In recent years, the transport sector has seen the increased popularity of fuel gases, which are used as robust alternatives by individuals and the public transport sector as well as transport and shipping sectors.
By KADRI PENJAM
Year by year, the number of fuel gas stations has increased here in Estonia, and several larger as well as smaller filling station chains have had a hand in it. The increase in the number of fuel gas stations means that fuel gases have gained popularity among consumers as well, because they no longer have to worry about the lack of filling stations on the route, regardless of their preferred type of fuel gas vehicle.
According to Aivo Adamson, chairman of the management board of AS Alexela, the promotion of sustainable transport is one of the company’s key issues. For years, Alexela has taken into account the big picture when doing business, and because global climate problems are already affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world, businesses and individuals need to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint.
Alexela’s goal is to create conditions for a transition that is as quick and smooth as possible. “Our company’s priority is to transition to fuels that are better for the environment, like CNG, LNG, LPG, green electricity and green hydrogen,” said Adamson. He also mentioned as a significant example that in 2020, the parent company of Alexela took a great step towards having a positive environmental footprint by investing in biomethane production.
“Biomethane is a fuel gas that can be used as an energy source in the transport sector,” explained Adamson. “In our Ilmatsalu, Oisu and Vinni factories, we produce biomethane from agricultural waste, that means from liquid and solid animal manure, crop residue, food waste and other organic waste. From everything that until now has been dumped in landfills, where it stinks up the place and releases a lot of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more dangerous than CO2. Research confirms that biomethane production has a positive environmental footprint. To put it simply, a bus or a car running on biomethane essentially neutralises the direct negative footprint of a similar vehicle running on fossil fuel.”
In March, Alexela opened a new CNG filling station near Lõunakeskus shopping centre in Tartu. Of Alexela’s seven current biomethane stations located in Estonia, it is the second one in Tartu. “This year we are planning to add three more filling stations to our CNG network – to Jõgeva, and to Saku and Viimsi in Harju County. There will be more, of course,” he added.
“We have an extensive network of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stations in Estonia, which gives fuel gas vehicle drivers many options to fuel their vehicle. Alexela opened the latest new LPG stations in Muhu ja Tõdva. We are also offering LNG, currently only in Jüri in Harju County, but we have plans to make it available in our largest filling station in the Baltic states, located in Järvamaa near Paia intersection. In addition, we also plan to open an LNG pump in Saku in Harju County.”
The owners and the management board of Estonian company Alexela have a clear wish to improve local life by focusing on the surrounding environment, communities, cultural and sporting activities, as well as by promoting circular economy and improving the economy in general. “I’m glad to tell you that our previous experience with building fuel gas stations shows that we are on the right path,” said Adamson. “The more we invest in establishing the biomethane station network, the more we can influence consumers to start using environmentally friendly CNG vehicles. In addition, fuel gas vehicles are cheaper to refuel, which means that driving one is good for the planet as well as your wallet. Today, Alexela has 104 filling stations in Estonia, of which one is an LNG station, seven are CNG stations and 32 are LPG stations.”
A BUS OR A CAR RUNNING ON BIOMETHANE ESSENTIALLY NEUTRALISES THE DIRECT NEGATIVE FOOTPRINT OF A SIMILAR VEHICLE RUNNING ON FOSSIL FUEL.
Eesti Gaas is also working towards the goal of making it convenient for customers to refuel in any region of Estonia. Raul Kotov, a member of the management board of Eesti Gaas, says that the number of Eesti Gaas’ customers who use compressed gas has been steadily growing year by year. “On the one had, the growth is caused by the general increase in environmentally conscious thinking, because in addition to having a cheaper price, compressed gas doesn’t pollute the environment as much as other fuels,” Kotov said. “On the other hand, the growth is also supported by the increasing selection of fuel gas vehicles and the transition to natural gas buses in the public transport sector. This trend is also fuelled by the green transition transpiring in Estonia, Europe and the entire world.”
Kotov says that compressed gas is available in 11 Eesti Gaas filling stations all over Estonia and in around the same number of stations belonging to other providers. “It is important for Estonian consumers to have a filling station network that is as balanced and accessible as possible. These factors also support wider use of compressed gas in the future, which means that we aim to find even more possibilities to expand the filling station network.”
However, according to Kotov, it isn’t enough to just have a good number of filling stations. “In addition to developing the filling station network, it is also important to produce more green gas using raw materials from Estonia,” he said. “In the last years, on average, the proportion of green gas has amounted to 50% of the compressed gas sold in our filling stations. Because green gas is produced from biodegradable waste – liquid and solid manure, food waste –, it is also the most environmentally friendly transport fuel, which is an important consideration for a large number of vehicle owners.
“Research shows that vehicles running on green gas are not just climate neutral – they have a positive impact on the environment, according to calculations. One car running on green gas neutralises the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a similar petrol car. Therefore, we contribute both to the development of the filling station and service network and to the wider use of green gas from Estonia. The new biostations in Vinni and Ilmatsalu should increase the sales of compressed gas as a whole, and raise the proportion of green gas to 60-70% of the fuel gas sold.”
In addition to the aforementioned companies, a new player has started to expand rapidly on the Estonian market: JetGas AS, whose chairman of the management board Janek Parkman says that while JetGas’ business model is mainly focused on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied biogas (LBG), the company is trying to make use of this capacity when developing CNG stations.
“JetGas differs from other developers of CNG stations because we build filling stations in the regions of Estonia that have no gas pipeline,” says Parkman. “Today, our filling stations in Kuressaare and Paide offer CNG that is produced from LNG (so-called L-CNG). We are planning to build new stations in Kärdla, Valga and Haapsalu. JetGas has now built almost 30 LNG stations across the Baltics and the list doesn’t end there. And we won’t be building only in Estonia. In the coming years, for example, we are planning to build L-CNG filling stations in Ventspils, Tukums and Bauska in Latvia, and after that in Kalvarija and Kėdainiai in Lithuania. It’s also important to mention that it’s very easy to add an LNG refuelling option to JetGas’ L-CNG filling stations as soon as customers request it.” According to Parkman, JetGas has always focused on being ready to service customers in areas where they need it the most and the company takes that into account every step of the way.
Positive user experience
Nele Luus, a mother who has been driving a CNG car for the last six months, is an example of a driver who has owned cars running on petrol, diesel and now fuel gas. She encourages others who are about to buy a new car and says that there are enough filling stations in Estonia and beyond the border to be able to drive without having to think about the location of the next station. “I’ve had a CNG car for six months and based on that I can definitely confirm that the ever-expanding filling station network in Estonia is already sufficient: there’s no need to plan refuelling stops when going for a drive. When I’ve run out of fuel away from the usual filling stations, I’ve used Google Maps, which quickly shows the CNG stations closest to me, but usually that’s not necessary because so many stations already offer the right fuel. Furthermore, refuelling with CNG is not that different from refuelling with petrol or diesel, and as a bonus, the area around the fuel tank is always clean because CNG doesn’t drip like liquid fuels tend to do.”
Kaur Sarv, the Scania Baltics head of environmentally friendly transport solutions, adds that in 2014, when he first heard that Estonia planned to transition to county buses running on biogas, it seemed like an innovative and interesting Scandinavian-inspired idea. He says that at the time, none of them had any idea they would achieve as much as they have by 2021.
“Initially, reducing the footprint of Estonian transport with fuel gases took time, but in the last three years, the number of CNG/green gas filling stations has increased from 8 to 23 in Estonia,” says Sarv. “At first glance, the 15 added filling stations may not seem like a big step forward, but for heavy duty vehicles, each added filling station is significant for creating investment confidence. CNG or LNG vehicles are a bit more expensive compared to others, and when making a purchase decision, the carrier is looking for both an adequate refuelling network across Estonia and upcoming new stations near their places of origin and destination.”
According to Sarv, the bravest Estonian carriers found ways to drive fuel gas vehicles to Riga on a daily basis, even if there were no filling stations there yet. Today, such concerns are a thing of the past, and the filling station networks of Estonia’s southern neighbours have grown so much that transport services can be provided there with ease.
“Until now, carriers may have decided against buying a CNG vehicle because of the driving range (around 400 km), which may have seemed restrictive due to the scarcity of filling stations,” said Sarv. “Since this summer, we offer the option to order larger CNG tanks for Scania fuel gas vehicles, which have a driving range of up to 800 km. This and the increasingly wide network of fuel gas filling stations should ensure that carriers have a sufficient supply of environmentally friendly and renewable domestic fuel even during the busiest times of the year.”