Gas, an alternative for cleaner mobility

Air and noise pollution is a major problem around the EU. The Transport sector accounts for over 1/5 of EU CO2 emissions and 1/3 of total energy use. It relies on oil for 94% of its energy needs. Hence, replacing polluting conventional fuels based on oil by alternative fuels such as gas and electricity is the solution for a cleaner mobility.

Air and atmospheric pollution caused by transport is a major problem

Air quality can be affected by pollutants, either from natural origin or caused by human activities (industry, transport, residential, agriculture). Air pollution takes different forms:

  • Nitrogen Oxyde (NOx)
  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Ozone (O3)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

It has a negative impact on health and environment, generating important social costs – up to USD 1.6 trillion per year in Europe and EUR 100 billion per year in France according to a report from the French Senate. In Europe, air pollution accounts for 600 000 premature deaths per year (according to the World Health Organisation). In France, air pollution is the third cause of mortality, after tobacco and alcohol, accounting for 48 000 premature deaths each year – 9% of total mortality.

Air and noise pollution in cities is a major problem around the EU. The transport sector accounts for 1/5 of CO2 emissions in the EU, over 30% of CO2 emissions in France, and 1/3 of total energy use in the EU. Furthermore, the decarbonisation of road transport will be a major challenge considering that it represents more than 70% of the energy used by all transport modes. In France, the transport sector accounts for 63% of NOx emissions, 19% of PM 2.5 emissions and 15% of PM10 emissions. Petrol and diesel, the most polluting technologies, are set to be replaced in the long term by alternative fuels, both electricity and gas (natural gas and renewable gas such as biomethane or hydrogen) and the EU has made of the development of cleaner fuels a priority.

Greenhouse gas emissions, by sector

Total Energy demand by type of fuel

The complementarity of fuels is a solution for the development of clean transport

In recent years, various initiatives have been pushed to change the scope of mobility and define it as a service. For example, the concept of MaaS (Mobility as a service), is willing to unify mobility modes, and define mobility as going from a point A to a point B, unifying multimodal ticketing and information tools.

The deployment of alternative fuels, both electricity and gas, especially through renewable gas like biomethane, will pave the way for a greener transport and better air quality in Europe. Rather than in competition, both solutions are complementary. On the one hand gas mobility is easier to implement and more cost-effective in heavier vehicles and vehicle fleets, in terms of infrastructures, engine capacity and vehicle autonomy. On the other hand, electricity is more suitable for light, individual urban vehicles. In other words, each mobility usage has an adapted technology solution. Furthermore, the decarbonisation of heavy duty vehicles should be a priority. Indeed, if their share in road traffic is not very large (7% of road traffic in France), they are much more polluting (30% of GHG emissions in France)

Alternative fuels are not only a solution for the future of transport: they are a credible solution already deployed in various countries and cities across the globe. For example, half of vehicles sold in Norway in 2017 are electrified, whereas gas is used to operate public buses or waste collection trucks in major cities across Europe: 80% of Nantes buses run on gas; 62% in Porto and 47% in Madrid, whereas 90% of waste-collection vehicles operate on gas in Barcelona and 80% in Paris.

Fuel alternatives compared

Gas is a cost-effective and immediately available solution.

GRDF has been promoting gas mobility in France for years, in the framework of the transition to cleaner mobility modes. Over 16 000 gas vehicles are now in use in France, with the goal of a larger development, mainly for heavy duty vehicles and public transportation, waste collection and cleaning vehicles operated by cities, while 22 million vehicles operate on gas in the world. All types of vehicles can run on renewable gas and in some countries, renewable gas is already accounting for more than half of all gas consumed for transport usage.

Bio Champions (Source: European Biogas Association)

Local authorities have pushed the development of gas vehicles to substitute old polluting buses and waste collection trucks powered by diesel and petrol. Development of gas mobility in recent years has permitted to prevent the emission of 15 000 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2015. For this segment, gas offers an alternative fuel immediately operative, with major benefits regarding air and noise pollution and a reduction of costs and easiness to deploy in fleets.

Natural gas contains less carbon than traditional hydrocarbon fuels and therefore emits much less CO2 as a vehicle fuel: between 25% and 30% less in passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, and 10% to 20% percent less in trucks and buses. The full potential of gas engines has not been deployed yet. Optimised gas engines (using direct injection and higher compression ratios) will become as energy efficient as diesel engines, meaning another 10% to 20% of CO2 savings can be achieved.

Furthermore, with the development of new technologies, gas is set to turn renewable too, decreasing greatly its carbon footprint. Biomethane is refined from biogas produced by the natural breakdown of organic material in waste from agriculture, municipal waste, plants, sewage or food waste. It has the same composition as natural gas and can be injected into the natural gas distribution grid, or used directly by natural gas vehicles. “Power to Gas” is the name given to the production of synthetic natural gas with surplus energy from wind farms or solar panels through a chemical process. It can be used directly by natural gas vehicles or it can be injected into the natural gas grid, and further diminish CO2 emissions significantly.

Vehicles functioning on biomethane offer a carbon footprint 80% lower than petrol vehicles. Taking into account the CO2 emissions of electric power plants, a car running on biomethane will have the same impact on environment as an electric car whose electricity has been produced with wind or hydropower and a lesser impact than a car whose electricity has been produced by a coal power plant. Biomethane enables a 93% reduction in particulate matter compared to diesel, and represents a good example of circular economy, contributing to valorise urban and industrial waste through anaerobic digestion.

Natural gas and biomethane, have been identified by the EU as strategic alternatives to replace oil-derived fuels European policy and will play a major part in both road and maritime transport. Regarding alternative fuels infrastructure, Member States now have to develop a plan (National Policy Framework) to establish a network of refuelling stations for natural gas vehicles in cities, ports and along the Trans-European-Network for Transport.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Established on 31 December 2007, the GRDF natural gas company performs its public service missions on a daily basis, delivering natural gas energy to 10,9 million customers via Europe’s largest distribution network. GRDF is a European natural gas company that designs, builds, operates, maintains and develops this network in more than 9,541 French municipalities, while guaranteeing the safety of people and property, and ensuring the quality of delivery.[/author_info] [/author]