— Schalke Energy Meeting
Full Speed Ahead for Alternative Motor Fuels?
This was the question discussed by business and industry representatives at their most recent gathering in...
At the core of the sixth Schalke Energy Meeting, which took place on 2 March prior to a Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and Hamburger SV, was an in-depth discourse on the challenges, opportunities, and future perspectives presented by alternative motor fuels in the transport sector. GAZPROM Germania had invited 20 specialists in this field to deliberate the potential of such fuels under the moderation of gas market expert Heiko Lohmann.
As the event drew to a close, the general consensus was that three areas will be especially relevant in unleashing the potential of natural gas for transport. First, cooperations need to be forged in order to consolidate resources across the different types of alternative motor fuels. Second, the experts agreed on the importance of raising further awareness of the ecological benefits of using natural gas for transport among those who shape climate and environmental protection policy, both in Germany and at the European level. And finally, the industry itself needs to shift its current, more technology-oriented focus toward mobility concepts and consider closing ranks with other alternative (including electrical) drive systems in the interests of end users.
The panel discussion was based on a series of presentations. Leading things off was Matthias Maedge, Secretary General of the European association NGVA, who reported on current perspectives for compressed (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) around the world. In addition to traditional markets for natural gas mobility like Germany and Italy, Maedge suggested taking a look at the Czech Republic or Sweden – where natural gas vehicle sales are on the rise – for fresh examples of positive national trends. Maedge also cited several welcome developments in Brussels, where the EU has resolved to require that vehicle emissions tests be conducted on the road rather than in laboratories starting in September 2017. “That will make things difficult for conventional fuels, but it’s a win for natural gas”, he explained.
Timm Kehler, Managing Director of Zukunft Erdgas e.V., took stock of the potential of CNG and LNG from a German standpoint. In doing so, he touched on the “ambitious goal” of raising natural gas’s contribution to the energy mix in the country’s motor fuel sector from 0.4 % at present to 4 % by the year 2020. To achieve this, Kehler stated that politicians will need to take environmental protection in the transport sector even more seriously. When they come to this realization and adjust the general conditions to truly accommodate more technologies, he went on, the natural gas industry will follow suit with corresponding measures. “After all, the infrastructure of natural gas filling stations and the manufacturers’ models aren’t the problem”, Kehler pointed out. “We need to make customers more conscious of these topics.”
Andreas Stücke, Senior Managing Director of the German association DVFG, represented the interests of the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) industry during the discussion. One of the fundamental points he brought up resonated especially well with the other experts in attendance. “Our association believes there’s an element of contention in the gas market that needs to be eliminated”, Stücke asserted. “Working together is the only way we’re going to accomplish something.” He cited the difficult market situation LPG companies are also facing, along with their need for a “high tolerance for frustration”.
Representing the automotive industry was Manfred Kuchlmayr, Director of Corporate Communications at Iveco Magirus AG, who offered insights into the practical use of LNG in the motor fuel market. While his statements were definitely on the optimistic side, he also referenced a number of positive examples from his company’s own range of vehicles and international projects, including in the Netherlands. “The response to natural gas has been positive, particularly in fuelling heavy-duty vehicles”, Kuchlmayr reported. He conceded that the declining price of oil has led to more intense competition, but pointed out that LNG vehicles are nonetheless garnering praise for their reliability and solid environmental track record. With regard to the use of CNG, Kuchlmayr echoed the sentiment put forth by Andreas Stücke. “So far, everyone has been doing their own thing”, he agreed. “Now it’s time to do a better job of cooperating.”
Christian Klaiber, Managing Director of Initiative Zukunftsmobilität, took part in the general discussion from the perspective of the electric mobility industry and joined the appeals for cross-technology collaboration. While admitting that e-mobility is finding more open ears among politicians than natural gas, he stated his belief that rethinking mobility concepts in general will be the only way to accomplish long-term changes in the transport sector. “A different drive system isn’t going to put any fewer cars on the road”, he said.
On hand to offer a petroleum corporation’s viewpoint was Tobias Wolny from BP. Wolny spoke of CNG’s sobering performance thus far in Germany, but contended that this has not been due to a lack of infrastructure. He stated that improvements are more pressing in other areas, especially in providing tax incentives and unifying European policies behind the same uniform approach. According to Wolny, countries will find it difficult to forge ahead on their own.
Finally, Gerald Linke – Senior Managing Director of the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW) – was in attendance to offer some thoughts on what lies ahead. In addition to noting that a combination of LNG, CNG, and LPG will continue to be necessary, he described LNG as having the best prospects at present due to the infrastructure being simpler to expand than in the case of CNG. Linke also cited the benefits of using LNG for shipping. After referencing the strong incentive provided by the environmental requirements in place on inland water transport, he pointed out that this ultimately is a boon for CNG, as well. In summary, Linke proposed that more attention be paid to the fact that natural gas vehicles offer clear environmental advantages over diesel models in densely populated areas, particularly in terms of nitrogen oxide emissions and soot.