Demand for biomethane as an alternative fuel for trucks has increased rapidly over the past five years as transport firms decarbonise their fleets.
The past few months have seen a number of Bio-Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations open around the UK and, with more planned over the coming months and years, it is estimated to fuel about 10% of the UK’s high-mileage HGV fleet by 2025.
CNG Fuels, which currently operates seven stations in the UK, plans to open up to 14 more by 2023 and is targeting a network of 60 low-carbon refuelling stations by 2026.
The London-based company provides major fleets with 100% renewable biomethane sourced from food waste and manure across its network of public access refuelling stations.
Major brands using the sites to help reach their transport decarbonisation goals include the John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose, Royal Mail, Warburtons, Farm Foods, Hermes and Wessex Water.
Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels, said: “HGVs alone account for 5% of all UK emissions, making their decarbonisation one of the single most important things the UK can do to meet our net zero ambitions.
“Renewable biomethane is and will continue to be the most effective decarbonisation solution for heavy transport for many years.”
CNG Fuels’ biomethane stations include a site on the M62 in Warrington, which can refuel 800 HGVs per day, while last year it opened Scotland’s first station at the Eurocentral Industrial Estate, off the M8 near Bellshill, capable of refuelling up to 450 trucks per day.
CNG Fuels has also been building the world’s largest public access biomethane refuelling station for HGVs in Avonmouth, near the M4/M5 junction, which will be able to refuel 80 HGVs an hour from 14 high speed dispensers.
Fjeld added: “Our growing network of refuelling stations gives fleets across the country the confidence to significantly cut emissions from transport, today.”
CNG Fuels is now consulting on how its refuelling stations can best accommodate low-carbon hydrogen and battery electric technologies for HGVs once they become commercially viable.
Meanwhile, Gasrec, which is part owned by BP, has developed its own network of 10 biomethane stations across the UK, capable of refuelling about 1,250 vehicles per day.
These include one of Europe’s largest gas refuelling stations, at Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) in Northamptonshire, near J18 of the M1, offering 24/7 access to fleets from across the UK, Ireland and the continent.
DIRFT houses seven dispensing points, including four pumps and four storage tanks. It uses an independent supply pipe network to different dispensers, so that in the rare event of a failure on one line, others can still operate.
Gasrec, which refuels about 40% of the UK’s gas-powered HGVs, has a customer base including Asda, Gregory Distribution and Reed Boardall, and is looking to expand its network of stations at logistics parks.
James Westcott, Chief Commercial Officer at Gasrec, said: “We have seen huge growth in the gas truck market over the last two years, and that’s despite the extended lead times right now for new trucks.
“This demand for gas trucks is being driven by an intense pressure on the industry to reduce its carbon footprint, and the simple reality that for the majority of regional and long-distance applications, gas is the only genuine alternative to diesel available right now.”
At the start of 2019, online supermarket Ocado Group became the first UK retailer to self-fund an onsite grid-connected gas refuelling station, which it purchased from Gasrec’s depot in Hatfield.
Ocado is due to open another natural gas refuelling station in the second quarter of this year, which will again be built by Gasrec and sited at its Customer Fulfilment Centre in Dordon, Warwickshire.
With 60 natural gas-powered trucks operating from Hatfield and Dordon, the second site will allow the online retailer to more than double its total number of CNG units over the next three years, with more than two thirds of its total fleet running on natural gas.
The Dordon site will be a tanker-fed operation under a 10-year supply agreement with Gasrec.
Graham Thomas, Fleet Operations Manager at Ocado Group, said: “The results we have seen since beginning our switch to gas have been fantastic and shown that we are on the right path to a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly future.
“This new facility at Dordon will allow us to get more gas trucks on the road and access delivery routes further up the country with our CNG fleet.”
Last summer, a new biogas plant at Lisburn-based McCulla Transport began producing biomethane fuel with 17,500 tonnes of leftover food from Northern Ireland’s 41 Lidl stores.
The haulier, which works for Lidl, operates eight new CNG trucks that are refuelled directly at the plant, built in partnership with Weltec Bipower.
According to McCulla, the new Iveco S-Way 4×2 tractor units operating on biomethane supplied by NI Trucks will reduce carbon emissions on retail deliveries by up to 93%.
Chairman Ashley McCulla said: “We have been producing all of our own electricity from an anaerobic digester (AD) plant at our site in Lisburn since 2017, but our ultimate goal was always to use energy produced by the AD plant to power our logistics fleet as well.
“With our expertise and dedicated partnership with Lidl Northern Ireland, this milestone initiative will deliver major environmental benefits for years to come.”
Renewable biomethane is a low-carbon, cost-effective alternative to diesel for HGVs, about 35% to 40% cheaper, which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 90%.
The fact that specialist companies, truck manufacturers and hauliers are continuing to invest in technology and infrastructure to support biomethane will ensure the fuel remains a key part of the alternative fuel landscape for many years to come.