DOSSIER I Green Fleet Management
Say hello to natural gas Natural gas is a “clean” fuel that is gaining ground among drivers in Europe. Is it a credible alternative to fossil fuels?
o avoid any confusion, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) is not simply a new name for LPG (Liquefied Petrol Gas), which has been around for a number of years. A by-product of the refining process, the latter belongs to petrol products, requires converting, and consists of a mixture of around 50% butane and 50% propane. Natural gas, on the other hand, as its name suggests, is found in its natural state in porous Fiat Panda rocks. Consisting of a mixture of different hydrocarbons produced during the decomposition of former living organisms, its precise composition varies, but it always consists mostly (approx. 95%) of methane. In fact, it is simply domestic gas used for cooking or heating, but in a compressed form (250 to 300 bar). The popularity of this gas as a fuel for cars is continuing to grow in various major European markets, such as It-
aly, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. But the market in Europe is still developing. Of the 22 million vehicles in the world that currently use natural gas, the vast majority operate outside of the Old Continent and are mainly found in Iran, Pakistan, Argentina and Brazil.
Cleaner The main advantage of CNG is that it enables the emission of fine particles to be reduced by 95% compared to diesel and enables a reduction of around 25% in CO2 emissions compared to petrol. This is a godsend for the manufacturers, who are being obliged to reduce the average emissions of their models. On the other hand, besides slight mechan-
ical modifications, the use of natural gas in a conventional petrol engine means carrying fairly cumbersome tanks on board to achieve an acceptable range. But the containers are integrated into the underfloor, so they don’t take up boot or passenger space - nor load space in commercial vehicles, which are being increasingly converted to the technology. Transparent How are they to drive? The advantage of the technology is that it is totally unnoticeable to the user. The driving experience is identical to that of a petrol-driven car. At most, you notice a slight loss of power in some models. Being lighter than air, natural gas also enables the vehicles to be parked in underground car parks - unlike the strictly banned LPG models. The final piece of good news is that cars that use natural gas still have a small tank for standard petrol. It’s true that the range with this fuel turns out to be fairly limited. But at least it enables you to stay mobile, even if you find yourself in an area not (or poorly) served by natural gas. ■ Jean-François Christiaens
The natural gas stored below our feet is just one step towards the widespread use of even cleaner fuels: biogas (made from organic waste) and even wind power. Since electricity is difficult to store during peaks of production (in high winds for wind farms), it could be used to convert water into hydrogen (which can be stored in tanks) via a simple process of electrolysis. This hydrogen could then be mixed with carbon dioxide (the famous CO2, of which there is a surplus in the atmosphere) to create «synthetic» natural gas.
FLEET EUROPE # 68
Published on Jan 24, 2014