In early March, Sweden’s biogas association hosted Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in Uppsala. The local biogas generation plant Uppsala Vatten was introduced to the attendees, and the infrastructure and safety of gas buses and trucks were discussed based on Sweden’s experience.
Cheap and clean, CNG – compressed natural gas – has become an everyday alternative to petrol and diesel fuel. That is the case both around the world and in Estonia.
Although domestic biomethane has been produced in Estonia since 2018 by two producers – Kunda is home to the Rohegaas OÜ production unit where the gas is produced from waste water sludge while Koksvere in Viljandi County is home to Biometaan OÜ, which derives the precursor for biogas from manure and biomass – we are looking to nearby countries with interest.
Sweden has a head start of several decades
Scania, which has firm foothold on the truck and bus manufacturing sector in the Nordics and Estonia, has a major role in stimulating the gas-powered bus and truck market. Scania Group’s Erik Hansson, manager for sustainable buses sales, said that the main wisdom that the host country wished to impart during the visit was the fact that biogas could be used to successfully address the problems of waste, energy security, air quality, climate change and transport emissions – all at the same time. “In Sweden, Scania has helped to drive progress in the direction of biomethane-powered public transport. The Swedish and Baltic gas markets are different in this sense, as Sweden started making its foray into biogas earlier but we see that the Baltics could catch up quickly with a few initiatives – Tartu is one example, as well as elsewhere.”
The representative of Nordic Gas Solutions, a methane technology company operating in Scandinavia and Estonia with a plant in Tartu, Hans Kättström, cited examples of construction of biogas filling stations and introduced Swedish regulations on gas safety. He said one big difference in Estonia compared to Sweden was the cost of gas. “I think the price in Estonia is about 0.90 euros/kg and we pay 20 SEK/kg (1.90 euros /kg) which is double the price. In spite of that fact, the market in Sweden is growing quickly, and thus I think that the stimulus for change in the Baltics is great, too. Estonia has a widespread gas network, you have already made major investments and gas fuel is now the most cost-effective transport option. Estonia can certainly change and build a new fossil-fuel-free traffic system. If CNG fuels become more and more popular in the Nordics, this will benefit everyone. In Estonia, it will be important to raise people’s awareness of CNG fuels, and although this will take some time, the realization will sink in.”
The Estonian network of filling stations and selection of models is ever wider
The aspect of gas filling stations and choice of vehicle models inevitably will come up. The selection of CNG cars and network of filling stations is burgeoning in Estonia and all over Europe – longer-haul travellers no longer have to worry about where to buy their fuel while en route. As of today, compressed gas sellers Eesti Gaas and Alexela already have numerous filling stations all over Estonia and brand new CNG filling stations and suppliers – Jet Gas and Krooning – are now on the scene.
WHAT’S WHAT: BIOMETHANE, CNG, LPG, AND LNG?
The gas-powered vehicles in Estonia fall into two broad categories: LPG and CNG.
- LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) consists of a blend of butane and propane and is known as liquefied gas. It’s a by-product of the crude oil refining process so it is a fossil fuel that will one day run out. When burned, LPG gives off CO2, like petrol and diesel, but a lower quantity compared to other fossil fuels.
- CNG (compressed natural gas) is a fossil fuel – it is derived by compressing ordinary natural gas. In chemical composition, CNG is methane and it must be kept at 200 bar pressure for use in cars. Natural gas combustion also gives off a certain amount of CO2 but likewise less than from burning petrol or diesel and compared to diesel, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and fine particulate emissions are much lower.
- Biomethane (CBM or compressed biomethane) also known as green gas, is 100% renewable fuel produced from biodegradable waste, waste water and waste water sludge, waste of agricultural origin and biomass of various origins. Chemically, biomethane is the same as natural gas, CH4. As CBM and CNG are chemically the same, both can be used in vehicles that use compressed gas. In addition, LNG (liquefied natural gas) is in used as a transport fuel.
There is also an ever wider selection of model of heavy-duty trucks and bus models that run on CNG. For example, Scania Baltic’s sustainable transport solutions manager Kaur Sarv says that the all of today’s Scania trucks can be built with a biomethane gas engine and the only limiting factor is the need to physically fit the gas tanks between the axles. The volume of fuel tank needed to travel a given distance is four times bigger for compressed gas than for diesel fuel.
“It can be said that due to its attractive price, CNG is ideal for most trucks used in Estonia and the Baltics. The only limitation is that enough room between the truck’s axles is needed to accommodate the fuel tanks and that trucks need to be refuelled every 400 km. Those who need to travel further should look to LNG trucks, as they have a range of 1100 km,” he said.
