Cost effective clean fuels: optimising compliance with EU emissions targets

cost effective clean fuels
© Matt Howell 2016

Agility Fuel Solutions offers insight into the best and most cost effective clean fuels as EU targets become stricter.

With aggressive new targets for lowering emissions and decreasing oil dependence by 2030 set by the EU, European transit fleets are poised for a shift. The 2030 targets for public procurement of zero- and low-emission fleet vehicles and municipal fleets now require 33% to 65% of public fleet acquisitions to be made up of clean vehicles, depending on a country’s population and GDP. What does not vary by country is the fact that public authorities will have to implement the use of cost effective clean fuels in their buses and trucks, including electricity, hydrogen, biogas and natural gas-powered vehicles.

The new, more stringent rules, signed into effect in June 2019, update the EU’s 2009 Clean Vehicles Directive and require national governments to apply them within two years. Countries will also have to submit a first report on the rules’ impact to the European Council by April 2026. There is no question that Europe is aggressively moving to reduce emissions; the only question is what is the best, fastest, most cost effective way to comply with these requirements.

Half of the new targets will have to be met with zero-emission transport. According to the EU clean transport lobby group Transport & Environment, this means that in Germany, for example, nearly a quarter of new public buses should be zero-emission by 2025. Meeting such ambitious targets is possible, thanks to industry leaders like Agility Fuel Solutions and its parent company, Hexagon™ Composites, a leading global manufacturer of clean energy systems for mobility and storage applications.

Agility is already helping Germany with cleaner energy alternatives; and the company’s exponential growth in the UK is a clear indicator that Agility and its peers are providing products that were in demand even before the new targets.

Entertain the idea of biogas

One of the best ways fleet operators can prepare for compliance with the new regulations is to embrace biogas. It is a cost effective clean fuel alternative for both buses and trucks and – thanks to newer compressed natural gas (CNG) storage technology – can deliver long range. Two UK fleets, Waitrose and Nottingham City Transport, are great examples of what is possible.

Waitrose’s new fleet runs entirely on biogas, enabling the company to run five CNG-powered trucks for the same overall emissions as one diesel truck. Even better, Waitrose’s biogas is a product of the company’s own food and agricultural waste, which now powers their fleet instead of filling landfills. Nottingham City Transport (NCT), meanwhile, has implemented 120 Alexander Dennis buses with Agility CNG fuel systems; with impressive results.

“When [biogas] is used, emissions are 84% lower than their diesel counterparts,” NCT Engineering Director Gary Mason explains. “[Ours] is the largest order for gas double decks in the world and is the culmination of our extensive research into alternative fuels.”

NCT’s large order makes sense from a mathematical perspective. Bio-CNG is 35% to 40% cheaper than diesel, amounting to savings of £17,000 (€18,609) in annual fuel costs per truck; meaning that the high mileage vehicles will repay the increased upfront cost of introducing cost effective clean fuels in just two to three years. Additionally, biogas vehicles will likely operate for at least five years longer than their diesel counterparts, generating overall lifetime savings of £75,000 to £100,000 per vehicle. For some fleets, however, this is still not enough.

“A lot of fleets need vehicles that are capable of a full day’s driving,” explains Eric Bippus, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Agility. “That was the case with Waitrose, who didn’t want to be refuelling.”

Agility’s Type 4 carbon fibre composited cylinder-based fuel systems store gas at 250-bar pressure, 25% higher than the 200-bar pressure possible with steel tanks. With these advanced fuel storage systems, Waitrose can get over 500 miles of range, which is key given its need to transport goods across the UK. Agility’s CNG fuel system is 54% lighter than a 945kg system based on steel tanks – a weight saving of over half a tonne – which allows Waitrose to haul more freight. Waitrose’s fleet now completes round trip deliveries on a single fill; and Agility now holds leading market positions in both North America and Europe.

Hydrogen is more than just hype

Another winning strategy for fleets looking to comply with new emissions targets is to incorporate hydrogen-powered vehicles. “Hydrogen is the zero-emission solution for heavy-duty applications,” says Jacob Krogsgaard, CEO of Everfuel, “Hydrogen can efficiently be produced from renewable electricity and distributed in high capacity hydrogen trailers to bus depots.”

For long haul transport, hydrogen trucks have a huge advantage over battery-powered rivals as heavy batteries can reduce cargo capacity and require longer charging times. When it comes to eliminating emissions, hydrogen is increasingly viable.

Last year, Hyundai Motors announced it would be selling 1,600 hydrogen-powered trucks in Switzerland over the next five years in partnership with Swiss hydrogen company H2 Energy. This was a clear – and not unwise – bet that the vehicles could beat battery-powered models sold by the likes of Tesla. Hyundai’s hydrogen trucks are expected to deliver a single-fuelling travel range of around 400 kilometres.

In the transit sector, leading players in the hydrogen fuel cell electric value chain recently announced that they are joining forces to form the H2Bus Consortium. This consortium consists of Everfuel, Wrightbus, Ballard Power Systems, Hexagon Composites, Nel Hydrogen and Ryse Hydrogen. Members are committed to deploying 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, along with supporting infrastructure, in European cities at commercially competitive rates.

Krogsgaard says: “[At bus depots] a hydrogen bus can be fuelled in five minutes. This is comparable to diesel. We are setting up a dedicated hydrogen value chain to cut costs and, in doing so, to approach operational parity with buses which use traditional fuels.”

Agility Fuel Solutions and Hexagon Purus will provide hydrogen fuel solutions to bus OEMs for use in public transport fleets, as well as high capacity trailers for distribution of hydrogen to bus depots. Since 2001, Agility has implemented more integrated hydrogen systems into commercial vehicles than any other company; and in recent years it has seen interest in hydrogen as a cost effective clean fuel option grow significantly.

“Where public transport fleets have requirements for long driving range, we believe there is significant potential for hydrogen to play a key role in the zero-emission mobility future,” says Seung Baik, President of Agility Fuel Solutions. “We’re pleased to apply our experience and capabilities to deliver hydrogen fuel systems into a project of significant magnitude.”

The full realisation of this project is expected to culminate in Hexagon’s largest order of fuel systems for hydrogen buses to date and will be the most cost effective truly zero-emission option available. A single-decker bus will be priced below €375,000 after funding, with a hydrogen price between €5 and €7 per kilogram and a service cost of €0.30 per kilometre. The zero-tailpipe emission feature of the fuel cell bus’s operation will be complemented by zero-emission hydrogen production from renewable energy sources, yielding a ‘well-to-wheel’ emission-free transportation solution.

With an increasing number of commitments to low-emission zones and zero-emission policies worldwide, vehicles powered by cost effective clean fuels such as biogas and hydrogen are becoming more important. But as Waitrose and NCT have shown, compliance is not the only reason to make the switch. Compliant vehicles will of course, decrease an organisation’s carbon footprint, but that’s not all: companies’ fuel costs will go down. With greater driving range, the number of stops will decrease, which means lower driver-related costs. Lighter, more efficient storage systems burn less of the fuel they carry; with the end result that fleets will enjoy a return on investment in a much shorter time.

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