The Leyland natural gas filling station has capacity for 500 HGVs a day to fill their tanks directly from National Grid’s distribution system. Network Design Manager Richard Cook explains how this innovation can help fuel a stronger future for gas.
As the UK’s energy system evolves, the role of gas requires fresh consideration. It’s important that gas forms part of the energy mix in the future, so it’s key we find new ways of using it and ensure our distribution network remains valued and viable.
One area we’re keen to develop is the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in powering the UK’s transport industry. While diesel currently dominates, natural gas is a cheaper, greener and quieter option.
Along with my day job as Network Design Manager in the Gas Distribution network, I lead the transport workstream in an area of work called the Future of Gas. We’ve set an ambition for CNG to become the fuel of choice for the UK’s HGVs and buses. And we’re doing lots of work to make that happen.
We’re trying to lobby the likes of the Committee on Climate Change, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and the Department for Transport. We want everybody to understand the environmental and financial benefits of fuelling trucks and buses with CNG.
While it’s good to be out there talking the talk, we’re also walking the walk with the opening of the new Leyland CNG filling station. It’s the first of its kind in the UK to be connected to our high-pressure Local Transmission System (LTS).
We gained innovation funding of more than £600,000 through the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA), partnering with CNG Fuels, to build it. It’s an example of our business putting hard cash – by the way of innovation funding – behind our vision to make it reality. While we provided funding for the station, CNG Fuels own and operate it.
Fuelling the future
The station itself is located near junction 28 on the M6 and is capable of refuelling 500 HGVs with CNG a day. What makes it unique is that it’s the first to be connected to the LTS, which is a high-pressure tier in our distribution system.
This has two key benefits. Firstly, because of its high operating pressure, the station is cheap to operate. Secondly, because there’s very little leakage from our LTS system, the well-to-wheel emissions (effectively the total emissions from sourcing the gas to filling your truck) are much better than those created by a diesel filling station.
A diesel filling station requires tankers filled with diesel to drive up the motorway and refill the pumps. Those vehicles are creating CO2 and other emissions throughout that journey. By being directly connected to the LTS, the CNG station removes all those road emissions, so it has a really low carbon footprint.
Another interesting feature of Leyland is that customers can elect to buy gas from renewable sources. Waitrose, for example, which uses the site to fuel two brand new dedicated gas trucks and numerous dual fuel ones, chooses to buy renewable gas that’s made from food waste. By offering this facility, it is being helped to exploit the benefits of the circular economy.
While Leyland takes us a few steps towards our ambition, there are still several obstacles in the road. Currently, a very small percentage of trucks use CNG. The reason for this is that there simply haven’t been the range of off-the-shelf dedicated vehicles that run on gas available up to now. Companies who wanted to use it had to retro-fit their trucks in the past, and this technology has proved a little unreliable.
So there have been few trucks and also a lack of infrastructure, in terms of filling stations. By making CNG publicly available through Leyland, and by businesses like Waitrose leading the way with the purchase of dedicated CNG trucks, we’re hoping it will pave the way for further stations to be built, with our distribution system providing the backbone to a national infrastructure.
Our work on Leyland – and promoting CNG for use in transport more generally – makes sense for our gas business. It’s a positive step forward as we look to the future viability of gas distribution.
As I mentioned before, we want gas to form part of the energy mix long into the future, so it’s vitally important we find opportunities to use gas in new ways. If it really takes off in transport, it’ll mean our network will continue to be valued and used.
The next big challenge for us concerns emissions testing. An organisation called the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership is running tests on behalf of the Department for Transport. They’ll run diesel trucks alongside CNG vehicles and measure the particulate matter (the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets) and CO2 that comes out of the exhausts.
Obviously, we hope the dedicated gas truck will perform better than diesel, but there’s a chance they may be quite similar, as diesel technology has moved on considerably in recent years.
When that analysis is published, we’ll need to get people thinking about the bigger picture of well-to-wheel emissions and the further benefits of fuelling vehicles on biomethane. Getting people to think about air quality is vitally important too – it’s thought that around 10,000 early deaths in London each year are caused by poor air quality. The Leyland filling station has great environmental credentials and we believe the broader use of CNG can play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions and improving the quality of air we breathe.
Leyland lays the foundations. And we’re optimistic that it can pave the way for a national network of filling stations connected to our gas distribution grid.