Bord Gáis Networks is on a mission to transform Ireland’s road haulage and service fleet sector by promoting the use of compressed natural gas as a viable alternative to diesel or petrol, writes Benjamin Cottrell
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Author: Benjamin Cottrell, innovation team analysis, Bord Gáis Networks

Bord Gáis Networks is undertaking a revolutionary project to transform Ireland’s road haulage and service fleet sector. Increased competition, concern over the dominance of oil and a focus on emissions provide an opportunity for Ireland to embrace alternative sources of transport energy.

The aim of the ‘CNG in Transport’ project is to promote the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a viable alternative to diesel or petrol for road haulage and fleet vehicles. The project involves the development of numerous refuelling points at strategic locations around Ireland, along with support for companies wishing to undertake trials of CNG vehicles.

CNG is natural gas used as transport fuel. Compressor units draw the natural gas from the gas network and store it at 200 bar pressure in specially designed storage tanks, ready for use in a natural gas vehicle (NGV). This high-pressure storage allows for a fast-fill operation, giving refuelling times equivalent to traditional petrol or diesel vehicles.

CNG offers the same ease of use as petrol or diesel, only with lower CO2 emissions along with significantly reduced levels of other harmful emissions such as nitrogen and sulphur oxides.

Ireland has a very secure source of gas supply through a combination of indigenous production and storage facilities, together with subsea pipelines connecting us to international sources of gas supply. Along with existing sources, the commissioning of the Corrib gas field in 2015 will enhance the supply of natural gas to the Irish market.

BENEFITS OF USING NATURAL GAS FOR TRANSPORT

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Fast-fill station

Using natural gas within Ireland’s freight haulage and fleet vehicle sector offers a number of benefits to operators, gas users and the wider population. Operators of haulage and fleet vehicles will benefit from cost savings of approximately 30% on their normal petrol or diesel fuel costs. This saving offers a more competitive position from which to attract new business for the operator and to the Irish road haulage industry in general.

Gas customers with high demand profiles can employ efficiencies of scale in relation to their commodity purchase for gas when they integrate natural gas vehicles as part of their wider gas usage. CNG as an existing technology is well established as a transport fuel throughout Europe and, as such, offers a low-risk, alternative fuel option for operators.

Increased utilisation of the gas network outside of peak demand periods allows further efficiencies to be obtained in the operation of the network. This, in turn, could reduce the per-unit cost of transporting the gas through the network.

Availing of natural gas as an alternative to diesel or petrol within the transport sector would assist Ireland in reducing its dependency on oil as a transport fuel while, at the same time, providing emissions reductions within the sector. This would help Ireland to achieve the 2020 targets and, in turn, reduce any penalties that could result from excess emissions.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant growth in NGVs worldwide, with on average 30% annual growth reported. Globally, there are approximately 16 million NGVs. There are over 1.8 million NGVs in Europe, with countries like Italy, Germany, Sweden and Spain leading the market.

Ireland lags behind the European and global trends in NGV development largely due to a lack of infrastructure to serve these vehicles. The project to increase natural gas in transport seeks to address this issue and aims to provide the necessary infrastructure at strategic points throughout Ireland to give operators access to CNG.

PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT FUEL SOURCES

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Bord Gais CNG vehicle

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Energy Balance, oil accounted for almost 98% of the Irish transport energy demand in 2012. The dominance of oil in the transport sector leaves it vulnerable to interruptions in supply. Oil in transport is also more costly and emits higher emissions than equivalent vehicles operating on CNG. Heavy goods vehicles operating in urban areas also pose an issue in relation to emissions, in particular the particulates emitted from diesel engines.

When it comes to overcoming these problems, CNG provides operators with a realistic alternative to diesel or petrol. The use of existing technologies allows freight hauliers and fleet vehicles to operate as normal with minimal impact on operations while still availing of the benefits of using natural gas. The lower cost of operating vehicles on CNG, in combination with the lower levels of emissions, provide operators with a more competitive position and offer an enhanced brand image. These factors may assist operators in a competitive environment, especially if sustainability criteria form part of a tender competition.

The lower emissions of nitrogen, sulphur and particulates make CNG vehicles ideal for use in urban areas where air quality is of primary concern. Utility vehicles such as waste-collection vehicles are ideally suited to operate on CNG.

Bord Gáis Networks is commissioning a number of CNG trials to demonstrate the suitability of CNG in Ireland. The trials are being carried out with companies from the target market including the dairy sector, public transport and haulage companies. The results of the trials completed to date are demonstrating that CNG is a viable option as an alternative to traditional fuels.

As CNG is a new technology in Ireland, there are still uncertainties surrounding policy. One of Bord Gáis Networks’ main objectives is to ensure that national and European policies enable and incentivise change.

In terms of target markets, CNG focuses on the commercial transport market. Its main targets are fleets that are travelling approximately 50,000 kilometres or more per year. CNG is also beneficial to general transport companies that rely on transport for business operations.

COLLABORATIONS AND RESEARCH

To promote and accommodate an environment of innovation in the gas industry, Bord Gáis Networks, in association with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), have established a Gas Innovation Group. This group consists of representatives from the CER, Bord Gáis Networks, third-level academia and policy makers. The group’s objective is to engage with stakeholders in order to share knowledge and leverage the best use of all resources.

The Gas Innovation Group aims to foster creativity, tailor innovation and consider solutions that meet the gas industry’s needs, embedding innovation in the Bord Gáis Networks organisation and the gas industry as a whole.

Bord Gáis Networks has a long history of supporting third-level institutes through the funding of specific projects across a range of areas including engineering, materials and information technology, as well as supporting PhD students. BGN also operates a graduate training programme, which places college graduates on a rotational placement throughout the business over the course of a two-year structured programme. The graduate training programme has proven to be in high demand, with over 800 applications received for the most recently announced programme.

Bord Gáis Network’s objective is that by 2024, at least 5% of the commercial transport market and 10% of the bus market in Ireland will be operating on CNG or biogas. The market will be fuelled through a private and public refuelling network, attached to the natural gas network. All of Bord Gáis’ company vehicles, including vans, trucks and cars, will be operating on natural gas.

NGVs offer the ideal opportunity to migrate Ireland’s transport market to renewable energy. The future introduction of biogas into the National Gas Grid will provide a renewable source of energy to the transport sector, while still allowing the use of conventional natural gas as desired. The use of biogas in this way will support the objective of 10% renewable transport by 2020 and beyond.

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  Author: Benjamin Cottrell, innovation team analysis, Bord Gáis Networks Bord Gáis Networks is undertaking a revolutionary project to transform Ireland’s road haulage and service fleet sector. Increased competition, concern over the dominance of oil and a focus on emissions provide an opportunity for Ireland to embrace alternative sources of transport energy. The...