A wider choice of alternative fuels has made its way to the transportation and logistics sector and today many heavy-duty CNG vans, trucks and buses are available on the domestic market.

As an economical and environmentally friendly option, compressed natural gas (CNG) has become an alternative to petrol and diesel fuel. An economical price per kilometre has made CNG vehicles popular both among private persons and enterprises in the field of transportation.

“CNG vehicles use green gas that is made from biodegradable waste locally in Estonia; compared to petrol fuel, its price two times cheaper, and it has been agreed that the vehicles using biomethane have zero greenhouse gas emissions. In the next 10–20 years, for society, gas will certainly be the cheapest alternative to fossil fuels and the only credible option to meet international climate action agreements in the transportation sector,” explains Marti Hääl, one of two compressed natural gas dealers in Estonia and a Member of the Board of Alexela Group.

Biomethane – a solution for the new generation

Even now, when refuelling your vehicle, you can, in addition to natural gas, decide upon biomethane or green gas, that is, a gaseous substance with the quality of natural gas. Biomethane is made from biodegradable waste, wastewater and wastewater sediment, as well as from agricultural waste and from biomass of different origin. Biomethane can be mixed with natural gas, and it can also be used for the same purposes as natural gas.

Biomethane is a 100% renewable fuel that has been produced in Estonia since 2018. Today, there are two biomethane plants that are engaged in biomethane production – Rohegaas OÜ in Kunda, where gas is produced from wastewater sediment, and Biometaan OÜ in Siimani, Viljandi County, which gets the raw materials needed for gas production from manure and biomass.

Why should we prefer compressed gas or even biomethane as fuel? First, it is more economical for customers – when driving on CNG, the cost for a 100 km journey is about 3.5 euros, whereas on petrol, the cost is 7 euros per 100 km. In the case of trucks, the cost when driving on CNG is 23 and on diesel 38 euros per 100 km. The exact cost depends on the specific vehicle. Moreover, it is more environmentally friendly – CO2 emissions are about 25% lower than those for petrol.

The choice of CNG vehicles and a network of filling stations within Estonia and in all of Europe are vigorously expanding – so those who travel further do not have to worry about where to refuel while on the road. Today, Alexela and Eesti Gas, who sell compressed natural gas to customers, have numerous filling stations around Estonia. In the near future, the network of filling stations will expand further, so vehicle owners can be sure that when driving on biomethane, they will not have to worry about running out of gas and being stuck on the road.

Raul Kotov, a Member of the Board of Eesti Gaas, admits that the current experience has showed that customers more often prefer green gas. “The proportion of Estonian green gas from the compressed natural gas sold in the filling stations of Eesti Gaas has stably increased. Today, it accounts for about 65% of the compressed natural gas sold in the filling stations. Green gas as an eco-friendly and economical vehicle fuel certainly has the potential to increase consumption volumes even more. On the one hand, it is increased by a wider and cheaper choice of gas vehicles and by more conscious and environmentally efficient consumption. On the other hand, comfortable refuelling options and the expansion of filling station chains play an important role. For now, Eesti Gaas has built 11 filling stations around Estonia, the most recent in Jõhvi, Viljandi and Rakvere,” explains Kotov.

Marti Hääl adds that Alexela has decided to make significant investments in building the CNG filling stations. “Alexela’s aim is to offer 100% locally produced biomethane that is CO2 neutral and the only sustainable local renewable fuel that does not come at the expense of foodstuffs but resolves the challenges of recycling biowaste both from households and agriculture. In the 3–5 year perspective, there will probably be 50 CNG gas filling stations around Estonia instead of the current 17 and around 30–40,000 vehicles powered by green gas. Soon, a new filling station will be added to the current CNG filling stations – this time on Peterburi Road in Tallinn.

Environmentally friendly gas trucks already exist

Biomethane can be mixed with natural gas, and it can also be used for the same purposes as natural gas.

Kaur Sarv, the manager of environmentally efficient transport solutions of Scania Baltikum, confirms that all Scania trucks on sale today can be equipped with gas engines that use biomethane, and that the only restricting factor is to physically accommodate the fuel tanks, providing reasonable mileage between the frame and axles of the vehicle. In the case of similar mileage, the compressed natural gas tank is four times larger by volume than the diesel one. “It can be said that thanks to its attractive price, CNG is appropriate for most trucks used in Estonia and Baltic States. The only assumption is that, in order to accommodate fuel tanks, there should be enough room between the axles of the truck and that the truck can be refuelled daily every 400 km,” he says.

Kaur Sarv confirmed that today the range of Scania vehicles includes both trucks and buses powered by (bio)methane fuel. “We will not distinguish the specific vehicle types because the gas engines are technically suitable for all the Scania trucks and buses – in practice, all will come down to the engine range. There are altogether four (bio)methane engines: three 9-litre, 280, 320 and 340 hp powertrains for lighter trucks and public transport buses, and the most powerful at the moment, the 13-litre 410 hp gas engine for heavier trucks, including for long haul transport. The trucks and buses can be equipped with compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks, according to the customer’s needs. The maximum range of the truck with a full tank is up to 1,600 km with liquefied (bio)gas, and up to 600 km with CNG,” explains Sarv.

