Friday, February 8, 2013

From Road Haulage Truck to Ocean Shipping Line EU Fuel Plans Affect All Logistics Groups

New Playing Field for Alternative Power Vehicles and Vessels in Europe Right Through the Supply Chain
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – With emission controls being an essential consideration in any supply chain these days and energy policy, price and supply as a major concern for all European states, the recent announcement from the European Commission regarding the distribution of alternative fuels across the continent will come as welcome news to road haulage operators, shipping lines and most stakeholders in the freight and logistics market.

The EU policy package contains measures designed to build up an effective infrastructure of alternative fuel filling and bunkering stations with common standards for their design and use. The Commission admits that until now policy initiatives so far have mostly addressed the actual fuels and vehicles, without considering fuels distribution and efforts to provide incentives have been both uncoordinated and insufficient.

The EU decrees that the increased use of cleaner fuels is being held back by three major factors with the cost of vehicles remaining comparatively high whilst recharging and refuelling stations are chronically under represented. The third factor many in the freight industry will doubtless dispute energetically, that there is a ‘low level of consumer acceptance’. Certainly many transport groups have been only too anxious to try out the new technology but it is principally the cost and convenience factors, plus the unsuitability of specific commercial vehicles for the purpose required, which have dissuaded others.

In November we reported how the European Parliament’s Transport Committee was insistent that a decrease in pollutants was vital with a scathing report containing frightening health statistics and now the Commission has now acted decisively to break the circle of reluctant acceptance for alternative technology by proposing a package of targets, binding on Member States, for a minimum level of infrastructure for clean fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and natural gas, as well as common EU wide standards for the delivery equipment needed. EC Vice President Siim Kallas responsible for Transport said:

"Developing innovative and alternative fuels is an obvious way to make Europe's economy more resource efficient, to reduce our overdependence on oil and develop a transport industry which is ready to respond to the demands of the 21st century. Between them, China and the US plan to have more than 6 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. This is major opportunity for Europe to establish a strong position in a fast growing global market."

It is to be hoped that these measures are pushed through in good time and not weighed down by endless discussions. The Commission is far too subtle to mention that there are good reasons why certain commercial interests and lobby groups are concerned with maintaining the status quo.

The liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is of particular relevance to the ocean shipping sector where carriage of the fuel is providing work for shipyards worldwide that might otherwise stagnate but a network of bunker points to enable ships to be fuelled by LNG is an essential component of EU plans. Currently only Sweden has any meaningful facilities for refuelling vessels with LNG and the Commission is proposing that LNG refuelling stations be installed in all 139 maritime and inland ports on the Trans European Core Network by 2020 and 2025 respectively. These are not major gas terminals, but either fixed or mobile refuelling stations to be available at all major EU ports.

For smaller road vehicles there already exists infrastructure for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) but compressed natural gas (CNG) is principally used for cars and the manufacturers plan to increase the current total of 1 million users to 10 million by 2020. To support this the Commission proposal will ensure that publically accessible refuelling points, with common standards, are available Europe-wide with maximum separating distances of 150 Km by then. The story is very different for LNG powered trucks where a grand total of only 38 filling stations across the whole of the EU means little or no progress has so far been made. Here the Commission says it wants to see refuelling stations every 400 km along the roads of the Trans European Core Network within seven years.

Only Germany, Italy and Denmark currently have a meaningful number of sites equipped for hydrogen and under this proposal, existing filling stations will be linked up to form a network with common standards ensuring the mobility of Hydrogen vehicles. This applies to the 14 Member States which currently have a Hydrogen network and common standards, such as refuelling hoses and fittings, will be compulsory. Electricity will be similarly treated with the EU Type 2 plug specification as standard with the aim of putting in place a critical mass of charging points so that vehicle companies will mass produce at reasonable prices.

A full table of existing infrastructure in each member state for the various types of fuel is viewable HERE.

Photo: EU Type 2 plug developed by German group Mennekes