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Sat, 4 April 2020

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Hydrogen and bio-gas can accelerate decarbonisation of HGVs

Hydrogen and bio-gas can accelerate decarbonisation of HGVs

Emily Wilson-Gavin, External Affairs Manager | Cadent

5 min read Member content

Increasingly, fleet owners are recognising the benefits of gas as an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective fuel, with a growing market for gas vehicles, writes Cadent's Emily Wilson-Gavin. 


This week we learned that the UK Government will bring forward the ban of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2040 to 2035. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do, and is certainly required if we are to realistically make meaningful steps towards our legally binding Net Zero ambitions.

We also heard from Ofgem’s ‘Rewiring Britain for a net zero future’ report, of the mammoth infrastructure challenge that lies ahead to reinforce the electricity grid to support this type of a role out.

The local power grids are typically set up to support an average peak electricity load of 1.5-2kW per household. If we are to supply the electric powered heat and transport solutions that are currently being championed as the silver bullet by many, we need to multiply the capacity of the current electricity grid. This could mean more than trebling the size of the grid, (including the connections into communities and homes, to connect both the new renewable power supplies, and the secure and reliable back-ups required) in order to keep the lights on and people safe and warm, through the coldest wildest winters.

Long term milestones are of course important and should be influential in both policy and regulation, however what should not be overlooked are the solutions that are available now, today, for other polluting vehicle types.

If the Government is to meet its net zero emissions target it has to tackle transport and take action on all vehicle types as soon as possible. The sector is now the UK’s largest carbon emitter, making up around 23% of the country’s total emissions in 2018, and yet it has proved stubbornly immune to emissions cuts.

To date, the electrification of transport has dominated the discourse in relation to zero-emission transport and huge strides have been made by the sector for passenger vehicles.

However, noticeably less has been said about those vehicles that cannot easily be electrified, including heavy freight and HGVs. These large emitters cannot be ignored - HGVs alone make up 14% of the transport sector’s carbon emissions.

Electrifying HGVs presents enormous challenges. One study suggested the amount of power needed to charge an electric truck was equivalent to the electricity used by 2,500 homes. In addition, the enormous electric batteries needed for HGVs can take between one third and one half of the vehicle’s carrying capacity.

Over the last three years Cadent, together with industry partners, has been pioneering the use of the gas grid as a source of low and reduced carbon fuel for transport. A world-class asset that has attracted millions of pounds worth of investment, the gas grid is reliable, versatile and ideally-placed to dispense compressed natural gas (CNG) to heavy goods vehicles.

CNG is already one of the cleanest burning hydrocarbon fuels; however, if that CNG is biomethane (bioCNG) – made from crops, food waste or sewage – we can see dramatic cuts in carbon emissions. This can be up to 84% on a well-to-wheel basis compared with diesel and users have also enjoyed cost savings of up to 40%.

We currently have nine CNG public access refuelling stations connected to our gas distribution network, with further stations planned to open within months across our network footprint.

We fuel the UK’s largest biomethane fleet – Nottingham City Transport’s 120-strong force of buses and have recently connected Europe’s largest bioCNG refuelling station in Warrington which will dispense environmentally-friendly fuel to up to 800 HGVs every day. The John Lewis Partnership now run their entire HGV fleet on bioCNG.

We believe in this solution such that we are replacing our own diesel HGV fleet with bio-CNG-fuelled trucks. They will fill up at a brand new, publicly accessible refuelling facility at our Erdington site in Birmingham, run by our partners, CNG Fuels.

Increasingly, fleet owners are recognising the benefits of gas as an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective fuel, with a growing market for gas vehicles. National scale uptake analysis indicates that by 2035, the UK’s gas-powered HGV fleet could swell to between 50,000 and 95,000 vehicles. These would be expected to consume between 12 and 24 Terra Watt hours of gas fuel demand, potentially dispensed by up to 150 refuelling stations, through a gas network that already exists and is fit for purpose.

A nationwide growth in gas refuelling stations, coupled with our research into hydrogen for heat and industrial use, could also pave the way to make hydrogen a widely accessible fuel for transport. A zero emissions fuel at the point of use, hydrogen has the potential to revolutionise heat and transport – a fact recognised and acknowledged by the Committee for Climate Change.

Our HyMotion report found that hydrogen produced by the HyNet project through steam methane reformation and delivered via the gas grid could deliver mobility grade hydrogen at a cost of 40% – 70% lower than through electrolysis. Not only that, but grid-supplied hydrogen worked out six times cheaper than hydrogen delivered via tube trailer.

Both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – more suited to short journeys – and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)– better adapted to longer journeys - will be needed for decarbonisation.  What we need to ensure is that all avenues to delivering these technological solutions remain open so that a real Net Zero transition can be delivered for the UK.

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