Natural gas & Hydrogen: powering the future of long-haul transportation

PMV Middle East explores the advancements in LNG and Hydrogen technologies and the heavy-duty trucks coming to market with these alternative fuels

Alternative fuels, Natural gas, LNG, CNG, Hydrogen, Fuel cell, Trucks, Logistics, Long-haul transportation


Heavy-duty trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) greater than 15 tonnes are the most efficient vehicles for freight transport by road. They are operated year-round and account for the majority (about 70%) of road freight activity, covering distances ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 km per year. However, their utilisation comes at a high cost to the environment. Emissions from heavy-freight trucks (HFTs) have grown faster than any other transport mode, at 2.4% annually since 2000, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Road freight transport relies primarily on diesel, which accounts for more than 80% of its oil use. Road freight vehicles alone accounted for about 80% of the global net increase in diesel demand since 2000, and make up about half of global diesel demand today. As a result, road freight today accounts for more than 35% of transport-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and around 7% of total energy-related CO2 emissions.

At the same time, energy consumption has risen by 2.6% a year. At around 17 million barrels per day (mb/d), oil demand from road freight vehicles accounts for around one-fifth of the global oil demand. Trucks account for more than 90% of the growth in energy consumption, with buses accounting for the rest.

A report published by the IEA, titled ’The Future of Trucks: Implications for energy and the environment’ indicates that without further policy efforts, oil demand from road freight vehicles is set to rise by 5 mb/d to 2050. Three main options are available to modernise road freight transport: (1) improve vehicle efficiency, (2) improve road freight operations with intelligent data collection systems, and (3) adopt alternative fuels and vehicles. Natural gas, biofuels, electricity and hydrogen are the main alternatives to oil, but so far they play a minor role in supplying energy to road freight vehicles.

The hurdles to electrification are lower for trucks with lower GVW and shorter annual mileages. Due to the cost implications for large battery requirements, the challenge for the electrification HFTs is to reduce battery needs through the supply of electricity to vehicles while in motion. Currently, battery- and plug-in/catenary electric trucks are in the pilot stage for heavy-duty rigid trucks and tractor-trailers or in the early deployment stage for medium-duty trucks in urban operations.

Two major fuel alternatives have emerged for long-haul transportation – natural gas and hydrogen. 

LNG – a practical solution

Natural gas, which is mainly Methane, is a suitable transport fuel either in its compressed form (CNG) or liquefied form (LNG) and it has the volumetric energy density that makes it viable for use in trucks. Natural gas fuels are less toxic than gasoline and diesel, and non-carcinogenic. Engines running on natural gas emit less noise than those running on diesel.

The size and application of the truck determines the choice of CNG or LNG. The lower energy density of CNG fuels compared to diesel increases the in-vehicle fuel storage volumes by up to six times. Therefore, light- and medium-duty vehicles with low annual utilisation tend to use CNG. Around double the volume of LNG fuel is required to deliver a comparable travel distance to diesel, depending on engine efficiency.

However, an LNG tank can store more than twice the fuel compared to a CNG tank of the same size. This makes LNG more suitable for HFTs. Furthermore, due to the boil-off risk of LNG, the fuel also needs to be used in trucks that drive regularly.

CNG and LNG can be cost competitive in markets where natural gas prices are lower than diesel prices, and with a fuel distribution infrastructure. Refuelling a truck with LNG can be achieved at similar speeds as gasoline or diesel, but LNG refuelling stations require complex and specialised equipment such as cryogenic storage tanks, cooling systems and security devices to avoid critical increase in the LNG storage pressure. In addition, drivers must be trained to refuel with CNG or LNG.

China is currently the largest market in the world for LNG in road transport, with more than 200,000 heavy-duty trucks and buses using LNG. In 2017, RedStar, a joint venture between Shell and Shaanxi Yanchang Group Company, opened an LNG retail site in Shaan’Xi, northwest China.

