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Gas, a sustainable ally of rail transport

Oct 01, 2018
6 min read
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Claudio Rodriguez, Gas Assets General Manager, Enagás, spoke to Gastech News about how gas could offer railways a chance to reduce its fuel costs

 

During Gastech you will be discussing the role LNG can play in powering railways. How big an opportunity for the industry is this?

Rail is the most efficient means of transport to date. Despite this, it has gradually been losing market share to other less efficient and polluting means, like the road transport sector. By 2040, even in the most optimistic scenario, the application of current alternative fuel technologies in the road transport sector will not be able to avoid the maintenance of around 40 per cent of vehicles that consume diesel or petrol. Consequently —and although at levels of demand as fuel, rail only accounts for about 10 per cent of the demand of the road transport sector— its ability to prevent the emissions of that 40 per cent of vehicles by means of modal recovery is an additional incentive for our industry, which would become the main player in the intended decarbonisation process. Natural gas offers railways a mature technology, implantable into both new and existing vehicles with highly competitive returns on investments compared to diesel and latest-generation hybrid solutions. Furthermore, this technology is suited to all areas of rail propulsion, with mature and secure supply logistics, with a reduction in fuel costs of 50 per cent, and improvement in emission levels that no other current alternative fuel can achieve.

  

How successful has the application of gas for railways been in its pioneering stages?

The use of natural gas as a fuel for rail propulsion dates back to the same time as the introduction of internal combustion engines, to the 1930s. Nevertheless, its development has been significantly inconsistent, and aside for certain exceptions, it was not until the early 21st century, with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, that the U.S. set up a broad process of testing this fuel in locomotives. With the shale gas boom, the American rail industry became more involved in a new period of tests and even commercial exploitation, which continues until today. This period has brought about regulatory and technological solutions, some associated with the transport and supply of LNG for rail, but encouragement is needed for its consolidation and commercial expansion, given that the U.S. has currently decided to prioritise the use of diesel solutions. Faced with this situation and with the support of a number of European manufacturers for hydrogen-based solutions, Spain has embarked on an ambitious ‘road map’, with testing and developing all areas of rail propulsion, the first of which, starting in January this year, became the first passenger train powered by LNG, with test results expected to become available within a few months.

 

Can gas play a larger role in the overall transport energy mix? With the right advocacy, showcasing acquired experience and the gradual introduction of biomethane, the role of natural gas in transport will be a determining factor for its gradual decarbonisation. Consequently, in relation to the different areas of activity:

Road: by 2040 natural gas expected coverage is up to 40 per cent of the vehicle fleet taking advantage of the additional benefits of biomethane.

Sea: The initial uncertainly regarding the use of LNG as a maritime fuel is being dispelled thanks to the positioning of TSOs like Enagás and projects such as CORE LNG as hive, and to the more stringent compendium of regulations established by the IMO.

Rail: an area that has been unexplored until now; however, it may provide direct and indirect effects on global mobility. How does Spain compare in this field with other nations across the world? The history of LNG internationally and in Spain are closely linked. Our country has been capable of building capacity and gradually extending its scope of influence through the development of logistics solutions and embarking on projects in the main market niches. In this sense, CORE LNG as hive in the field of maritime transport and rail LNG in the field of rail transport are the projects consistent with European directives and which have the most complete and advanced road maps in the world, reconciling experience with innovation.

How does Spain compare in this field with other nations across the world?

The history of LNG internationally and in Spain are closely linked. Our country has been capable of building capacity and gradually extending its scope of influence through the development of logistics solutions and embarking on projects in the main market niches. In this sense, CORE LNG as hive in the field of maritime transport and rail LNG in the field of rail transport are the projects consistent with European directives and which have the most complete and advanced road maps in the world, reconciling experience with innovation.

 

Are there any other areas of energy which gas can be put to which have yet to be explored?

As far as Enagás as a TSO is concerned, the development of new logistics solution, which round off the portfolio of LNG transport from regasification plants for rail transport, a solution used in Japan since the 1970s, will bring security and sustainability to our supply chains. The development and implementation of ‘small-scale liquefaction’ solutions, using LNG as an alternative fuel in inland Europe may be a competitive and complementary alternative to road/rail logistics. It will be necessary to research and develop solutions to turn the gas pipeline network into an essential system for managing and transporting hydrogen, a future energy vector.

 

Is Gastech an opportunity for industry professionals to look into its wider usage?

Forums such as Gastech enable members of the industry to improve their knowledge on the alternatives and advances that are being developed. It also allows us to put out consistently clear and convincing messages in order to consolidate our position in the market and also for the good of the environment as it corresponds to us.

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