Medium-sized service station companies are expanding the LNG and CNG infrastructure. Subsidies are facilitating investment in heavy commercial vehicles. CO2 emissions can be reduced and gas as a fuel, along with low greenhouse gas liquid fuels, offers a future solution for long-distance transport where electrification is not foreseeable in the short term.

Photo credit: © BayWa, LNG service station in Nördlingen

Natural gas is becoming increasingly popular among many logistics companies as a low-emission fuel. According to a recent survey by the industry initiative Zukunft Gas, the sales volume of liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the 46 German LNG service stations tripled in 2020 versus the previous year.

This trend is triggered by the growing demand for LNG trucks as part of the “Energy-efficient and/or low-CO2 heavy commercial vehicles” (EEN) subsidy programme introduced in 2018. Among the total of 5,034 vehicles for which submissions were made by the end of 2020, 4,355 were LNG commercial vehicles. This corresponds to 87 per cent of all subsidy applications. CNG commercial vehicles accounted for a further 12 per cent (602 vehicles). This means that 99 per cent of the subsidy applications are made for gas-powered trucks; vehicles with electric motors play practically no role in the heavy goods vehicle sector.

This is also reflected in the German Federal Motor Transport Authority’s statistics for new registrations: with almost 1,400 newly registered natural gas vehicles, the tractor segment set a record in 2020.

Dr. Timm Kehler, the CEO of Zukunft Gas, sees many advantages in natural gas as an alternative fuel for heavy goods transport: “Logistics providers not only benefit from wide ranges and rapid refuelling operations without unnecessary downtime. A switch to natural gas is also financially worthwhile owing to the toll exemption, which applies until 2022. Moreover, with continuation of vehicle subsidies within the framework of the fleet replacement programme for trucks, the legislator is providing additional support for the market ramp-up,” says Kehler.

Service station expansion is also advancing, with more LNG stations to be added to the existing 46 across Germany this year.

In Europe, some 300 new CNG stations have been built since 2020. At the end of April, the European gas service station network reached the milestone of 4,000 CNG and 400 LNG service stations.

Natural gas can make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from traffic. According to Zukunft Gas, climate protection expectations have be markedly exceeded: in 2020 alone, CO2-eq emissions of around 36,500 tonnes were avoided through the sale of almost 48,000 tonnes of LNG compared to diesel vehicles. According to the plans, the Federal Ministry of Transport only expected savings of 20,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents for 2020.

If more bio-LNG is used in the future, the vehicles will even be virtually climate-neutral on the road. In addition, the use of natural gas – both in the form of LNG and CNG – significantly reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. At more than 50 per cent of all service stations in Germany, natural gas vehicle drivers can already fill up with 100 per cent biogas, according to Zukunft Gas.

Compared to their diesel counterparts, gas trucks also have 50 per cent lower noise emissions. This makes natural gas vehicles suitable for night-time deliveries of goods, particularly in inner-city areas.

Up to now, natural gas drives have not yet been encountered in tanker vehicles, as the vehicle manufacturers report. But that may still change.