CASE STUDY: Having opened Europe’s largest biomethane filling station in Warrington, and another superstation in Northampton, CNG Fuels is leading the charge as logistics looks to the sustainable fuel to cut costs and emissions, reports Mel Holley
There is no doubt that the pressure from customers – retail and business – for clean vans and trucks is building.
Even if operators are not convinced by this, their end customers are and this feeds all the way through the supply chain. Operators who haven’t woken up to this are in danger of failing to win work, simply because their competitors are greener.
While battery-electric is a zero-emission solution for urban deliveries, that’s not likely to be the case for long-distance work until hydrogen fuel cells come into mass production, which some believe are still at least a decade away.
What if, you could power your trucks and vans with a fuel that is not only net-zero, but carbon negative – in other words
In the meantime, action is needed now.
Happily, there is a solution, and it doesn’t cost the earth, nor have any of the disadvantages of other solutions: It is compressed biomethane (Bio-CNG).
There are many advantages to switching to gas, explains CNG Fuels Sales & Business Development Director, Peter Eaton, not least that you don’t have to worry about infrastructure for fuelling as CNG Fuels is taking care of that, with seven Bio-CNG Stations already operational and an aim of developing around 10 new Bio-CNG Stations each year, strategically placed at logistics hotspots, around Britain.
So, while the superstations can accommodate many more vehicles refuelling at once than many diesel sites, the refuelling process only takes around six minutes too. The two superstation sites are capable of refuelling up to 1,000 vehicles a day.
CNG Fuels’ aggressive growth plans, will help it keep up with demand for the fuel which, it says, has surged 800%, and wider industry adoption, which it believes will see mass adoption of biomethane fuelled commercial vehicles on UK roads over the next decade.
But just how big can biomethane and compressed natural gas become when other options such as electric and hydrogen are so heavily touted as the next big thing?
What is CNG?
Bio-CNG differs from fossil-derived CNG or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as it’s a bio-product derived from the decomposition of organic matter, such as food, manure and sewage sludge.
Once collected, biomethane is injected into the gas pipeline network from where it can be delivered to refuelling stations for use in CNG vehicles.
CNG vehicles run on fossil-derived CNG or Bio-CNG, and can switch between the two. Although Bio-CNG, also called bio-methane, is ‘captured’ or ‘manufactured’ from biodegradable waste, the term CNG tends to cover both ‘natural’ (i.e. from fossil fuel) and ‘bio’ CNG.
CNG Fuels only supplies Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) approved bio-CNG, which is a 100% renewable transport fuel. Currently, it is the only UK supplier of publicly-accessible RTFO-approved biomethane.
“CNG Fuels only supplies Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) approved bio-CNG, which is a 100% renewable transport fuel. Currently, it is the only UK supplier of publicly-accessible RTFO-approved biomethane”
It enables operators to massively reduce their carbon emissions while also saving money. It also has the benefit of delivering this without any significant compromise to range and payload.
CNG Fuels issues its customers with declarations stating that they have bought sustainable, renewable biomethane. The CO2 equivalent reduction can then be claimed on the company’s corporate accounts
Taking the plunge is something more operators, both large and small are doing. Indeed, family firms are now converting to CNG as they see the pressure for ‘green fleets’ working into new contracts and tenders.
So, where do you start on this road: Says Peter Eaton: “The crucial part for us is building trust with fleets and developing their belief in the technology and financials.
“We’re always in contact with potential customers – usually customers who know of other fleets that are seeing results or that are based around one of our refuelling stations – and our strategy is to run real world trials with them.
“On an annual mileage of 100,000 miles, payback comes in between one and two years, and the savings over the lifetime of a vehicle are substantial”Peter Eaton, Sales & Business Development Director, CNG Fuels
“Usually, we’ll give them a demo vehicle to run on trial and we’ll monitor results for a three of four-week period. At the end of the trial we’ll prepare a detailed feedback presentation that will compare the CNG vehicle’s operation to that of one of their diesel units.
“We then work up numbers based on annual mileage and create a payback model that shows the financial gains and reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they can make with CNG.”
Typically, based on an annual mileage of 100,000 miles, that payback comes in between one and two years, says Peter, and the savings “over the lifetime of a vehicle are substantial.”
These financial savings are so significant because the cost difference between CNG and diesel is large.
The environment and financial savings have already been recognised by a long list of operators, which includes:
- John Lewis
- Royal Mail
- New Look
- Suma Foods
- Dixon Transport
- Virginia Logistics
- Howard Tenens
CNG is also being taken up by a number of waste and council fleet, with Veolia running 20 CNG refuse vehicles in London, a similar number Liverpool City Council, plus many others.
Ready to go CNG trucks and vans on sale now
There’s no need to convert existing vehicles as full production models are already supplied directly by OEMs, the biggest of which currently are Scania and Iveco (trucks and vans).
