LNG for trucking – an opportunity knocking at our door

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In India, road transportation takes up a major chunk of the supply chain wheel – connecting people and goods across the country and aiding in the country’s economic growth. Along with being one of the world’s largest road networks, India’s road network is also one of the major contributors to its CO2 emissions. Road transportation has historically been dominated by the high emission fossil fuel – diesel – which puts an extremely negative impact on the air quality. This is also the reason why atleast twice a year, when air quality levels drop, the entry of diesel based commercial vehicles is banned in some Indian cities, including the capital.

In the last decade or so the government, and the trucking sector itself, have been giving a strong push towards switching to sustainable fuels (such as natural gas, biofuels, or electric power) in trucks, which will help reduce the negative impacts and promote a more sustainable and equitable transportation system. While the smaller and medium commercial vehicles switched to using CNG a long time back, the case of larger trucks is pretty much still unresolved.

However, realising that by reducing emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases, sustainable fuels can improve air quality, protect public health, and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the efforts towards adopting cleaner fuels for long haul trucks are under full swing. Moreover, the use of sustainable fuels can also reduce India’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, which can help improve energy security and reduce the country’s vulnerability to global oil price fluctuations.

Here comes in the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG).

LNG is emerging as a viable alternative to traditional fuel in the transportation sector, particularly for heavy-duty trucks. It creates a lower amount of emissions while also being relatively easy on the pocket, which makes it an attractive option for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint, comply with increasingly strict emissions regulations and maintain their expenses. This has led many companies to start investing in natural gas-powered trucks and building out the necessary infrastructure to support them.

Compared to diesel, which has an energy density of 10,900 kcal/kg, LNG creates 12,950 kcal energy per kilogram. A truck running on LNG will provide better fuel efficiency and require lower maintenance and operational costs. Depending on the duty cycle compared to diesel trucks, LNG emits up to 28% less carbon dioxide, up to 100% less sulphur oxide, up to 59% less nitrogen oxide, up to 91% less particulate mass, and up to 30% less noise. Voila! You have a quieter and ‘cleaner’ truck.

Also Read: How Do Liquefied Natural Gas Trucks Work?

But all is not that rosy.

There are still some challenges to widespread adoption of natural gas in the trucking sector. One major hurdle is the cost of retrofitting existing trucks to run on natural gas, as well as the cost of building new natural gas fueling stations. Additionally, the range of natural gas trucks is still limited compared to diesel trucks, which means that they may not be suitable for long-haul routes without frequent refueling.

However, counting the blessings that come with LNG, it will only be fair if the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) comes up with LNG strategy, which will make the adoption of LNG for larger, long haul trucks easier and faster.

What would help is the introduction of competitive fuel rates, and incentives for Indian trucks that switch to LNG, in the form of preferential toll rate and lower new vehicle registration cost. Incentives in the form of tax concessions and green certifications can also work at the ‘LNG friendly’ truck manufacturing front. For long-distance, heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles, it is imperative to build infrastructure of LNG outlets across the country. Along with LNG terminal facilities already in place to take care of import needs, regulatory requirement with respect to safety and technical requirements are also in place.

Despite these challenges, many experts believe that natural gas has the potential to disrupt the trucking sector and become a major player in the transportation industry. Considering that CNG is not viable for larger, long haul trucks, and the electrification of these trucks (plus the infrastructure) is also a distant dream, LNG is an opportunity waiting to be grabbed with both hands.

As more companies adopt natural gas-powered trucks and the infrastructure to support them becomes more widespread, the cost and range issues are likely to become less of a concern. This could lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Also Read: Dalmia Cement Bharat Limited to build a green supply chain with its first fleet of LNG trucks

Therefore, it is crucial for India to shift towards sustainable fuels in the transportation sector to ensure a more sustainable and resilient future. This will require investment in alternative fuel infrastructure, development of sustainable fuel supply chains, and promotion of policies and incentives that encourage the adoption of sustainable transport solutions. Dedicated pilot programmes along corridors with LSPs, OEMs, and fuel suppliers will go a long way toward demonstrating the fuel’s advantages and will undoubtedly work as a stimulus for growing its adoption.