In 2018, Shell opened its first LNG retail stations for trucks in Germany and Belgium. Shell has developed engine oils to meet the specific operating conditions of trucks and buses that run on natural gas.

Shell’s investment in LNG is aligned with its commitment to BioLNG EuroNet, a consortium, comprising Shell, Disa, Scania, Iveco, CNH Industrial Capital Europe under the trademark of Iveco Capital and Nordsol, and co-funded by the European Union. The consortium is driving the further expansion of LNG as a road transport fuel across Europe with new infrastructure that should ensure the long-term success and mass scale adoption in Europe.

The members of the consortium will each deliver separate activities that will see 2,000 more LNG trucks on the road, 39 LNG fuelling stations and the construction of a BioLNG production plant in the Netherlands. The LNG retail stations will form part of a pan-European network and be built in Belgium, France, Germany the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. The stations will be located approximately every 400 km along core road network corridors from Spain to eastern Poland.

Scania recently unveiled a long distance coach fuelled by LNG, the Scania Interlink Medium Decker, which provides a range of up to 1,000 kilometres.

In October 2018, an Iveco Stralis NP 460 truck from the UK completed a 1,728km road journey from London to Madrid on a single fill of LNG to demonstrate the suitability of natural gas-powered vehicles for domestic and European road transport. The Stralis NP 4x2 tractor unit pulled a tri-axle box van trailer and ran at a gross vehicle weight of 30 tonnes. After a short ferry crossing from Dover to Calais it completed the 1,728km road journey without needing to refuel and exceeding the vehicle’s official range of 1,600km.

According to Iveco, the single-fuel truck with double LNG tanks, 460 hp and an autonomy range of up to 1,600 km deliver up to 15% less fuel consumption and up to 9% lower total cost of ownership than a diesel truck. Compared with an equivalent Euro VI diesel truck, a Stralis NP running on LNG emits around 90% less NO2 emissions, 99% less particulate matter, and up to 15% less CO2.

The Iveco Stralis NP 460 completed a 1,728km journey from London to Madrid on a single fill of LNG, exceeding the truck's official range of 1,600km

The 12.9-litre Cursor 13 NP displacement engine powering the Stralis NP is engineered by FPT Industrial. The high fuel-flow gas injectors, fuel rail, pistons and turbo are designed to deliver high power output and torque. This result is achieved by applying spark-ignition stoichiometric combustion to natural gas. The exhaust after-treatment is based on a compact and light 3-way catalyst that requires no regeneration or additives. Stoichiometric combustion runs at 12:1 compression ratio and is quieter than the the 17:1 ratio of the diesel cycle.

LNG tank of the Iveco Stralis NP 460

The Stralis NP 460 offers a choice of tank combinations based on short, long, right- or leftmounted, LNG and CNG to tailor the vehicle to specific customer requirements. On standard articulated trucks, LNG tanks are available in three sizes. This makes it possible to customise the vehicle by freeing up the space on the chassis that is required for the ancillaries of the customer’s mission. The small-sized tanks can leave one metre where components such as compressors for tankers can be mounted, or the vehicle can be specified without the left-side tank to allow space for installing larger sized components or for weight sensitive missions.

Volvo Trucks has launched Euro 6-compliant gas-powered trucks that offer fuel efficiency and performance on a par with that of diesel-driven trucks. The Volvo FH LNG and Volvo FM LNG, can run on either biogas, which cuts CO2 by up to 100%, or natural gas which reduces CO2 emissions by 20% compared with diesel. This relates to emissions from the vehicle during usage, known as tank-to-wheel.

The Volvo Trucks FH LNG and FM LNG models are Euro-6 compliant and offer fuel efficiency and performance on par with diesel trucks

Compared with current gas-powered trucks available on the market, Volvo Trucks’ new vehicles use 15–25% less fuel. In order to give the trucks the greatest possible operating range, they run on LNG. An operator covering 120,000 km per year in heavy transport who chooses natural gas instead of diesel can cut CO2 emissions by 18 to 20 tonnes a year.

