At 08:00 on the 8th of September 2012 eight methane powered vehicles hit the road from Moscow to Paris and back for the ‘Blue Corridor-2012’ NGV Rally. While promotional in nature, the 6700 km – 17 day event provided an important insight into challenges and opportunities for the European natural gas fuels community.
This project was organized and coordinated by Russian Gazprom, German E.On Ruhrgas and NGVRUS – a regional association embracing stakeholders from several European countries. The Rally was also sponsored by European Business Congress (EBC) and NGVA Europe. The NGV caravan visited 30 European cities and towns including seven capitals: Moscow, Minsk, Warsaw, Prague, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin.
11 Round table were held along the route, with participation of representatives of municipal government, political organizations, business, production, gas and automobile industries, the media and the public. The central event was held in Brussels, Belgium, attended by officials of the European Commission, the European Parliament, representatives of public organizations. While politicians at the Brussels meeting were aware of the relevance of major transition to natural gas as a motor fuel, there was nevertheless no assurance that conditions for fair competition in the fuel market will be resolved in the near future. As Member of European Parliament from Germany Joachim Zeller CDU stated at a working breakfast with the organizers of the gas rally, “Too many countries, too many interests to find a compromise.”
To help policymakers and officials, participants tried to convey to them the main idea: compared with other existing motor fuels only natural gas has a full range of advantages over diesel fuel, gasoline and LPG: it is environmentally friendly, amply resourced, safer to handle, renewable, cheaper, able to be used on all modes of transport, and its infrastructure can be applied to other types of fuel.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) trucks, buses and passenger cars from six countries were joining the caravan and leaving it at different national legs. These included: MAN Lion’s City and Solbus buses, KAMAZ trucks, Iveco Daily, Iveco Stralis, Mercedes Sprinter, Citroen Berlingo, FIAT Multipla, Mercedes B Class, Mercedes E-200, Opel Zafira, Scoda Octavia, VW Caddy, VW Passat and VW Touran.
Three major groups of European NGV market stakeholders were represented in the Rally:
- gas companies – Beltransgaz, E.On Česká republika, E.On Ruhrgas, Gaz Marketing and Trading, Gazprom export, Gazprom Germania, GDF Suez, Prazska plynarenska, RWE Česká republika, Slovenský PP, Vemex, Verbudnetz Gaz;
- equipment manufacturers – Gas Com, Iveco Poland, Iveco Russia, KAMAZ, MAN Trucks & Bus Russia, MB Poznan, Mosavtoholod, PIMOT, Raritek, Solbus, TVAJA CNG, VÍTKOVICE Doprava, Volkswagen Russia;
- NGV organizations – CNG expert, Czech Gas Association, EBC, GNVERT, IGU, NGV Polska, NGVA Europe, NGVRUS.
Following are the challenges that European NGV industry has to meet in order to reach the goal of 50 million NGVs in Europe by 2020.
- CNG filling infrastructure is poorly developed, except for Germany and Italy.
- Few CNG filling stations are located along international motorways.
- LNG/LCNG filling infrastructure is not developed at all. Very few isolated sites can not support NGV traffic across Europe.
- Location of many CNG stations is not convenient. They are hard to find and reach. Drivers have to waste much gas (money) to and from the site.
- Road signs to filling stations are few and badly visible.
- CNG filling connectors of different design confuse ‘illiterate’ customer and require adapters, which in turn may compromise safety.
- Automatic CNG stations are few.
- Self service is not universally allowed.
- Payment systems differ and sometimes are not convenient for transient NGV drivers.
- Measuring units differ from country to country (kg or m3) which confuses drivers about amount of filled methane.
- Indication of prices for CNG (in kilograms) and LPG (in liters) misinforms customers about real value of fuels.
- Different composition of gas (for example L-gas or H-gas) may lead to higher gas consumption and cost.
- Limitation of the compressor filling pressure leads to shorter travel distance and higher cost.
- Dealers do not know about gas vehicles or do not want to encourage customers to buy NGVs.
The above findings open up many opportunities for policy, infrastructure and service development as natural gas moves toward becoming a mainstream fuel. However, Blue Corridor 2012 proved that even today it is possible to drive on CNG from Yekaterinburg, Russia to Paris, France. That is across almost all of Europe from east to west and – based on the experience of earlier NGV rallies – from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
(Article adapted from press release by Eugene Pronin, NGVRUS)