Natural Gas for Vehicles (NGV) is low pollution, profitable and just as efficient as diesel would seem to be the most advantageous short term solution

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Faced with environmental requirements, hauliers need to find alternatives to diesel and petrol. Focus on NGV and electricity.

NGV or electricity: which alternative to diesel and petrol?

Depleted supplies of increasingly expensive oil, climate warming, tightening of anti-pollution standards (Euro 6, energy transition law), scandals around diesel, regulations and the economic and environmental reality lead inevitably to the need to ‘green up’ your fleet of trucks!

There are currently two alternatives to diesel and petrol that stand out: Natural Gas for Vehicles (NGV) and electricity.

NGV, the most advantageous short term solution

While Italy has until now been the European leader in NGV with 900,000 NGV vehicles on the road, followed by Germany with 100,000 vehicles, France with 13,000 vehicles is now looking to step on the gas for this alternative fuel. And it is trucks that are leading the charge.

And rightly so: NGV is low pollution, profitable and just as efficient as diesel.

In 2050 in France, natural gas could represent as much as 45% of the energy consumed by transport

[This bus runs on natural gas] Photo credits: GRDF.

Composed mainly of methane, NGV is nothing other than mains gas, used in houses for heating and cooking.

For use as a fuel, it must be either compressed or liquefied. It is in the latter form that it is the most efficient. A truck has a range of between 1,000 and 1,400 km with a full tank, figures that are comparable to diesel. While remaining much less harmful for the environment.

KEY INFONGV, a cleaner fuel than diesel

And, above all, NGV can be renewable! In this case, the methane is produced by biodegradable organic waste from agriculture, the food industry, households and slurry from sewage plants. This is called BIO-NGV. ADEME and GRDF estimate that it has an “80% lower carbon footprint than traditional fuels”, while the Italian manufacturer Fiat believes that it is as ecological as electricity, while it is in itself a renewable source.

NGV also comes at an attractive price. According to GRDF, natural gas helps to reduce the average price of a full tank in relation to petrol or diesel by 50% and 30% respectively. Enough to offset the 40% average premium paid over and above the purchase price for a diesel truck.

Figures that need to be compared in the light of the potential of electric motors.

Electric trucks, some spectacular progress

Mercedes is the pioneer in this field and has tested 150 entirely electric trucks (18 to 25 tons) with around twenty customers, thus opening the way to even faster innovation in the field of electric motorisation for trucks and industrial vehicles. But for the time being, we are as yet in the experimental stage and the performance in terms of range is still well below that of petrol, diesel or NGV powered engines.

The Urban eTruck, the German manufacturer’s flagship goods vehicle, has a range of just 200 kilometres with a single load.

The Urban eTruck has a range of 200 kilometres with a single load. Photo credit: Daimler.

The Urban eTruck has a range of 200 kilometres with a single load. Photo credit: Daimler.

However, things could progress quicker than we might imagine. The Tesla electric semi-trailer, currently in development, will, according to its founder Elon Musk, have a substantial range with higher engine torque than diesel and a significant payload.

Not to mention that the electric motor can be powered by hydrogen fuel cells that further enhance its performance. This is what is proposed by the American start-up Nikola Motors with its Nikola-One, a 1,000 horsepower semi-trailer that offers a range of 1,900 km! Toyota has also decided to take up the challenge and is currently testing a hydrogen fuelled truck in the port of Los Angeles that develops 670 horsepower and has a range of 320 km.

The Nikola-One develops 1,000 horsepower and has a range of 1,900 km. Photo credit: Nikola Motors.

The Nikola-One develops 1,000 horsepower and has a range of 1,900 km. Photo credit: Nikola Motors.

But, apart from the respective benefits of NGV and electricity, the presence of a wide enough network of charging points in a given country is also a decisive factor in your choice of vehicles.

Recharging: the crux of the matter

And this is where electricity has the edge with almost 16,000 charging points spread throughout 5,297 stations in France in 2016. And this is not about to change as the government has stated an objective of 45,000 charging points to be installed by 2020. And according to the French motorway operators’ association (ASFA), you will be able to charge your electric vehicle every 80 km by end 2017.

3027, is the number of stations throughout Europe in 2016 for NGV, including only 44 in France (see map of NGV stations in France). Whereas the difference could be justified by the greater range of NGV vehicles compared to electric vehicles, it is also explained by the historical national preference for electricity.
Italy, Germany and Sweden, by comparison, are planning 1092, 913 and 205 NGV stations respectively.

However, the tide is turning in France for the reasons mentioned above and there are more and more initiatives!

Total is planning to open 200 NGV stations in Europe, including 110 in France, over the next 10 years. The first was opened in Nantes in April this year.

Primagaz, Avia and GRDF have joined forces to equip Avia service stations with NGV resupply points.

Vehicle manufacturers are also taking the plunge in order to ensure the development of this alternative fuel, like Iveco, with a 60% share of the NGV market for trucks, which is getting together with GRDF to promote this product.

According to the French association for natural gas for vehicles (AFGNV), 85 stations should be commissioned in France by early 2018, thus stimulating commercial demand for NGV trucks. AFGNV is also counting on 10,000 NGV-powered trucks being on the roads over the next three years.

As you can see, electricity and natural gas will both feature in the future landscape for the trucks of tomorrow. However, in the meanwhile the most efficient short-term solution, from both the environmental and economic point of view, would seem to be NGV in its renewable form (BIO-NGV).


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