Blue Corridor 2017, gas-fueled transportation takes off

Blue Corridor 2017, gas-fueled transportation takes off

Evgeny Utkin | Journalist and expert on the Russian economy and on energy issues
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The gas era is only just beginning: this is the message we glean from this year's Blue Corridor rally. The initiative, a project conceived by Gazprom in 2008, shows the benefits of blue gold, all pointing towards a low carbon future

The rally, covering a route of over 5,500 km across 12 European countries, kicked off from Lisbon on September 18 and will finish in St Petersburg on October 5 to coincide with the opening of the 7th St Petersburg International Gas Forum (SPIGF). So far, the rally has passed through Madrid, Barcelona, Marseille, and Milan (on September 22), and will go on to Ulm, Berlin, Warsaw, Kaliningrad, Riga and Tallinn.
As part of the initiative, a roundtable was held in the Auditorium Testori at Palazzo Lombardia, the Lombardy Region’s Headquarters in Milan, sponsored by NGV Italy, Iveco, SNAM and Gazprom. Outside, parading in Europe’s largest covered square, were16 gas-fueled cars, heavy goods vehicles such as the Stralis truck, powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), the methane-engine Ducato, the biomethane-fueled Panda, and more. The show did not feature the eagerly awaited Russian trucks, like URAL NEXT, KAMAZ 56117 and MAZ 534023, also LNG-powered

But what exactly is the Blue Corridor?

The project was conceived in 2008 by Gazprom, later joined by Uniper in 2010, with the participation right from the outset of natural gas stakeholders, demonstrating the benefits of this fuel for air quality and decarbonization. This year’s rally is mainly focused on the use of natural gas for freight transportation, which in Europe is responsible for around a quarter of CO2 emissions caused by road transport. No less important is the use of an environmentally sustainable fuel such as natural gas for urban transportation.
The conference participants are convinced that there are no alternatives to gas for heavy goods road transportation if we are to be environmentally friendly. As far as they are concerned, it is a fact that gas releases 95 percent less CO2 than diesel fuel, and that modern trucks can run over 1,000 kilometers without the need to refuel (if LNG-powered). So, why is this market still struggling to grow?

What the experts say

Paolo Mora, the Lombardy Region’s deputy director for Economic Development, stressed that Lombardy devotes substantial resources to environmentally friendly development, and that one of the elements of this is gas transportation: "Liquid methane and biomethane are an important resource f or Lombardy, and they are no longer merely a future prospect but an immediate reality." Francesco Massa from IVECO (CNH Group), talking about his IVECO Stralis trucks, which can cover up to 1,500 km without refueling, argued that gas is “the only sustainable alternative in the short to medium term” for heavy goods transportation. At least for the next ten years. Davide Balzan, from Fiat Professional, voiced his agreement with Massa’s view.
On the Russian side, Evgeny Pronin from Gazprom Export pointed out that Gazprom supplies 33 percent of Europe’s gas and that it is therefore difficult to find a real alternative to the Russian giant. In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of gas-powered vehicles, from around 1.2 million in 2014 to the current 1.6-to-1.7 million, with a 30 percent growth. In terms of gas consumption, vehicles currently use approximately 30 bcm of gas worldwide, and around 6 bcm in Europe. This growth is mainly accounted for by LNG vehicles, partly thanks to manufacturers like IVECO (with its Stralis 400 NP). Finally, we are also seeing a healthy growth in the network of LNG fueling stations in Spain (which has over 20), Portugal (at least 5) and Italy, where 14 new gas stations have opened just this year. Italy is actually a European leader, alongside Germany, in the development of gas vehicles.
Speaking in Milan, Denis Vorobyev, Deputy DG of Gazprom Gas-Engine Fuel, outlined the situation in the Russian Federation, where, he said, there are currently two plants producing LNG for vehicles and over 400 gas stations. While in 2014 there were 109 thousand gas vehicles in Russia, which consumed 406 mcm of gas, by 2016 the number of gas vehicles had grown to some 150 thousand, consuming 560 mcm. The network of fueling stations is naturally growing in parallel, with the opening of 36 new stationary stations and 88 mobile stations in the last three years. The focus here is not just on European roads but also on the Integrated Transcontinental LNG Blue Corridor, the route from Europe to China going through Russia.
Detlef WeBling from Uniper talked about the presence of many compressed natural gas fueling stations, which, however, are losing ground to LNG projects. The intention, he said, is to build 20 fueling stations in Germany, Belgium and France in the short term. WeBling stressed that the price of LNG needs to be fixed for at least five years so that customers can feel confident about compensating and recouping the upfront costs of gas vehicles, which are obviously more expensive than diesel vehicles.

Also at Palazzo Lombardia, Andrea Ricci, Head of CNG Development at SNAM, finally stressed the need to “put pressure on politicians, seeing that everyone is talking about electric powered vehicles as something new and environmentally friendly, while gas is already viewed as dated. On the contrary, gas, too, is ecological and cheap, costing about 30 percent less than diesel.” Ricci pointed to the "absurdity" of certain regulations, including, for instance the ban on self-service methane refueling when filling stations are closed. The reality, he said, is that “right now, it is much more hazardous to refuel on gasoline than on methane.” Ricci also drew attention to the fact that “Italy has the best LNG technology producers in the world,” and said that every effort should be made to take advantage of this great opportunity.
Rounding off the Milan event, Mariarosa Baroni, from NGV Italy (the consortium representing Italy’s natural gas industry), rightly stated that "the applications for methane are endless. We will also be talking about ships in the future - she added -, as a matter of fact, such ships are already around; we will then be talking about trains and aircraft." And it is clear that, far from coming to an end, the gas era is only just beginning.