April 26, 2013

The Robust and Evolving RNG Market in the European Union

By Jonathan Morissette and Karen Graham

This is the third in a series of blog posts that highlight the market and environmental potential of renewable natural gas (RNG). Check back over the next several weeks as we explore the issues and opportunities for RNG in the transportation sector.

Our previous two posts explored the processes behind renewable natural gas (RNG) that turn organic material – the same stuff we discard as compost or green waste – into a vehicle fuel that can power natural gas vehicles of all sizes: passenger vehicles, delivery trucks, buses and heavy duty (HD), long haul trucks. In this post we ask: Can RNG meaningfully contribute to the sustainability and energy security needs of the transportation sector?

Looking at the success stories of Europe’s RNG market leaders, it’s clear that the answer is yes. We profile two European nations leading the use of RNG in transportation: Sweden, where over 60 percent of the natural gas used to power their natural gas vehicle fleet (NGVs) is from renewable sources, and Germany, where at the end of last year 119 vehicle fueling stations offered 100 percent RNG.[1]

The long-term energy and transportation policies of the European Commission, together with national strategies and programs, have begun to shape the development of renewable and low-carbon fuels in Europe.


RNG for transport is a key strategy in Sweden’s goal to achieve fossil fuel independence in its road vehicle fleet by 2030. EU directives require that 5.75 percent of total oil consumption in Sweden, and 20 percent of transport fuels, must be supplied from renewable sources by 2020.[2]

The Swedish biogas industry was initially formed to meet secure and sustainable heating fuel needs, but now transportation use has outstripped other applications. 43.9 percent of all produced biogas is used as transport fuel, the fastest growing sector for biogas, with a nearly equivalent share used for heating (the remainder is flared or for electricity generation).[3]

Over 60 percent of the methane used in Swedish NGVs is produced in local RNG plants. Over a dozen cities in Sweden have bus fleets fueled entirely by RNG. [4] At the end of 2011 there were over 130 public filling stations. Sweden’s NGV fleet is made up of 36,520 light duty vehicles, 1,530 buses and 550 HD trucks. Last summer Sweden’s first liquefied biomethane station opened in Lidk√∂ping to supply transport fuel for heavy duty vehicles.[5]

In a recent study, the total annual Swedish biogas production potential from waste and residual products has been estimated at 15.2 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy, the equivalent of just over 353 million gallons of diesel fuel. Other reports estimate that the Swedish potential for biomethane production from thermal gasification, primarily of forest wastes, is 59 TWh, equivalent to 1.37 billion gallons of diesel fuel.[6]

By the end of 2012, 119 natural gas filling stations across Germany offered 100 percent RNG (more than triple the total in 2011), and RNG blends were offered at 288 filling stations.


Germany is far and away the European leader in producing biogas and RNG. In 2012 Germany alone was responsible for 61 percent of all biogas produced in Europe. As of 2009 there were 7,090 biogas plants in Germany – 5,905 which were classified as agricultural. 80 percent of all RNG in Germany is produced from agricultural wastes.[7] The high proportion of agricultural biogas shows Germany’s potential for landfill expansion (to date, no biogas plants in Germany are supplied by landfill projects).[8]

In 2012 there were 84 RNG upgrade facilities, 82 of which inject their upgraded gas into pipeline networks.[9] While Germany lags Sweden in its RNG use for transportation, recent gains have been made. Last year, the share of RNG in natural gas for transport increased from 6 percent to over 15 percent, positioning Germany well to meet its national goal of 20 percent renewable gas in transportation by 2020.[10] By the end of last year, 119 natural gas filling stations across Germany offered 100 percent RNG (more than triple the total in 2011), and RNG blends were offered at 288 filling stations.[11]

These success stories show two ways of incorporating RNG into the transportation fuel mix at a commercial scale – Sweden’s use of a wide range of anaerobic sources, compared to Germany’s exclusive reliance to date on agricultural waste. If Germany harnesses its landfill gas sites as biogas sources, it has the potential to add even more renewable capacity using existing anaerobic technology. Both countries are continuing to develop biogas resources and the refuelling infrastructure that promote low-carbon, sustainable and secure transportation fuel networks in the coming years.

[1] NVGA Europe, “Markets & Statistics: Sweden”: available at http://www.ngvaeurope.eu/sweden last accessed March 28, 2013, and NGV Global, “Biomethane Fuel Gains Ground in Germany,” news article (March 31, 2013): available at http://www.ngvglobal.com/biomethane-fuel-gains-ground-in-germany-0331
[2] Vanciu, Gabriela and Nino Miresashvili, “Biogas Cars in Sweden: An Emerging Market,” Jonkoping University (May 2012).
[3] Ibid. (Biogas end-use: 43.90% for gas vehicles, 43.70% for heat, 8.10% flared, and 4.10% electricity; 0.20% being missing data).
[4] NVGA Europe, “Markets & Statistics: Sweden”: available at http://www.ngvaeurope.eu/sweden last accessed March 28, 2013.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Svensson, Mattias, Anneli Peterson and Jorgen Held, “Renewable Methane: An Important Aspect When Establishing a More Diversified Sourcing and Distribution of Energy Gas in Sweden” (2009).
[7] NGV Global, “Biomethane Fuel Gains Ground in Germany,” news article (March 31, 2013): available at http://www.ngvglobal.com/biomethane-fuel-gains-ground-in-germany-0331.
[8] AEBIOM, “European Bioenergy Outlook 2012”.
[9] Ibid.
[10] NGV Global, “Biomethane Fuel Gains Ground in Germany”.
[11] Ibid.

April 22, 2013

LNG for Transportation is the Way of the Future

At LNG 17 last week in Houston, Texas, a number of delegates from Westport presented on the opportunities for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a transportation fuel. Here’s an excerpt from “LNG as a Fuel for Demanding High Horsepower Engine Applications”, by Paul Blomerus and Patric Ouellette.

What do we mean by demanding high horsepower applications? They include rail locomotives, tug boats, platform support vessels, inland waterway tow boats, mine trucks, hydraulic fracturing pumps and drill rigs.

These applications all currently burn vast quantities of diesel fuel in large engines predominantly supplied by relatively few global OEMs. They’re also the most demanding customers in that the work they do is so economically critical that performance and reliability are paramount.

Our analysis shows that over 30 billion U.S. gallons of diesel are burnt by these customers annually in the four market segments, namely marine, rail, mining and oil and gas. This is only diesel fuel so it doesn’t include large ocean-going ships. To put that in context, that is roughly 4 billion mmBTU of natural gas or 80 million tons per annum of LNG capacity.

What’s more, the market is surprisingly concentrated: approximately one-third of the demand is in the US and Canada with about 100,000 engine units burning the majority of the fuel. Additionally, most of these are owned by large customers such as BNSF, Union Pacific, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton or Schlumberger and a handful of other major customers who all have the capacity to implement change.

Apart from the economics, LNG also makes overwhelming sense in high horsepower engine applications compared to CNG because its energy density means it is the best option to provide vehicle range. As a liquid, LNG can be economically pumped at high flow rates to expedite refueling and can be efficiently raised to the pressures required for injection into modern efficient compression ignition engines in the High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) process.

So given these advantages, you’d expect the transition from diesel to LNG to be very rapid. It has begun, but there are major barriers to overcome. There are three highly relevant case studies of industries in fuel transition that can help us understand what might be happening.

First, ironically perhaps, the transition of trucking from gasoline to diesel fuel in the US. In the 1950s and 60s, the trucking industry underwent a complete upheaval with the introduction of reliable and efficient diesel engines that provided the hauling capacity demanded by customers. Even though diesel engines were initially heavier and more expensive, their technical and economic superiority won out and by the 1980s had captured a 100 per cent share of the market – until now.

Take a step back even further in time. An even more dramatic fuel shift occurred in the years following WWII.

Here we see a relatively rare photograph of both steam and diesel locomotives working together:

Manufacturers such as GM's Electromotive Division - now part of the Caterpillar group - began producing reliable diesel electric locomotives with the ability to haul mainline passenger and freight trains in the 1940s. And with efficiencies nearly five times better than the paltry six or seven per cent thermal efficiency that steam locomotives could manage, the business case was overwhelming.

Within 20 years, almost all the steam locomotives had gone, replaced by diesel locomotives and the associated refueling infrastructure in a post war economy. So next time somebody tells you that infrastructure investment is going to hold back the progress of LNG for transport, tell them to guess again.

Enough about diesel’s dominance I hear you say – we’re here to talk about natural gas. Here’s a final case example which this time does involve natural gas.

The power generation industry in the U.S. saw a dramatic shift from coal to gas as is illustrated in this U.S. Energy Information Administration chart:

Three examples of transformative natural gas technologies show what’s possible in the LNG for transport area. We start at the garbage dump – or trash heap, waste depot, recycling centre – depending on where you’re from.

In North America, the Cummins Westport ISL G spark ignited natural gas engine uses stoichiometric combustion with cooled exhaust gas re-circulation in combination with a simple three-way catalyst to achieve extremely clean exhaust emissions, even in the very challenging start/stop duty cycle of urban refuse trucks. Since this product’s release in 2007, the market share growth has been dramatic. Thanks to major customers like Waste Management and Republic Services, Westport expects Cummins Westport ISL G-powered refuse trucks to have an 80 per cent market share by next year.

These trucks all run on compressor refueled compressed natural gas (CNG) from pipeline gas. What about an LNG example in a heavy duty application?

The Westport™ HPDI system provides diesel-equivalent performance, range and efficiency for the largest truck engines, which has enabled one of the most-demanding sectors of the transport economy to begin to transition to LNG. This was something people had said couldn’t be done with gas engines but there are already over 800 trucks on the road and the fleet is growing fast.

The last technology solution is one that is set to revolutionize LNG as a fuel for regional and vocational trucks.

The Westport™ Advanced Tank System uses an LNG pump to provide low pressure gas for spark ignited engines such as the Cummins Westport ISX12 G. The pumped system responds to every demand for fuel from the engine with no fuel starvation issues. Perhaps more importantly, it starts with cold saturated fuel and keeps it cool. The result is a single LNG tank with 450 miles range.

So how might this formula be applied to the high horsepower space?

One element is already falling into place with the solutions that Westport and Caterpillar have started developing for mine trucks and locomotives. Some of the technologies Westport is developing include: HPDI injection systems on high horsepower engines, high flow LNG pumps, large LNG tanks for mine trucks, and complete LNG tender cars for rail applications.

The technology solutions are not all in place yet, and there’s still more development work to be done, but with OEM partners such as Caterpillar tackling the problem, we are confident the equation will be tipped toward rapid transformation.

And when it does go past the tipping point, what will result?

An outcome that is within our grasp.

Westport's Paul Blomerus presents on LNG as a transportation fuel at LNG 17 in Houston - April, 2013.

April 15, 2013

Westport Wins United Way's Leading the Way Award

By Ganesh Khanna

On March 14, 2013 the United Way hosted their annual Community Spirit Awards ceremony commemorating the workplace campaigns that took place throughout the 2012 fundraising campaign. The evening highlighted some of the best initiatives while giving all of us some insight into the types of programs that are supported by the United Way. The most powerful speech came at the end of the evening when Shamaila Shaikh spoke to the audience about how the YWCA (supported by UW) saved her from a cycle of abuse and empowered her to make a positive change in her life. It was a truly an inspirational moment and put into perspective just how impactful the United Way is.

Westport was nominated for two awards: the Greatest Impact Award and the Leading the Way Award and won the latter. This award provides recognition to the campaign that was best able to motivate its employees to become Leadership-level donors. Every year Westport participates in the United Way’s workplace campaigns as a way to give back to the communities in the Lower Mainland. Westport has a tradition of community service and encourages its employees to make positive contributions in the communities they live in. This award is a great honour that belongs to all Westport employees.

For more details about the awards ceremony please click here.

April 8, 2013

Renewable Natural Gas: From Biogas to Gas Tank

By Jonathan Morissette and Karen Graham 
Sustainable Energy Futures at Westport Innovations

This is the second in a series of blog posts that will highlight the market and environmental potential of renewable natural gas (RNG). Check back over the next six weeks as we explore the issues and opportunities for RNG in the transportation sector.

Our previous renewable natural gas (RNG) post was on the technologies currently used to transform organic waste into renewable vehicle fuel. This time, we’re exploring the steps needed to ensure the safe and efficient use of this fuel in natural gas engines.

Upgrading biogas into RNG suitable for engines is a lot like the upgrading processes for natural gas extracted from fossil sources, or even to traditional liquid fuels like gasoline or diesel. No energy source for transportation can be taken in its raw state and put right into an engine. Transport fuels must have impurities removed and their energy content raised to a set level, and RNG is no different.

