Bio-methane fuelled vehicles – John Baldwin CNG Services

Claverton Conference: 24th Nov 08

(*Also bio-methane or bio methane)

By John Baldwin, MD, CNG Services Ltd

Year 2008 may well be recognised as a turning point in the journey away from fossil fuels and this has major implications for the waste management industry. The increase in oil price to $140/bbl is the market signaling that, to use the words of Shell CEO van der Veer, ‘easy oil’ is running out.  The large oil fields that have supplied the world with oil are starting to decline and new resources, such as oil sands in Canada, have much higher levels of CO2 emissions associated with their extraction.

At the same time, countries  like Nigeria are capturing and liquefying the natural gas (to make LNG) that is a by product of oil production. Nigeria is forecasting LNG production of around 60 million tones per annum by 2012, bringing in around $60 billion of income – not a bad return for what was flared off as a waste product until 1999.  High natural gas prices in the US are also bringing forward huge resources of ‘tight’ natural gas that are now economic to produce. Such gas needs more wells than normal gas and so requires the higher gas prices we have now – historically low natural gas prices in the US have acted to leave the ‘tight gas’ in the ground but it is now economic to bring it to market.

In addition, Europe is promoting wind generation, with the UK, the windiest country in Europe, aiming for 35% of its electricity to come from wind by 2020. The UK also has new regulations from 2016 that will not allow new houses to have natural gas and so heating must be provided by renewable sources such as wood or from electricity produced by wind or solar power. High energy prices, wind generation and initiatives to reduce fossil fuel demand are squeezing the demand for natural gas at a time when supplies of  both LNG and tight gas is growing dramatically.

These factors have caused some of the major car makers to look at natural gas vehicles as an attractive new opportunity. Whilst there are now around 8 million NGVs in the world, with Brazil, Argentina and Pakistan the volume leaders, it is developments in Q1 2009 in Germany that are potentially transformational and offer a compelling vision to the waste management industry.

New biomethane fueled vehicles

In 2004 a group of VW engineers set out a vision for a large car that could be fueled by natural gas (fossil or renewable) to deliver high performance, long range, low CO2/km and no loss of boot space. That vehicle is about to come off the production line in Germany as the Passat TSI Eco fuel.  The combination of twin superchargers and a turbocharger provide exceptional performance, with 150 bhp and 0 to 60 Mph in 9.7 seconds. Its range on biomethane is 420km with a further 400 km on petrol. Whilst it is carbon neutral on biomethane, even on fossil natural gas it has class leading low CO2 of 129 g/km.  Finally, by putting the CNG tanks under the floor, VW have engineered a carbon neutral vehicle with no loss of bootspace. With 800 fillling stations in Germany for the Passat TSI, VW are expecting a breakthrough in terms of sales with 25,000 per annum a reasonable target. With fuel at half the cost of petrol and this performance it can be expected to achieve high level of sales. The illustration and photo below show the new Passat Ecofuel.

The VW Passat is being joined by the General Motors Zafira Turbo, which also offers great performance and low CO2.  Then there are a suite of vehicles from Mercedes Benz – the B Class, the Sprinter van and the Econic truck.  Together, with other vehicles from cars to buses and trucks,  we now have a family of vehicles that are unbeatable in environmental performance when fueled on compressed biomethane.

Below are shown the new VW Caddy and MB Sprinter which are the vehicles that UK water companies are introducing to allow their transport requirements to be provided by carbon neutral biomethane rather than diesel.

The photo below shows an MB Econic tractor fueled by methane and being used in Germany to haul waste.

The photo below shows biomethane fueled Econic refuse trucks in Malmo

Each m3 of biomethane used to fuel a Passat or Econic displaces a litre of diesel and means some  ‘hard to extract and high CO2 to produce’ oil is left in the ground.  Natural gas was made from dinosaur poo 150 million years ago……we can make renewable natural gas, biogas,  from organic waste in around 20 days using anaerobic digesters.  It is straightforward and low cost these days to remove water, H2S and CO2 from this biogas and we then have biomethane, a perfect vehicle fuel which, combined with these new vehicles provides a carbon neutral motoring opportunity for ‘eco-leadership’ companies. It is estimated that potentially 17% of present UK fuel consumption could come from bio-methane from presently discarded food and animal wastes.

“Second Generation” biofuels are defined as those which are made from organic waste not food crops. Biomethane is now clearly established as the leading such fuel used for vehicle fleets in most EU countries. Sweden has around  15,000 NGVs with 55% of the fuel from biomethane and 15 Swedish cities having biomethane powered bus fleets, such as Stockholm (photo below) which is replacing bioethanol fueled buses to move to 100% biomethane fueled from 2009:

Injection of biomethane into the gas grid

Whilst the production of biomethane is well established, transporting this gas to consumers via the existing gas grids is Europe is an innovation being promoted by the EU in its new Renewable Energy Directive.

In the UK, there is already an extensive AD industry but the biogas produced has only been used to generate electricity. High energy prices mean that the overall efficiency of such schemes (less than 40% due to limited use for waste heat) is causing a re-think as to the appropriate use of the biogas. The high quality of the new biomethane fueled vehicles and the relatively  poor CO2 performance of on-site electricity generation means that injection of biomethane into the gas grid and its use as a vehicle fuel is now attractive as shown in the following table:

There are no regulatory barriers to injecting renewable methane into the gas grid. In fact, whilst it does not happen yet, the UK pipeline system welcomes it with open arms, not even charging a fee to accept it at the lower pressures that local gas pipelines operate at. The raw biogas has to be dried, cleaned, enriched and odorised, but this is straightforward with a range of technologies widely used in Europe. The reason it does not happen is that, under a legal technicality, biomethane looses all its green benefits when it enters the mains. The UK Government has recognized that this is bad for the environment and is consulting in relation to this with the aim of encouraging ‘renewable’ gas in the same way it encourages renewable electricity.

European experience

Injection of biomethane into gas grids is now happening across Europe in a market growing at more than 25% annually. In Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, the production of renewable methane from domestic waste offers a solution to the problems of waste recycling, reduction in global warming and reduction in natural gas imports.  It is a compelling vision – gas suppliers who already offer ‘green’ electricity tariffs could also offer ‘green’ gas tariffs. Supermarkets could recycle their green waste, turning it back into methane and running all their vehicles on carbon neutral biomethane and tapping into the premiums available for renewable biofuels. The residual digestate from the AD also has value as a fertilizer.

Fixing fuel prices for the life of the AD plant is also attractive  – as long as organic waste is produced, the fuel will be available.  The experience in Lille were 330 buses are fueled on biomethane from domestic waste, is that the direct link between waste and bus fuel is something that leads to very high rates of organic waste recycling from consumers as well as lower local council taxes.

For examples of biomethane fueled operations, visit

Quote from John Baldwin

“In a resource constrained world, if you use anaerobic digestion technology coupled with the new high efficiency vehicles being built by VW (eg Passat Ecofuel), you can travel around 50% more distance for the same waste (or energy crop) compared to converting that waste into a synthetic diesel. This arises because AD is essentially a low energy natural process whereas Biomass to Liquids technologies require huge energy input to covert molecules.  It has to be the way to go and is being recognized as such. Stockholm for example is aiming to go to 100% biomethane for buses within 5 years, replacing all the bioethanol buses that are now running”.

2 comments on “Bio-methane fuelled vehicles – John Baldwin CNG Services

  1. here in jamaica where gas prices economical conditions puts a strain on the pockets we can’t do the same things every day so i’m thinking about one of those vehicle & to generate my own electric power by using biogas technology anyway what you r doing is good for the planet keep it up so others can follow thanks

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