Depending on the purpose, the following options can be found among the Scania gas trucks: the 9-litre 340 hp gas engine is primarily suitable with CNG fuel for urban conditions, e.g. for van trucks and garbage trucks. But the 13-litre 410 hp gas engine is suitable with CNG fuel for long hauls in Estonia and the Baltic states (the driving range is 450–600 km) both for road tractors and for trucks, van trucks and tanker trucks. Here Kaur Sarv adds that there are in fact only two common truck types for which gas is not yet competitive: these are forestry trucks, for which the 410 hp engine is not enough, and the 8×4 drive dumper trucks where there is not enough room between the axles for the tanks.

This year Scania Eesti has sold about 100 gas vehicles in Estonia: 71 buses and almost 30 trucks. “In the world of trucks and buses, there is a clear and perfect reason to prefer (bio)gas: it is environmentally friendly and economical. In case of mileage of 100,000 km a year, the payback time of the truck powered by CNG fuel with a somewhat higher purchase price is less than two years compared to diesel fuel, and the later savings on fuel are, depending on fuel consumption, 5,000-10,000 euros a year. In addition, it is important that biomethane produced from our garbage and food waste is CO2 neutral. For gas-powered trucks and buses, a quiet run compared to diesel engines and significantly cleaner emissions are important for drivers,” says the manager of Scania Baltikum.

From small vans to trucks and buses

Bruno Kubja, a Member of the Board of IV Pluss AS, acknowledges that among the Iveco, Iveco Bus and Fiat Professional trademarks, there are both small and large CNG vans and trucks suitable for business customers on the domestic market.

“The model range of Fiat Professional includes the Fiat Doblo, a small van powered by CNG fuel, and the Fiat Ducato, which is bigger than the Doblo. In respect of vans, the Iveco model range includes a wide range of Iveco Daily models having a cargo space of 7.3–19.6 m.3 The Iveco Daily chassis truck for various add-on superstructure modules is also available,” he says. He adds that Iveco Daily models with a technically permissible maximum laden mass of 3.5-7.2 tons can be found.

“In the segment of middle-sized trucks, Iveco Eurocargo models with a technically permissible maximum laden mass of 11 and 15 tons are available. Of large trucks, the Iveco S-Way models can be ordered as the chassis vehicles for the purposes of add-on superstructures and as the road tractor. Moreover, it is possible to offer these models as a combined solution for CNG/LNG and as LNG only,” he affirms.

According to Bruno Kubja, the Iveco Bus range includes a 22-seater minibus based on the Iveco Daily which runs on CNG fuel and the Iveco Feniksbus midibus for up to 33 passengers. “In respect of large buses, the choice is very wide – the urban Iveco Urbanway bus is available in a 12 m and 18 m version, while the Iveco Crossway Low Entry 12 m and Iveco Crossway Line 12 and 13 m are meant for interurban traffic. For large buses, a good technical solution is the so-called submerging of the gas cylinder inside the roof, thanks to which the bus is not taller than the usual bus and there is enough room for passengers inside. The CNG version of the Iveco Crossway Line can drive about 550 km on a single refuelling,” he says.

The tendency in prior years has shown that the CNG models of vans, trucks and buses are already included, or will be added in the future, in the choice of vehicle brands of many dealers.

Together, we can reduce air pollution

Estonia has started to develop its biomethane market through various activities. For now, the construction of over 20 gas filling stations with biomethane refuelling capability by 2020 and the construction of one biomethane manufacturing plant have been supported through the Environmental Investment Centre. In addition, Estonia provides funding support for every megawatt hour of green gas consumed in the transport sector to develop the biomethane market. As the owner of the gas main network and the system administrator, Elering AS has created a system of certificates of origin to prove the origin of the gas consumed.

What is the difference between biomethane, CNG and LPG, and LNG?

The gas vehicles driving in Estonia can generally be divided into two categories: the vehicles using LPG (liquefied natural gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas).

  • LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or liquefied gas is composed of a mixture of butane and propane and is also known as liquefied gas. The liquefied gas is a by-product of the refinement of crude oil, i.e., it is a fossil fuel that will run out at some point. Similarly to petrol and diesel fuel, LPG emits CO2 during combustion, but in lesser quantities compared to other fossil fuels.
  • CNG (compressed natural gas) is also a fossil fuel – it is obtained through the compression of natural gas. By chemical composition, CNG is a methane, and it must be held under 200 bar pressure for use in vehicles. Some CO2 is also generated during combustion of the compressed natural gas, but it is less than during the combustion of petrol or diesel fuel.
  • Biomethane (CBM or compressed biomethane) or green gas is a 100% renewable fuel that is produced from biocombustible waste, wastewater and wastewater sediment, from agricultural waste and from biomass of various origin.

In addition, there is still LNG (liquefied natural gas) that is used as a transport fuel.