The International Energy Agency recently released its report — 2020 Global Energy Review — which states energy demand will fall 6% in 2020. This represents the largest decline in 70 years in percentage terms, the largest ever decline in absolute terms, and seven times the decline after the 2008 global financial crisis. This is predicted to lead to a record fall in carbon emissions of almost 8%, the lowest level in a decade.
“Planet Earth and its inhabitants have been given an opportunity, a lifeline, that must be respected and taken advantage of. And while there are many positive results likely to emerge from the post-COVID era, from the energy perspective, methane in its fossil-derived and renewable forms and hydrogen stand out as potential heroes for a cleaner future,” says Lennart Pilskog, NGV Global’s chairperson.
In this time of incredible economic and social fluctuation, a greater awareness of the impact of human behaviours upon the earth has arisen. This is happening in Asia, Europe, and in many areas of the world where transportation emissions are tolerated but unwelcome. People like the idea that carbon emissions are way down. The difference in air quality is tangible and celebrated. Many people in cities with severe pollution are seeing the moon and stars for the first time in a long time!
As the days pass and COVID restrictions are relaxed, as the economy and our social lives gear up again, the easiest way forward is to revert to existing, air polluting lifestyles. But it’s easy to repeat old mistakes. Pilskog sees this as “a vital time for delivering important messages about the environmental benefits of natural and renewable gas”.
According to NGVA Europe, biomethane (renewable natural gas – RNG) accounts for 17% of all gas fuel consumed by road transportation across the region. Some countries have yet to engage with the harvesting of renewable gas for mobility, but for others the opportunity has been irresistible: in Switzerland the percentage is 22.4% of fuel sales, the UK is nearing 70%, while in Sweden 94% of CNG fuel sold is renewable. And Denmark dispenses only renewable gas from its CNG stations.
“It is key to understand and acknowledge that a vehicle that is fuelled with renewable gas, is effectively climate neutral. Europe’s renewable gas production capacity is proven and sustainability criteria in place are fully respected,” says Secretary General at NGVA Europe.
“Today, it is the best solution to boost the decarbonization process of the transport sector leveraging on a real circular economy. And while continuously increasing the rate of renewable gas in our network, there is future potential also in improving the efficiency of natural gas engines. This will progress hand in hand,” he concludes.
Europe isn’t alone. NGVAmerica recently reported that 39% of all on-road fuel used in natural gas vehicles in calendar year 2019 in the USA was RNG. The association says RNG produces carbon-neutral and even carbon-negative results when fueling on-road vehicles like short- and long-haul trucks, transit buses, and refuse and recycling collection vehicles. RNG fuel has the lowest Energy Economy Ratio (EER)-adjusted carbon intensity of any on-road motor fuel, as low as -400.
Over the last five years, RNG use as a transportation fuel has increased 291%, displacing close to 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). NGVAmerica and the Sacramento-based Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) report that in 2019 a total of 717 million gasoline gallons equivalent (GGE) of natural gas were used as motor fuel. Of that, 277 million GGEs (39%) were renewable.
“RNG-fueled vehicles are the most immediate and cost-effective heavy-duty option when seeking to combat climate change and clear our air,” said Dan Gage, President of NGVAmerica. “Respiratory health depends on clean air, and natural gas-fueled vehicles provide a proven, affordable, and easily scalable zero emission equivalent solution for commercial deployment today.”
“With 110 RNG production facilities transforming waste into fuel, and another 100 facilities on the way, we are increasingly able to offer consumers the opportunity to decarbonize with RNG – the cleanest of any fuel available today,” said Johannes Escudero, CEO of Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas.
The IEA says it is seeing shock waves go through the oil industry. Companies cannot sell their fuel, so it is being stored at high cost. Exploration and production (E&P) are being dramatically scaled back. Bankruptcies are an increasing phenomenon. Right now, we are enjoying cheap fuel prices not seen for a long time, but I suspect if this benefit will be short-lived. The cost of massive fuel storage will be passed on eventually. The reduction in refining capacity will, in short time, turn the glut into under-supply and once again liquid fuel prices will soar.
During all this uncertainty, one thing is clear, the IEA concludes. Natural gas and renewable gas are here, the price is comparatively predictable and stable, and the technology for lowering methane slip along the supply chain continues to improve.
“As governments seek to accelerate their clean energy transitions, they should not forget the importance of low-carbon gases such as biomethane and biogas,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “Among other benefits, biogas and biomethane also offer a way to bring rural communities and industries into the transformation of the energy sector.”
NGV Global is following these trends with growing confidence that RNG and NG has the capacity to replace a significant portion of conventional fuels and, as such, contribute to a cleaner environment through low-emission mobility. NGV Global statistics show the number of natural gas-powered vehicles grew 8.2% from 2017 to 2018 and 6.1% for 2019. Total NGVs at the end of 2019 accounted for more than 28.57 million worldwide. Although the upward trend may slow because of the pandemic and its economic impact, it is anticipated the NGV count will surpass 30 million before end of 2021.
The IEA’s 2020 Global Energy Review concludes with a very positive view of methane, indicating that, “The downturn in economic health means investment in new fuel alternatives will slow and perhaps some projects will disappear, at least for the time being. On the other hand, natural gas infrastructure is in place, the technology is global, and the benefits are unquestionable, especially for biogas.”
NGV Global acknowledges the following sources of information used in part to compile this article: