Methane and bio-methane: Italian excellence

  Fuels, NEWS & INTERVIEWS, Sustainable Mobility

During the webinar, associations representing the entire methane/biomethane automotive supply chain in Italy signed the Position Paper with proposals aimed at Institutions for the development of vehicles and distribution networks throughout Italy

Cluster Lombardo della Mobilità (CLM), together with Assogasmetano, Assopetroli-Assoenergia, Confagricoltura, CIB – Consorzio Italiano Biogas, FAI Brescia, Federmetano and NGV Italy, organized the webinar titled “Methane and bio-methane: Italian excellence” to discuss topics associated with the use of natural gas in transport and its future prospects. The event was also the occasion for signing a Position Paper which sums up proposals for Institutions.

Here are the main points:

1. The sustainable mobility sector will maintain a plurality of propulsion systems, each for an elective mission, with advantages and disadvantages in the life cycle in relation to Performance – Environmental Impact – TCO (Total Cost of Ownership which also includes recycling/disposal): this is why the principle of “technological neutrality” must be safeguarded for all these different solutions.

2. For many years, methane has been the main “alternative fuel” to petroleum-based products and is an incentivized and established solution in many countries, even in Italy itself, where it can boast a long history and a significant market share (7% of vehicle registrations, plus heavy vehicles and buses) and a widespread network of distributors.

3. In more recent years, the use of methane in the transport sector has evolved along two important lines of development:
a. the use of methane in “liquid” form – LNG – which made it possible to replace cylinders with lighter cryogenic tanks and increase vehicle autonomy, achieving success in the heavy vehicle sector (trucks and articulated lorries, with market shares that double every year and now stand at 4%) and long-distance buses;
b. the spread of bio-methane – derived from agricultural waste and urban waste (Forsu) – which eliminates CO2 emissions and the consequent greenhouse effect (typical of fossil resources) and guarantees the creation of a “circular economy”.

4. The success of methane was supported by technologies and the capacity for innovation of Italian firms specializing in components that have even proven capable of seizing opportunities to become large, internationally competitive and, in some cases, world leading companies.

5. The main trade associations in the sector feel that methane is the best sustainable solution applicable in the short term and in particular, thanks to LNG, for long-distance freight transport. For electric cars, the turning point will take place when their price becomes equivalent to that of internal combustion cars and recharging infrastructures have achieved appropriate diffusion. Moreover, hydrogen may become – in the medium-long term and especially for long haul (freight) –Europe’s strategic choice in the global competitive comparison.

The Position Paper asks the EU, national, regional and local institutions to ensure a balanced allocation of resources for both investments and management, taking into account the timing of development and the dissemination of technologies and related systems:
a. excise duties and incentives must be calculated in a manner that promotes solutions ensuring low emissions (not only locally) and decarbonisation, such as bio-methane, electricity from renewable sources or green hydrogen;
b. the industrial production of vehicles, important components (such as batteries) and systems must be tackled with an extended logic based on Life Cycle Analysis, which takes into account all stages from the extraction of raw materials to recycling and final disposal (from cradle to grave);
c. investments, especially in the public sphere, for the construction of networks/refuelling stations must be consistent with the distribution capabilities of technologies and implemented consistently with respect to the policies initiated, as in the case of LNG/CNG refuelling networks.

To achieve immediate results as regards topics such as environmental sustainability, investment and operating costs, reliability and flexibility of use, it is important to encourage the development of methane for road transport in Italy:
a. in its various versions (CNG for cars and urban vehicles and LNG for freight vehicles and suburban buses), especially promoting the use of biomethane (since it is free of fossil-based CO2 emissions) through incentives for production and preferential excise duties, the purchase of natural gas driven vehicles (cars, vans, trucks and buses) through incentives and the development of retrofitting for cars and heavy vehicles converted to Dual Fuel through incentives and other forms of support;
b. the completion of the national networks of CNG/LNG stations, especially along motorways, at strategic nodes of the road network and areas in central and southern Italy, encouraging investments to create new plant by operators through subsidized loans and/or incentives;
c. the support of the national vehicle, component and plant supply chain, promoting research, development and innovation, especially through tax credit and other forms of investment support, the development of the internal market with the support of targeted and appropriate incentives and the international market, by supporting the interests of the supply chain in all institutional locations (starting with the European Union) and encouraging entry into more new countries interested in this technology.