LNG tank of the Volvo FM/FH LNG models

Lars Mårtensson, director-environment and innovation, Volvo Trucks, said: “We regard LNG as a long-term first choice alternative to diesel, both for regional and long-haul truck operations where fuel efficiency, payload and productivity are crucial. With a higher proportion of biogas, climate impact can be reduced far more. For transport operations in urban environments, where range is not as critical, electrified vehicles will play a greater role in the future. Our vision is that trucks from Volvo will eventually have zero emissions, although the way of achieving that is not by one single solution but through several solutions in parallel. LNG is one of them.”

Hydrogen – the ideal and abundant fuel

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and has the highest specific energy density of any non-nuclear power source. It can be created using many sources, stored indefinitely and can be shipped relatively easily. According to the US Department of Energy, the interest in hydrogen as an alternative transportation fuel stems from its ability to power fuel cells in zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), its potential for domestic production, its fast filling time, and the fuel cell’s high efficiency. In fact, a fuel cell coupled with an electric motor is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline. Hydrogen can also serve as fuel for internal combustion engines. The energy in 1kg of hydrogen gas is about the same as the energy in 2.8kg of gasoline.

Although in its infancy, fuel cells offer the greatest future potential, according to Toyota, a leading proponent of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Toyota found success in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with the Toyota Mirai saloon which can be driven for around 480km with a full 5.0kg tank of hydrogen. That quantity of fuel is produced from 50 litres of water, and in the course of driving that distance the car’s only emission is 50 litres of water. The growing confidence in hydrogen-powered transport has enabled Toyota to plan an annual production of fuel cell vehicles from 3,000 units in 2017 to 30,000 units by the early 2020s.

The Kenworth T680 with the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrain combines hydrogen gas and air to produce electricity

Toyota Motor North America and Kenworth Truck Company are collaborating to develop 10 zero-emission Kenworth T680s powered by Toyota hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains. This collaboration is part of a $41 million Zero and Near-Zero Emissions Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) grant preliminarily awarded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), with the Port of Los Angeles as the prime applicant. The initiative will help reduce emissions by 465 metric tons of Greenhouse Gas and 0.72 weighted tons of NOx, ROG and PM10.

The Kenworth T680s with the Toyota hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains combine hydrogen gas and air to produce electricity. The electricity powers electric motors to move the trucks, while also charging the lithium-ion batteries to optimize performance as needed. Sophisticated power management systems will apportion the electrical power from the fuel cells to the motors, batteries, and other components, such as electrified power steering and brake air compressors. The hydrogen fuel cell electric powered Kenworth T680s will have a range of over 300 miles under normal drayage operating conditions.

The program will also fund foundational hydrogen fuel infrastructure, including two new fueling stations that, subject to a final investment decision by Equilon Enterprises LLC (dba Shell Oil Products U.S.), will be developed through Shell Oil Products US, to support the operation of the fuel cell electric trucks in Southern California.

The Nikola Tre hydrogen-electric truck developed by Nikola Motor Company

Nikola Motor Company has created a hydrogen-electric truck named the Nikola Tre for European markets. The Nikola Tre has 500 to 1,000 HP, 6x4 or 6x2 configurations and a range of 500 to 1,200 kilometers depending on options. The Tre will fit within the current size and length restrictions for Europe.

European testing is projected to begin in Norway around 2020. Nikola is also in the preliminary planning stages to identify the proper location for its European manufacturing facility.

Nikola is currently working with Nel Hydrogen of Oslo to set up a hydrogen station infrastructure in the US. By 2028, Nikola is planning on having more than 700 hydrogen stations across the USA and Canada. Each station will be capable of 2,000 to 8,000 kgs of daily hydrogen production. Nikola’s European stations are planned to come online around 2022 and are projected to cover most of the European market by 2030.

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