What is the future for gas-powered HGVs?

With dual fuel trucks proven to pump out more greenhouse gases than diesel trucks, what is the future for gas-fuelled HGVs?

Dual fuel gas trucks are on the ropes. Recent research following the DfT-sponsored Low Carbon Truck Trial has shown that greenhouse gas emissions from the 217 dual fuel gas trucks in the trial rose between 50% and 127%, due to the incomplete combustion of methane, as the engine switched from one fuel to the other, a process known as “methane slip.”

This analysis was conducted by academics from Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Minnesota State University ahead of the release of the official final trial report – expected anytime – from DfT.

The trial’s results confirm RHA’s long held concerns about the technology, says RHA policy director Jack Semple.

“It comes as no surprise to us,” he says. “Methane slip was always one of our concerns along with the general direction of government policy in this area.

“Gas powered HGVs are only relevant to a very small number of operators. The trial has led the industry up the garden path and wasted £25m of taxpayers money.”

So is this the end of the road for gas powered HGVs?

Ben Sawford, CCO of liquefied natural gas supplier Gasrec, argues to the contrary. He sees the use of dual fuel as a valuable staging post to the adoption of dedicated gas powered trucks.

“Dual fuel was a great enabler for the alternative fuel market. It was never going to be the answer but it got the market moving,” he says.

“This time last year there were 800 dual fuel LNG and CNG vehicles on the road and we were fuelling around 550 a day. That’s a significant amount of vehicles moving heavy goods around and I believe it seeded the opportunities around dedicated gas powered HGVs.”

Iveco product director Martin Flach echoes this view.

He says: “These research findings only reinforce Iveco’s position. We never felt dual fuel was the right technology.

“However dual fuel filled a gap in the market at a time when there were no dedicated gas powered HGV vehicles available. It also created a legacy of around 40 gas stations, paving the way for the next generation.”

Sawford points to the growth of Gasrec’s fuelling infrastructure as evidence. “We now have 29 stations in strategic locations around the UK, so operators are confident their vehicles have access to gas at one or other end of their operations and as demand grows we can respond quickly with new locations.”

Certainly all the signs point to a surge in demand for dedicated gas powered HGVs. Natural gas fuel supplier CNG Fuels works with Scania and Iveco on the development of dedicated gas fuelled trucks.

CNG Fuels CEO Philip Fjeld says that, based on current order rates, UK demand for dedicated trucks from Iveco and Scania could leap four to eight times next year, up from around 25 this year to 100-200 trucks next year.

Flach backs up Fjeld’s claim. He estimates there are around 100 dedicated gas powered HGVs on the UK’s roads right now, adding: “I would be very surprised if we don’t add another 100 dedicated gas trucks to the UK’s roads next year.

“I believe we will see a doubling or tripling of the total number of gas powered trucks in the UK next year. There’s a real head of steam building with quite significant volumes on Stralis artics and 400hp 4X2s.”

Iveco is also developing a dedicated gas powered 6×2 artic which Flach says will offer horsepower above 400hp, which the manufacturer is aiming to launch in the UK sometime next year.

Whilst much of the interest in Iveco’s gas powered HGV range comes from supermarkets and parcel delivery firms that already run fleets of 4x2s, Flack says rising numbers of operators, whose primary interest is in Iveco’s forthcoming dedicated gas powered 6×2 artic, are taking some gas powered 4x2s “to get their toe in the water” (pictured right, its refuse truck variant).iveco-eurocargo-refuse

He also says many dual fuel operators remain faithful to alternative fuels and are looking to switch their fleets to dedicated gas powered trucks.

Plans to bring a demonstration model of Iveco’s 400hp 4×2 Stralis NP to the UK in January next year is also attracting significant interest, says Flach.

Launched in August this year Iveco claims this is the first gas truck designed for long haulage, offering the same payload as an equivalent diesel truck and a range of up to 1,500km.

The increasing price of diesel is also fuelling demand for gas powered HGVs, according to Scania GB UK truck sales director Andrew Jamieson. “As diesel prices increase, so the payback time for gas-powered trucks reduces,” he says. “It’s inevitable that more people are starting to think about gas.”

John Lewis Partnership is one operator ramping up its gas fuelled fleet.

The retailer is set to add another ten Scania 4×2 P340 tractor units to its Waitrose distribution operation after taking on two units earlier this year, as part of plans to run 100 gas powered units by 2019.

But are dedicated gas powered trucks within the reach of smaller operators?

Fjeld believes that with biomethane fuel retailing at around 40% cheaper than diesel and emitting up to 70% less CO2, smaller operators cannot afford to ignore the technology.

“I know of several small hauliers who are moving down the gas route because it makes them more competitive when bidding for contracts,” he says.

Sawford argues that the widespread adoption of gas powered HGVs will take time but believes large operators will play an essential role in driving that change.

“It’s about scale. This is a new product and it is early days. But as more large operators buy in to the technology so there will be more price parity with diesel vehicles.”

The RHA argues that high entry costs will continue to limit this technology to a handful of large operators. It believes the government could achieve greater cuts to HGV emissions by providing incentives for hauliers to adopt proven technologies such as telematics.

Fjeld disagrees. “Fleet operators understand the benefits of telematics and driver training in cutting fuel consumption but that won’t move the goalposts,” he says, “Whereas renewable gas can cut emissions by 70% and deliver significant savings on fuel costs, and that makes it a real gamechanger.”