In the case of RNG, this process involves three key steps: cleaning, compression, and distribution. While none of these steps are unique to RNG, the scale and location of RNG production introduces distinct considerations for producers and operators. The method for upgrading biogas into higher-grade fuel depends on the nature and size of the production facility, be it landfill gas, municipal waste streams or energy crops. Surveys of successful RNG projects in North America and Europe show that no single upgrading technology is preferred, so each site will choose the best technology for its needs.[i]

Regardless of the upgrading methods used, the aim is the same: to remove unwanted gases and moisture. The basic steps include removing water vapor, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, as well as removing residual contaminants such as siloxanes and trace gases. This can be accomplished by membrane separation, water scrubbing, chemical absorption, physical adsorption, bio-filtration, or cryogenic separation.

The degree of biogas refinement depends on the end-use, and transportation needs a relatively high degree of purity. Fuel standards for RNG can be established by regional governments or by engine manufacturers themselves. For example, the European Union is currently establishing an EU-wide standard for RNG, and in Austria a trade name called “methaPUR” has been established to market vehicle-quality RNG. [ii] [iii] Cummins Westport offers an online Fuel Quality Calculator that allows customers and fuel providers to be sure that natural gas from any source that meets specifications can safely be used in its engines.

The final stages – compression and distribution – undergo similar processes to conventional natural gas production. The key difference is the variety of scale and location of RNG production sites. Conventional natural gas typically delivers large volumes to large markets, but RNG production facilities can range from the micro- to the medium, to the very large[iv], and their customers can be private truck fleets, public access vehicle fueling stations, or grid-injection for delivery to a wide array of end customers. Some markets for RNG are “closed loop,” where the biogas from a privately-operated landfill powers part of the refuse vehicle fleet owned by the company, while others are much more open. In Sweden, nearly all RNG produced to vehicle engine standards is supplied into the pipeline network.

Whether produced in a closed loop or for public refuelling stations, a distinct advantage of RNG for transportation is that once the biogas has been cleaned and upgraded, it’s interchangeable with conventional natural gas for transportation, giving fuel providers and drivers a flexible range of options.

[i] Petersson, Anneli, and Wellinger, Arthur (2009). Biogas Upgrading Technologies – Developments and Innovations. IEA Bioenergy, Task 37: Energy from Biogas and Landfill Gas.

[ii] http://www.greengasgrids.eu/sites/default/files/files/Biomethane%20standards%20-%20Jacques%20Dubost.pdf

[iii] http://www.methapur.com/

[iv] Waste Management describes its Altamont, California landfill gas site as the largest biofuel supplier in the world, capable of producing 13,000 gallons of liquid natural gas per day.

April 5, 2013

Route 66: California’s Roadmap to Cleaner Transportation

On March 26, over 100 people met in Sacramento to help design a draft ‘roadmap’ for California to meet its 2020 and 2050 climate protection, air pollution and energy security goals.

The forum, California’s Route 66 to Clean and Efficient Trucks, was organized by CalHEAT: the California Hybrid, Efficient and Advanced Truck Research Centre. CalHEAT is a project of CALSTART – a California, member-based organization of over 140 firms, agencies and fleets worldwide that supports a growing high-tech, clean transportation industry.

“During the day-long dialogue among the industry, funding providers and regulators, ideas and actions were presented as to how best go forward to meet the state’s environmental goals as they relate to medium and heavy duty vehicles,” said Fred Silver, CALSTART Vice President and CalHEAT Program Director. “The Forum and the CalHEAT Roadmap are just the beginning of the process with much more yet to accomplish.”

Westport’s Mark Dunn, Senior Director of Technology, attended the forum and said the roadmap shows how crucial it is for the heavy duty truck segment to effectively reduce carbon and nitrogen oxides.

In California, for instance, there are 175,000 on road tractors that comprise 12 per cent of the truck population and emit 38 per cent of the state’s carbon emissions.

“It was a broad-based look with many contributing participants,” Dunn said of the roadmap. “It highlights how important natural gas is to reducing emissions in the trucking sector.”

The roadmap suggests various technology strategies to reduce emissions, including optimized engines for alternative fuel, improved truck aerodynamics, more efficient drivelines and the use of longer, heavier single trucks to cut down the overall number of trucks on the road.

The draft roadmap states:

Natural gas is an enabling fuel for meeting lower nitrogen oxide emissions, and will become increasingly important as the Southern California and the Central California valleys endeavor to meet strict ozone standards driving us towards zero and near zero emission solutions. 

“It’s really interesting,” Dunn said, “ten years ago, you didn’t hear these types of discussions happening.”