What does LNG stand for?

All the talk today is of electric vehicles. But new engine technologies for heavy goods transport are also helping to mitigate climate change. The magic word is “LNG”: liquefied natural gas and biomethane could make fuels like heavy fuel oil redundant.

Illustration: Renewable energy sources, emlectric grid and a gas tank under a looking glass.© BMWi

The aim: cleaner propulsion for trucks and tankers

It is a familiar sight at ports or motorway service stations: massive tankers and trucks switch their engines on, and the air goes black, is filled with noise, and smells like a refinery. The ships and trucks rely on fuels like diesel and heavy fuel oil – not what you’d call clean or quiet.

LNG: cutting carbon emissions by up to 93 per cent, and making much less noise

The answer could be a crystal-clear liquid that is four times colder than the air at the North Pole – roughly minus 160C. The liquid is “LNG” – liquefied natural gas. It can help to make conventional fuels for freight transport redundant.

Using natural gas to help the climate? That might sound absurd to many people’s ears. After all, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and is thus anathema to many in an age of decarbonisation. But compared with other fossil fuels like hard coal, lignite and oil, natural gas is much more climate-friendly. When it is burnt, it releases less carbon emissions than any of the other fossil fuels.

This is also true of its liquid form. For example, if LNG is mixed with renewable biomethane from the fermentation of biomass and used in ships, greenhouse gas emissions drop by up to 93 per cent. And special LNG engines for trucks also reduce noise emissions. All of this helps to make LNG a much nicer fuel than diesel & co. – both for people and for the climate.

21 per cent natural gas in the German energy mix

Natural gas is mainly used for heating purposes in Germany. In 2015 it supplied almost a quarter – 21 per cent – of the primary energy consumed here. Primary energy is the energy contained in the energy sources themselves, i.e. for example in water, wind, sunshine and fossil fuels. But it can do more than heat buildings and water: it can also help to store energy. And in liquefied form, it can help to get heavy loads from A to B by water and road – and to do this much more cleanly.

An LNG fuelling station every 400 kilometres

At the beginning of 2015, more than 50,000 LNG trucks and 1,300 fuelling stations were in operation around the world. Most of them are in North America, China and parts of Europe.

The German government has recognised the potential of LNG. For example, it is organising pilot projects to introduce LNG in road haulage and shipping. Also, it is helping the European Commission to implement a Directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure. Amongst other things, this wants an LNG terminal to be available every 400 kilometres along the EU’s trucker routes. In the “LNG for heavy-duty road freight transport” task force, the German Energy Agency (dena) has been working since the end of 2015 with partners from industry to set up more LNG fuelling stations in Germany.