Sarv says that Scania’s product line currently includes both (bio) methane trucks and buses and in 2019, Scania sold about 100 gas-powered vehicles in Estonia: 71 buses and nearly 30 trucks. “There’s a clear reason that (bio)gas is preferred in the truck and bus world – it is environmentally friendly and easy on the budget. The payback period for the somewhat pricier CNG-powered trucks, given driving distance of 100,000km per year, is less than 2 years and the later savings on fuel depending on the amount consumed is 5,000 to 10,000 euros per year. Plus, biomethane made from refuse and food waste is carbon-neutral. An important point for trucks and buses with gas-powered engines is their quiet operation compared to diesel engines and significantly cleaner emissions,” said the head of Scania Baltic ‘s sustainable transport solutions as regards reasons for preferring biogas.
“Frequently, it’s sensed in Estonia and the Baltics that the Scandinavian countries are much farther along in many areas than we are over our brief period of re-independence. Thus, it’s surprising to see and hear about the rapid development of the biogas sector in Sweden, where over just 20 years, domestic biomethane has shot up to 95% of the fuel used in the transport sector. This comparison would allow us to say that here in Estonia, after 6-7 years we are already at the halfway mark in terms of developing the network of gas refuelling stations and use of biomethane in public transport,” said Sarv.
“In the case of biogas and biomethane, the Swedes have reached the very important realization that we should be talking about more in Estonia, too – use of renewable fuel isn’t important just for reducing CO2 and climate change, but also helps us use up refuse and biowaste that would otherwise lead to much greater pollution. Thus, we have our own local fuel source and jobs in Estonia that support production,” Sarv says.
Producers and suppliers advancing the same values
Member of the management board of Biometaan OÜ Ahto Oja was also on the trip, and he was positively surprised that fermentation residues from biowaste are sold in Sweden as a certified fertilizer. “The corresponding groundwork has been laid in Estonia, although there is still a long way to go in practice as fermentation residues are often lumped in with uncomposted manure. Producing biogas significantly reduces the content of infectious agents and weed seeds in the fermentation residue.
The fermentation residue produced at the Baltics’ first agricultural biomethane plant, operated by Biometaan OÜ, did not contain weed seeds, yet the nutrient content in the residue did not decrease during the fermentation of the biomass to obtain biomass – it as equally as rich as manure. Fermentation reside does not have a odour, and is more easily assimilated by plants. The design for the Swedish public CBG filling station behind the production facility gate is attractive and that is how we also envision our next public filling station, says Ahto Oja regarding what he witnessed in Sweden.
JetGas representative Janek Parkman said JetGas as a developer of CNG and LNG filling stations was interested above all in aspects of rules and requirements for building gas filling stations. “It must be said that while a couple dozen filling stations have been built in Estonia so far; there are no standard rules and codes for building them in Estonian conditions. The situation in this regard is much better in Sweden. Energigas Sverige, the industry association for gas market participants, has for years been actively engaged in bringing order to the rules governing the fuel gas field, including preparing a set of standards for building CNG stations. I believe that it would be high time to prepare a set of guidelines for CNG fuel stations in Estonia that would consolidate the requirements, rules and best practices for the field. It would contribute to the development of the whole sector and reduce red tape and increase safety at the filling stations.
The sustainable transport fuels sales director at Eesti Gaas, Mario Berk, said something that new he learned was that Uppsala Vatten had a solution for making use of expired perishable plastic film wrapped foodstuffs like salads, RTE meals and meat for producing biomethane. “Investments have been made into equipment that are able to unpack – or more accurately, squeeze out – the organic food waste from the film and plastic,” he said in describing this promising solution.
Latvia and Lithuania also on the road to developments in the gas sector
Although Estonia seems to be in the vanguard of the Baltics in terms of CNG vehicles and fuel stations, the Latvian and Lithuanian representatives also took an interest and asked for information based on their own local gas market.
Latvian biogas association board member Kristīne Veģere said that Sweden was a great example for countries like Latvia where the biomethane market and its development and legal environment were still in an early stage. “I think biomethane is the best solution for resolving many problems at once: reducing fossil fuel consumption, help to reduce emissions that pollute the environment and improve waste handling problems,” she said.
Gas field expert from the Lithuanian technical regulatory authority Liana Geciene was also enthusiastic: ”As gas-powered vehicles aren’t popular in Lithuania – Lithuanians still prefer diesel – all of the meeting topics were interesting for us. Becoming acquainted with Swedish technical oversight provided me with important information. All of these efforts in the environmental protection field, use of alternative fuels system in the transport sector, Uppsala’s eco-model – all of it is a exemplary,” she said.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all optimistically minded about gas-powered vehicles and they are increasingly prepared for changes in the transport sector. The Swedish example is an opportunity and we’re all on the way toward it – joining our forces, engaging in public relations, and creating infrastructure.