Retailers sign up to new low-carbon HGV fuel

1st December 2016


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Waitrose, John Lewis and Argos will be among the first users of a renewable biomethane fuel sourced from food waste launched today.

Manufacturer CNG Fuels claims the fuel is 35–40% cheaper than diesel and emits 70% less CO2 on a well-to-wheel basis. It is sourced from gas generated using waste from food production and is approved under the Department for Transport’s (DfT) renewable fuels’ obligation scheme (RTFO).

The fuel is currently available at refueling stations in Leyland and Crewe and the company is developing a nationwide network of six fuel stations on major routes, which will be fed by the high-pressure gas grid. In the meantime, CNG Fuels is delivering fuel by trailer to customer depots within 160 km of its sites.

Haulier Brit European has also committed to using the fuel in its long-distance articulated lorries. CNG Fuels is targeting other operators of high-mileage HGVs, who stand to make the biggest financial and carbon savings.

Trucks that run on biofuels are around 50% more expensive than those that use diesel, the CNG Fuels said. However, it has calculated that the investment would pay back within three years for lorries with an average annual mileage of 125,000. Engines of the vehicles that can be powered by the fuel meet the latest Euro-6 standards for exhaust emissions and up to 50% quieter than diesel engines, it added.

Philip Fjeld, chief executive of CNG Fuels, said: ‘Renewable and sustainably sourced biomethane is the most cost-effective and lowest-carbon alternative to diesel for HGVs, and is attracting increasing interest.’

Waitrose and John Lewis, who have a combined fleet of more than 500 heavy trucks, have invested more than a £1 m in CNG trucks, with two in operation and another ten on order. They also have more than 40 dual fuel CNG/diesel trucks.

Justin Laney, general manager of central transport for the John Lewis Partnership, said: 'We've got to a stage where we have the range we need, and a big carbon saving, a good business case and positive driver reaction, so we have a good alternative to diesel. We’re investigating replacing diesel tractors with gas ones, as they are due for replacement.'

The DfT this week proposed a target for biomethane gas under the RTFO as part of its consultation setting out long-term targets for the scheme to 2030. The department has suggested sub-targets of 15%, 20% or 30% for fuels it deems of strategic importance to the UK, including hydrogen, aviation fuel and fuels that can be blended at high levels with standard grade petrol and diesel.

Biomethane gas could be added to this list, as the department believes it is one of the few options to offer significant potential towards debarbonising the HGV sector. However, there are several drawbacks. Sustainable feedstocks for biomethane are limited and the Committee on Climate Change has advised that the fuel should be used to generate heat and electricity through injection into the gas grid rather than for transport.

The DfT has proposed to raise the overall target under the RTFO so that between 5–6% of transport fuels available in 2020 are from renewable sources. It may be possible to go further in future if technology develops and sustainable sources of biomass are available, it said. Biofuels have proved controversial with environmental campaigners, who claim that targets for their use have encouraged destruction of forests to make way for crops to turn into fuel, and increased food prices.

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association (REA), said the industry was frustrated at the proposed cap for the mix of crops used in fuel. He said the cap would place at risk two plants in the north that have been designed to deal with crop-based biofuels, and which represent more than £1 bn investment.

‘The move to include a new sub-target for biomethane, hydrogen and aviation fuels is welcome, but the truth is that the targets are disappointingly low and will mean that more than 90% of our fuel use for decades to come will come from polluting fossil sources.

‘It is crucial that genuinely sustainable biofuels are encouraged, something the UK was leading on and we could now see stagnation of plants at best, closure at worst,’ Court said.

A spokesperson added that the REA had researched the land use impacts associated with biofuels used in the UK and not found any evidence of forest destruction or food price rises. Palm oil has been completely eliminated from biofuels used in the UK, he said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s latest draft Renewable Energy Directive unveiled yesterday as part of a package of energy reforms, proposes that member states can count a 3.8% share of food-based biofuels towards their renewable energy targets for 2030, down from the 4.9% market share they had in 2014.

This will increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from European transport between 2021 and 2030 by an amount equivalent to the emissions from the Netherlands in 2014 compared with using regular diesel and petrol, according to campaign group T&E.

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