Decarbonising transport with low-emission and renewable LNG

What’s the fuel that would allow our heavy-duty transport to operate affordably, long-term and with low-emissions?

LNG - the fuel that would allow us to decarbonise the transport sector quickly and efficiently

In this article, we are continuing with a brand new topic – LNG. It is something that we’ve mentioned here and there, but for the first time, we shall take a more in-depth look into it. The goal, as usual, is to try and understand more about it. 

Let’s start by saying that The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects natural gas to represent around 40% of total energy demand growth over the next two decades (World Energy Outlook 2018, IEA). It will play a crucial role in powering electricity generation and sectors more difficult to electrify. 

As such, existing gas networks and LNG infrastructure are fundamental to the long-term decarbonisation target. Those will help facilitate higher volumes of decarbonised and renewable gases. They could be biomethane produced through anaerobic digestion or biomass gasification, and synthetic gas from power-to-gas technologies. 

Today’s EU production of renewable gas, injected in the grid and also used on transport applications, is around 20 TWh, with an estimate for future output up to more than 1,100 TWh in 2050 (2020 Gas Decarbonisation Pathways study).

So, this will be the first of several mini-series articles on LNG. Here’s what you’re going to learn:

  1. What is the role of LNG and why it will be crucial for our future
  2. Why do we use LNG in transport
  3. Whether renewable gas could be compatible with LNG in transport
  4. What needs to be done to continue the positive effects of LNG

Decarbonising with LNG in transport

LNG is an effective and sustainable solution for achieving the EU's long-term decarbonisation targets.

Having said all that, let’s talk about LNG in transport. Here, LNG is an effective and sustainable solution for achieving the EU’s long-term decarbonisation targets. In the short-term, it can quickly be improving air quality in urban areas, including ports and coasts. This is a clear benefit over any other technology out there.

Heavy-duty road transport and shipping are among the hard-to-electrify sectors due to the paramount need to secure high on-board energy capacity storage. Fuel energy density and the adequate development of fuel distribution infrastructure are thus crucial factors to guarantee the flexibility that logistic operations require. 

To put things into perspective: a truck can travel more than a thousand kilometres per day. As such, an adequate amount of energy is needed, and LNG is perfect for this. Now imagine a ship. The energy required on such a vessel is several hundred times more than that of the truck. Nevertheless, LNG can deliver enough power to run the whole ship and, therefore, decarbonising transport is achievable today.

But are we able to cut carbon emissions? 

According to the different engine technologies, switching from conventional fuels to LNG in the maritime sector offers an immediate CO2 emissions reduction (decarbonising) up to 28% at the exhaust. 

On the road transport side, current engine technologies are providing an equivalent effect by 20%. This means being one of the most promising solutions to achieve 2025 and 2030 emissions targets for heavy-duty vehicle emissions.

For further information, see Life Cycle GHG Emission Study on the Use of LNG as Marine Fuel (thinkstep, 2019) and Greenhouse Gas Intensity Study of Natural Gas (thinkstep, 2017).

What about renewables and air quality?

Stepping away from conventional LNG, bio LNG can help to further decarbonise the transport sector, with the use of synthetic and bio LNG. This is because it offers almost 100% GHG emissions reduction and contributes to achieving net-zero emissions. 

Together with the design of a multimodal transport system LNG is the ticket to a clean and sustainable transport system.

Considering air quality, in the maritime sector, LNG comes as an immediate answer to the incoming sulphur cap regulation implemented by the IMO. Compared to current heavy fuels, LNG’s sulphur content is 1,000 times lower than the IMO 0.5% target. 

Remember, we talked about air quality and the different emissions in a previous series dedicated to the topic. Don’t forget to check those out too.

NOx emissions are mainly dependent on the engine combustion cycle and on exhaust after-treatment technologies. LNG reduces NOx emissions up to 80% compared to the traditional heavy-fuel oil (HFO) operations in the shipping sector. On the road transport side, the range of NOx emissions reduction compared to diesel equivalent engines are in the range from 40% to 60%.   

Thanks to its gaseous nature, LNG provides particle-free combustion, reducing the mass of emitted particles by up to 95% compared to diesel and up to 99% compared to HFO operations. This alone contributes immensely to improving air quality, especially in port cities, 

Together with the design of a multimodal transport system LNG is the ticket to a clean and sustainable transport system. Here, the transport of goods relies on the best fit from the combination of the shipping, railway and road sectors.

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So, how can we continue this positive development?

To continue this positive environmental trend, a political consensus at EU level is needed to create stable conditions and further develop the proper market for LNG. 

European Institutions must recognise the critical role of LNG in the energy transition. In particular, the environmental benefits it provides compared to other conventional fuels and its role in ensuring system flexibility and reliability for the integration of variable renewable energy sources.

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