The sustainable fuel of the future, available today – Part 3

How do LNG and bio-LNG offer unparalleled CO2 emissions reduction for sustainable European transport?

We are continuing the topic of LNG in the European transport with the third part of these series. In the first article, we took an introductory approach to the subject and talked about the overall benefits of LNG. The second article was all about the infrastructure’s role in the development of an important transport market for a long-term sustainable future on LNG.

Sustainable maritime and railway transport on LNG

So what will we cover in this new article about liquefied natural gas? This time we’re going to explore a bit more in-depth the role of maritime transport. You’ll also learn whether LNG is compatible with railway transport.

Why are these two modes of transport so important? A lot has been said (and written) on the benefits of gmobility for heavy-duty road transport. So far, you have probably seen that we must rely on sustainably produced biofuels if we want to achieve our 2050 targets.

Yes, electricity, hydrogen and other solutions out there are essential too. But, when we compare the overall benefits that each new technology brings, we should examine any and every micro and macro details available. For example, we shouldn’t forget that comparing vehicles’ tailpipe emissions is insufficient.

If we genuinely want to build a system to help us get to our 2050 climate targets, we need to know the benefits of each solution as well as its shortcomings. And in this context, once we switch our comparison mode from just a tailpipe examination to a well-to-wheel methodology, or even better – a life-cycle analysis, we can have a much bigger and comprehensive picture.

Sustainable transport means not just tailpipe measurement

It is a confirmation bias to just look at tailpipe emissions and pick one solution over another based on that alone. Similarly, it is insufficient to claim that methane (the chemical name of natural gas) is a powerful GHG contributor. As we have covered in a previous article, it is important to know what it is and how it affects the environment or our climate.

Why should you care if LNG is sustainable?

As someone who is interested in sustainable transport and cares about the future of our climate, you can see that there couldn’t be only one solution to help us fight climate change. In fact, we need to rely on proven technology that can help us decarbonise transport and reduce emissions majorly. 

Indeed, when we talk about transport, the heavy-duty sector is where we can see most emissions due to the volume of energy needed to transport goods across the EU. The maritime and railway sectors are no exception to this. In fact, these transport modes can carry large amounts of products and therefore, require large amounts of energy too.

This is why we think it will be interesting for you to find out a little bit more about them and how LNG helps save a lot of CO2 emissions when applied to these sectors.

So, what about sustainable maritime transport?

Sustainable maritime transport of goods with LNG

Marine engines capable of utilising LNG as a fuel have been used in the LNG carrier industry for decades. The first non-LNG carrier vessel – the LNG-fuelled ferry GLUTRA with gas engines and storage – came into service in 2000, in Norway.

Skipping ahead, two decades later, there are more than 170 LNG-fuelled ships in operation. Mostly, those are smaller vessels such as ferries, operating extensively in the ECAs of north-west Europe and North America. Numbers here are of little relevance, however, because they change on an almost-daily basis.

Most of the cruise ships directly enter the city harbours, for example in Hamburg. Cruise ships are responsible for about 38% of the cities NOx emissions. They are a significant source of fine particles emissions as engines keep running even when at berth to produce power. Here is where LNG is a solution, and this is being recognised increasingly by the industry. As an example, the world’s first LNG powered cruise ship Aida was inaugurated in autumn 2018. 

LNG powered cruise ship - Aida Nova
Aida Nova – the world’s first LNG powered cruise ship
Source: ConferenzaGNL

There are even LNG-fuelled icebreakers used in Finland that we have covered in our Best Practice section. Built in 2016 by Arctech Helsinki Shipyard, Polaris is the most powerful icebreaker ever to fly the Finnish flag. It’s the first icebreaker in the world to feature dual-fuel engines capable of using both low-sulfur marine diesel oil and liquefied natural gas.

We are trying to bring more examples like this to the gmobility platform. Stay tuned to find more. 

And is LNG compatible with railway transport?

Yes, it is. In fact, LNG in the railway sector is also a reality in Europe. 

Railway running on sustainable LNG in Europe
Railway running on LNG in Europe

Seven planned rail loading projects have been identified across Europe. One example is the project of Renfe, in cooperation with Naturgy and Enagás, related to the test of an LNG engine in the North of Spain (this project was launched in January 2018). This pilot project is supposed to be the first main sustainable passenger line train in Europe to be powered by LNG.

In Spain, the “LNGhive2” project aims to boost the use of LNG as a fuel for maritime and rail transport. The project is scheduled to run until 2022. It includes adapting the regasification terminals in Huelva and Sagunto (Valencia) to offer LNG as a fuel. 

It also foresees to introduce LNG in a “maritime-rail green corridor” between the Port of Huelva and the ADIF rail terminal in Majarabique (the dry port of Seville). The project includes building an LNG station in this rail terminal and retrofitting a diesel-hauled locomotive to LNG.

How does sustainable LNG contribute to the 2050 climate targets?

We have covered the environmental aspects of LNG in a previous article, which highlights the long-term potential of natural gas in transport. This is especially true when it comes to using renewable gas, such and bio-LNG. It can cut down emissions and provide carbon-free transportation already today.

The transport sector will succeed in meeting the long-term decarbonisation target not only through the evolution of vehicle technologies and the use of sustainable low carbon fuels/ energy carriers. In addition to these benefits integrating other important options will be both necessary and essential: from the optimisation of the freight logistics to the support coming from digitalisation, translating in an overall energy demand reduction from the sector.

Looking at the heavy-duty road sector, CO2 tailpipe emissions today are about 220 Mt issued from approximately 70 Mtoe (815 TWh) energy consumption, mainly represented by diesel fuel. Let’s assume the energy efficiency compensates for the increase in freight logistics in the long term. As such, a question to ask and understand is if the sector will dispose globally of approximately 815 TWh “net-zero emissions” energy in 2050. 

BioLNG for heavy duty transport

This will mean that the fuel or energy carrier, or a combination of them, will have to lead to carbon neutrality. This concept is critical, moving away from the pure tailpipe approach to a Well-to-Wheel one. This way, carbon-neutrality is measured with a broader perimeter, adding to the emissions generated from the fuel combustion also the ones issued from the fuel provision (fuel production and transport). 

Here, you can find out more about the difference between tailpipe measurement (Tank-to-Wheel) and a Well-to-Wheel measurement, the latter being a more comprehensive approach. Furthermore, to be the most precise, it’s best to rely on a Cradle-to-Grave approach to take in all relevant factors and make a correct comparison between technologies.

In this context, renewable gas (biomethane or synthetic methane) represents a quick way to reduce emissions. It also saves 80% of emissions with municipal waste and more than 100% when converting liquid manure, leading in this case even to overall negative emissions.  

In the recent publication from Navigant, the production of biomethane in 2050 is estimated at 1010 TWh, complemented by 160 TWh synthetic methane issued from the power-to-gas process.

The future availability of renewable gas (bio LNG) to support the heavy-duty road transport sector would further push for the development of a circular economy model. It will be able to convert waste materials into clean energy resources.

What does all of this mean?

This means that thanks to sustainable LNG, we can expect to see heavy-duty transport running on the road, by rail or maritime, cutting CO2 emissions. This change is already happening in Europe. In the upcoming months, there will be even more examples of gmobility in this respect. 

In this article, we briefly covered the use of LNG in maritime and railway transport. Still, of course, there’s a lot more to be said about this fuel, and its contribution to sustainable transport. 

In the next articles of gmobility, we will continue to explore this subject and bring you even more great examples of the application of gmobility in transport.

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