transport sector could be a goal reachable within a few years. More than a third of the transporters might decide to shift to bio-methane. A product that is the perfect example of a circular business model. In fact, bio-methane is obtained from the use of agricultural biomass, such as dedicated crops, from agricultural by-products and waste and animal manure, agro-industrial processing waste and from OSMFW. Bio-methane is obtained in two phases: production of raw biogas from anaerobic digestion of biomass and subsequent removal (upgrading) of components that are not compatible with grid feeding (CO2). According to estimates, the biogas sector will have a renewable gas production potential, by 2030, of 10 billion cubic metres of bio-methane, 8 of which stemming from agricultural products and 2 from selected organic waste.

However, this is a forecast that, once in place, would find in the mobility market its favourite target. Hence, by 2020, as established by the EU, 10% of the energy needs of the transport sector could be covered by renewable sources, with bio-fuels leading the way.

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