€70m for natural gas filling stations to target HGV fleets
GAS Networks Ireland (GNI) is planning to roll-out a network of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations across the country to encourage hauliers, the transport sector and commercial firms to switch from diesel to less-polluting CNG.
While vehicles can be 15pc more expensive to buy, GNI says fuel savings of up to 30pc can be achieved and emissions from the transport fleet sharply reduced.
GNI programme manager Dan Fitzpatrick said that as many as 20,000 HGVs and 12,000 buses were being targeted to switch, and that up to 70 stations would be developed at a cost of around €1m each.
Each is capable of refuelling up to 70 vehicles a day, and work is underway on the first at the Topaz station in Dublin Port. Apart from the lower emissions which would help tackle climate change, EU rules also require member states to develop infrastructure for alternative transport fuels such as natural gas.
"Electrification is great for the general user, but where we have a real issue is on the commercial transport side, trucks and buses, where electrification is challenging," Mr Fitzpatrick said.
"If you look at the amount of trucks on the road, 3pc of vehicles which are HGVs use 20pc of the energy. They have a huge impact on emissions, but are a huge challenge to do anything with. Natural gas and biogas can deliver into this sector.
"The main manufacturers are producing trucks which generate 22pc less carbon, 60pc less NOx and 90pc less particulate matter, and biogas is fully carbon neutral.
"The vehicles are there, the fuel delivers the benefit but the missing piece is the infrastructure."
Each vehicle has a range of around 600km per fill, compared with around 1,000km for a diesel truck, and GNI says fuel costs are around 30pc cheaper.
A "normal" diesel truck costs around €100,000, but a CNG vehicle is around 15pc more expensive.
"We see the need for around 70 stations," Mr Fitzpatrick added. "We'll have three stations this year and into early next year. There'll be another three in 2017."
GNI plans to co-locate the CNG stations within existing garage forecourts, and CNG is 'fast fill' meaning it doesn't take longer than filling with diesel.
Some 14 will be delivered in the near-term at Dublin Port, two in Limerick city and others in Drogheda, Cork, Cashel, Galway, Waterford, Tipperary, Portlaoise and around the M50. Some will also be developed for individual companies under a pilot project.
GNI says that the station would also allow the biogas market to be developed, where food waste is used to generate gas for use in the transport fleet.
Some one million CNG trucks are in use in Italy, and there are 2,500 CNG buses in Los Angeles, and others in the UK and Madrid.
GNI says if 3,500 of the 20,000 trucks and 12,000 buses converted, some 140,000 fewer tonnes of carbon would be emitted every year.
A filling station is currently under construction at Clean Ireland Recycling's depot in Shannon, Co Clare in a joint venture with GNI. The waste collection company, which employs 100 and operates in Clare, Limerick and Tipperary, will take delivery of two trucks to complement its fleet of 24 early in the new year. Director Brian Lyons said the company is switching to CNG not only to reduce fuel costs, but also because it fits with the firm's green credentials.
"We have two vehicles ordered, and we will be rolling out more as vehicles need to be replaced," he said.
"A CNG truck would be around 15pc more expensive to buy, and a little bit more expensive to maintain, but we hope the savings are in the fuel.
"The theory suggests the fuel savings could be around 25pc mark, and we'd be happy with 20pc. You'd look at getting the return over a number of years. The plunge isn't purely financial. It has to work financially but it fits very well with the company ethos of recycling and the circular economy, reducing ours and our customers' carbon footprint. The trucks are a bit quieter as well which helps in collections.
"All of our food waste is going to an anaerobic digestion plant, and it's using the biogas from the food waste we produce for Combined Heat and Power (CHP). But there's potential to use gas from the food waste we deliver to produce the gas we need to collect the waste.
"As the technology advances it will extend. If GNI plans come to fruition there'll be no problem and I think more and more people will do it.
"Diesel has nearly had its day. The VW scandal didn't help things, so companies like us need to look at more carbon efficient fuels."