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Germany looks to LNG to cut emissions

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Germany has ambitious carbon reduction targets. Under its Energiewende green energy programme, it is aiming to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 95% on 1990 levels by 2050.

To do this, Germany is staging an overhaul of its energy sources: nuclear and coal plants are being taken offline while clean, renewable sources like wind and solar farms are to make up 80% of the country’s electricity generating capacity by the middle of the century.

But emissions from the transport sector are rising. While Germany’s energy sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 21% between 1990 and 2015, the reduction in the transport sector was just 2%. It is considered virtually impossible that Germany’s transport sector will meet its target of a 10% reduction in emissions by 2020.

Annual emissions

Passenger cars emit more than half of the sector’s 164M.t annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but this will decrease as more electric and hybrid vehicles trickle into the country’s fleet.

Freight traffic is more problematic. Around a quarter of the sector’s CO2 emissions comes from road freight; and with the ever-increasing boom in online shopping, we can expect this figure to rise.

So what to do? Battery technology is not nearly advanced enough to power heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) for the distances necessary. An innovative scheme operating in Germany called eHighways, which recreates rail electrification by using overhead cables to power hybrid trucks, seems promising but is still at an early stage.

Liquefied natural gas: it’s the cleanest fossil fuel available…certainly when compared to your petrol, gasoline, diesel and heavy fuel oils

Glenn Halton, WSP

In the short term, a fossil fuel may hold the answer: liquefied natural gas (LNG) is considered to be a lower emission fuel than diesel and is an easily available, low emission alternative.

“Liquefied natural gas: it’s the cleanest fossil fuel available…certainly when compared to your petrol, gasoline, diesel, heavy fuel oils which are used in vehicles,” explains WSP business development and project manager for energy Glenn Halton.

Of course, any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions depends on the efficiency of LNG vehicles and emissions produced during the cooling process. To turn natural gas to LNG, it is cooled to -162°C using industrial refrigerators which strip out the heat and reduce the gas down to 1/600 of its gaseous volume..

Vastly lower emissions

LNG-powered trucks can run for around 1,500km before needing to refuel, much like a diesel-powered truck. But they have a raft of advantages over diesel-powered trucks, according to Liqvis. A 10% reduction in CO2 emissions; a 65% reduction in nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and a 95% reduction in particulate pollution. LNG also costs far less than diesel, saving freight operators thousands of euros per year.

In April this year the small town of Grünheide, just east of Berlin, became home to Germany’s first publicly accessible LNG fuelling station. New Civil Engineer visited the new facility in June as part of a combined private and public sector push to spread the word about Energiewende.

Run by Liqvis, a subsidiary of energy firm Uniper, and food industry service provider Meyer Logistik, the small facility has a container tank which holds natural gas at -162°C to keep it in its liquid state. New LNG is added each week and so if the temperature rises, the additional LNG cools it back down. Several tanks can be refuelled at once, making it like a conventional petrol station.

If you have to transport huge amounts of fuel, then LNG trucks have big advantages

Karl-Josef Grobbel, Liqvis

Liqvis will supply the facility with around 600,000kg of LNG each year, while Meyer Logistik will operate 20 LNG-powered trucks to transport food around the greater Berlin area.

“LNG is a fuel you can use directly and is proven, secure and economically sound,” says Liqvis GmbH senior project manager Karl-Josef Grobbel. “If you have to transport huge amounts of fuel, then LNG trucks have big advantages.”

Uniper has said that by 2020 it would like to build 20 LNG fuelling stations across a corridor starting in Poland and travelling through Germany, Belgium and into France: this is despite each fuelling station costing around €1M (£1M).

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LNG: Germany wants to use it to cut emissions

Until now there has been little financial incentive in Germany to build new LNG fuelling infrastructure. However, in June an amendment to the Power & Electricity Taxation Act passed through the Bundestag extended a period of lower taxes for LNG-powered transport until 2024, helping to create more favourable conditions.

Grünheide’s fuelling station is part of the European Blue Corridors project, which began in May 2013. It is a £14M Europe-wide project to increase the uptake of LNG, creating four routes or “blue corridors” on which LNG trucks could run.

Corridors run from Spain across the north of Italy and up to Sweden; from Portugal to Sweden; and from Scotland down into Italy.

Under the scheme, which involves 61 companies – including transport, fuel and engineering firms – there is to be a fuelling station positioned every 400km along Europe’s main roads by 2025. Thirteen new fuelling stations are being built, one of which is the Grünheide station.

UK drawbacks

Although one of the routes runs through the UK, no new stations are being built here under the Blue Corridors scheme. Why not?

On the Isle of Grain in Kent sits National Grid’s Grain LNG terminal, the UK’s largest LNG station. Here, LNG is used as a fuel to power homes and is taken by trucks to LNG fuelling stations across Europe. The facility’s business development manager, Nick Morris, explains that the UK is not quite on a par with Europe when it comes to LNG take-up. “From what we’ve seen I guess it’s fair to say there’s not much in it in terms of where we are. I guess there are some countries in Europe that are ahead of others in terms of provision of infrastructure for example,” he says.

While Germany has just opened its first station, the Netherlands already has a sprawling network of LNG.

“I don’t think we as the UK are that far behind them [the Netherlands] to be honest,” says Morris.

But the UK’s terrain puts it at a disadvantage compared to Netherlands. “As a county, in the UK we’re quite hilly. Across some of our motorway networks we’ve got some quite steep gradients, inclines, and a challenge that’s been faced by some of the trucking manufacturers for LNG has been to develop LNG engines that have got sufficient power.”

Dutch advantages

The Netherlands is famously flat, meaning trucks require less engine power to get around the country. Around five years ago LNG technology for HGVs was less advanced, but now more powerful engines have arrived.

But there is still some way to go before LNG trucks proliferate on the UK’s roads, and it is largely down to manufacturers.

“The trucking industry is quite reliant on the manufacturers making those changes in terms of engine performance to unlock the UK market,” says Morris.

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