Everything from 3.5 tonnes up to 44 tonnes are all commercially viable now. Drivers like them too, as CNG vehicles are 50% quieter than diesel equivalents.
Another advantage is that unlike electric there’s no change of mindset required, adds Peter: “John Lewis describes CNG as ‘business as usual’.
“That’s because there’s been no major changes to their operation involved to change their fleet to CNG. Essentially they’re running exactly the same vehicle but with a different engine in it.”
“Everything from 3.5 tonnes up to 44 tonnes are all commercially viable now. Drivers like them too, as CNG vehicles are 50% quieter than diesel equivalents”Peter Eaton, Sales & Business Development Director, CNG Fuels
In terms of operation, there’s nothing drastically new to get to grips with either: “Take refuelling,” he says.
“You don’t have to plug-in and recharge or wear all sorts of protective equipment like you do with cryogenic fuel. You just go to the refuelling station, connect up your nozzle, it fills automatically with fuel and then you drive away.
“The whole process is extremely simple and takes maybe a minute or two longer than filling with diesel.”
And, it’s a process that drivers like too as refuelling is clean with no need to wear protective clothing or worry about spillage of diesel. Because refuelling is simple and automatic, drivers can complete paperwork while their truck refuels.
In it for the long term
Whatever other technologies may deliver – on timescales as yet unknown – CNG Fuels sees a long-term future in CNG. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be investing in this infrastructure, says Peter.
“We believe there’s nothing around the corner that’s going to trump biomethane in the next 10-20 years and it’s only going to become more attractive to fleet operators as we move forward.”
“In our view electric for long-haul HGVs is a long way away and we’re not going to get it anytime soon.
“We know it’s coming for sure, but for now the batteries needed for long-haul HGVs would weigh too much and would mean sacrificing too much payload for them to be viable.
“Again, with hydrogen, we anticipate it’s going to be a decade or two away. For now, it’s too expensive and the business case doesn’t really stack up in our opinion.
“When one of these technologies comes of age, we may have to look again at our business model but for now we’re very confident that CNG and biomethane has a long future.”
“In the coming years we will be sourcing a significant amount of our biomethane from cow manure and that will make us the first fuel to be certified as carbon negative”Peter Eaton, Sales & Business Development Director, CNG Fuels
At the moment operators are attracted by the cost savings and also by the 85% carbon reduction offered by CNG as opposed to diesel.
And the carbon reduction news gets better: “In the coming years we will be sourcing a significant amount of our biomethane from cow manure and that will make us the first fuel to be certified as carbon negative.
“That will be huge, allowing operators to make over 100% savings in carbon. You can’t get any greener than that.”
Peter describes CNG Fuels’ growth plans as ‘aggressive’. He explains: “Over the next couple of years we’re going to be expanding at a rapid rate with at least 18 new refuelling sites operating across the UK.
“Our aim is then to get one new site up and running each month from 2022.
“We plan to add sites in Avonmouth (Bristol), Bellshill (Glasgow), Larkhall (Glasgow) and Castleford (West Yorkshire) before Spring 2022. After that, we’re just going to keep building them to meet demand.”
Peter adds: “By the end of 2021 I’d certainly envisage around 1,000 CNG HGVs, preferably many more.”
With an operating range of up to 500 miles (i.e. out and back from a fuelling station) these initial locations mean that with the exception of the very tip of the South West and far north of Scotland, everywhere in Britain can be served using CNG trucks and vans.
An interactive map on CNG Fuels’ website shows the locations and range
Given that the biggest demand is on regular routes – logistics for retail – then the location of CNG Fuel’s sites near major logistics hubs becomes clear.
CNG Fuels locations
- Leyland (M6), Lancashire
- Crewe Truck Stop, Cheshire
- Northampton (M1), Northamptonshire
- Warrington (M62), Cheshire
- Erdington (M6), Birmingham
- Knowsley (M57), Liverpool
- Newark (A1), Nottinghamshire
Opening in 2021-22
- Avonmouth North, Bristol
- Eurocentral, Bellshill, Glasgow
- Larkhall, Glasgow
- Castleford (M62), West Yorkshire
- Other locations to be announced
For those going farther afield – to mainland Europe, for example, CNG is simple as there are so many more CNG stations ‘over the water’.
“We ran a trial with a fleet operating out of Avonmouth in 2020,” says Peter.
“They took the demo vehicle on one of their routes that goes through France, Germany and Belgium. They refuelled several times along the way and experienced no problems.
“CNG is very commonly available in Europe, even if the stations aren’t necessarily HGV-specific.”
Doing the right thing
Concluding, Peter has a very clear message for operators considering CNG/Bio-CNG: “They’re doing the right thing.
“CNG is a bit of a no brainer in our world and that is what our customers think too.
“There are significant carbon savings to be had and massive fuel cost savings as well.
“We’re working flat out to grow the refuelling network on major trunking routes, so it becomes easier and easier for fleets to make the switch.”
Find out more: cngfuels.com