To move a weight of 50 tons from one side of Europe to the other, stopping as few times as possible, a large vehicle – a trailer – is needed. This can consume as much fuel as 44 cars, according to calculations by the energy engineering company EVARM. However, the pollution that is generated can very easily be halved by switching the trailer’s fuel system to dual fuel, which combines natural gas with conventional fuel.
Natural gas is a clean fuel because it does not contain any kind of impurities or residues. Compared with petrol or diesel, it releases up to 30% less CO2, (the cause of the greenhouse effect), 80% less NOX and 95% less particulate matter (the cause of public health problems) and it guarantees the same range and power as conventional fuel at a substantially lower cost. Francesc Ribas Gimenez is the CEO of EVARM, a company based in Sant Boi de Llobregat which specializes in high-quality customized conversions of large professional vehicles like trucks, vans, coaches and buses to dual fuel: “By making the move to natural gas, we are talking about savings of between 20% and 25% per 100 km.”
So is natural gas a sustainable fuel?
According to Ribas, “The ideal thing would be for professional vehicles to be electric, but we still lack the technology to manufacture batteries able to power a lorry or a trailer.” Even so, converting a lorry or trailer to dual fuel is a significant improvement in energy efficiency: once converted, a diesel goods vehicle can go from having no green label to an “ECO” one.” This means that, in the future, a vehicle of this kind could travel unhindered – leaving aside the usual restrictions applicable to large vehicles – in Barcelona’s metropolitan area and other places in Spain and Europe. For instance, in Barcelona, a lorry that runs on natural gas can travel on the city ring-roads without problems when there is an episode of atmospheric pollution.
What do I have to do to convert my vehicle to natural gas?
In the case of a car, it is cheap and easy to convert it to natural gas and it can be done at any authorized mechanic’s in a procedure that is fairly simple for a skilled mechanic. Ribas told us that EVARM only converts large professional vehicles and the company takes a week to refit a lorry: “We provide a customized service, not just for each customer but also for each vehicle.” He added that in the over two years that the company has been in operation, it has only fitted the same system in two lorries, although the software ended up by being different. “A car can have a couple of ECUs while a lorry can need up to 20 and so a programme is required to link up the whole system,” he clarified.
Is natural gas really safe? Won’t it explode?
When people think of “natural gas”, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that it is an inflammable gas fuel and that, in combination with a combustion engine, the outcome should be obvious. This is not true. Natural gas is a liquid or compressed natural gas. It does not explode and it can be safely used even on roads that really test out a car’s shock absorbers. In fact, natural gas is as safe as the household butane gas used for cooking or for heaters. Who has not seen their local butane supplier announce his arrival by hitting the gas bottle with a metal object?
Can I buy a factory-made vehicle that runs on natural gas?
Several manufacturers, like Seat, Volkswagen, Volvo or Scania, already manufacture various different models that can run on natural gas, including cars and professional vehicles. (See this link for the GASNAM catalogue, in pdf format, with details of all the natural gas vehicles on the market as from July 2017), although the most popular option in Spain at the moment is to convert petrol-driven cars to dual fuel, with natural gas. “If you want a gas-powered car, good ones are now being made. However, lorries need more power and even the engines of factory-made gas-powered ones go no higher than 400 hp and this is a country of slopes and hills,” clarified Ribas. Apart from this geographical factor, another point to bear in mind is the cost, since the switch to dual fuel costs on average about 14,000 euros per vehicle, although this largely depends on the fuel tanks, because there is a specific container for each kind of natural gas. “The most advanced kind is cryogenic gas between – 160ºC and -180ºC, which is what Space X uses in its rockets,” Ribas told us. He also added that, in terms of performance, no particular kind is any better than the others. The choice depends on the location of the necessary gas stations along a certain route.
Click here for an up-to-date map of natural gas supply stations in Spain. We remind you that with the inauguration of a new natural gas supply station in the Duty-Free Zone in early July, there are now 12 such stations in Catalonia to refill your vehicle and five more in the pipeline.
Here at LIVE, we also support the conversion of vehicles of all kinds to natural gas. See here for further information.