Issue: Nov 2009


The Italian Industry of natural gas vehicles for a sustainable mobility



The role and the commitment of the NGV System Italia Association

by Jon Knox

AI interview Michele Ziosi director, NGV System Italia Association 

Natural gas vehicle manufacturers have been asking for governments across the globe to help promote natural gas fuel technologies and infrastructure development. In Italy for example, NGV System Italia (Italian Association of natural gas industry for transport - www.ngvsystem.com ) has been trying to promote the use of natural gas in the country.

NGV System Italia’s members include a number of companies either directly involved in the production and distribution of natural gas for transport as well as research organizations and auto makers. Its list of members includes Alpengas, ASSTRA (Italian Association of Public Transport Companies), CRF Fiat Research Centre, CNR Istituto Motori – National Research Centre, Dresser Wayne, FPT Fiat Powertrain Technologies, Fiat Group Automobiles, ECOS, EMER SpA, Faber Industrie Spa, Fornovo Gas srl, Gas Natural Vendita Italia, GFBM (Official Body for per NG cyclinders inspection), IdroMeccanica srl, IRISBUS Italia SpA, IVECO Trucks, Landi Renzo Group, MET Torino Metano, Metatron, Safe s.r.l and Tenaris (Tenaris Gas Cylinder Division).

NGV System Italia started in 1996 to bring together companies that were working on expanding the use of natural gas in transport. “The companies of NGV System Italia invest heavily in research and development, justifying their leading role on the international level. In the sector of natural gas for vehicle transport, research is aimed at many objectives, such as innovation of components and the adaptation of refueling stations to face the challenge posed by the new energy sources (natural biogas and blends of natural gas and hydrogen), not to mention improving vehicle performance and the construction of vehicles ready to use either biogas or natural gas/hydrogen mixtures,” said Michele Ziosi, NGV System Italia Director.

NGV System Italia has been working on persuading political decision makers to appreciate the benefits of natural gas in terms of improved air quality. “Natural biogas and natural gas/hydrogen blends present opportunities that are just waiting to be exploited. In fact, natural biogas is attracting increasing interest due mainly to two factors: on the one hand, the potential for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and on the other the ample variety of biomasses from which it can be produced,” says Michele Ziosi.

In June of 2009, NGV System Italia held a workshop with representatives of the Italian Government and executives of the industry to chalk out a range of measures to promote natural gas fuel technology and infrastructure development. Said NGV System Italia: “The meeting achieved a synthesis of the industrial, environmental and institutional expectations and that is going to open the door for further concrete political actions, now clearly identified, for a real development of the NGVs market and the Italian industrial chain.”

According to research consultant Nomisma Energia and Gruppo Italia Energia, the market for natural gas could grow threefold over the next five years, increasing current employment from 8,000 to 25,000 people. And in terms of value, the market is expected to increase from the current EUR 1.5 billion to EUR 4 billion if given a supportive policy environment. Nomisma says that the positive environmental benefits from reduced emissions and emphasized the excellent level of experience and technological capacity of Italian industry as the foundation for in-country and export growth.

Automotive Industries spoke to Michele Ziosi director, NGV System Italia Association and EU Affairs Manager for the Fiat Group

AI: Why is natural gas a good option for running cars? Will cars running on alternative fuel soon become the norm rather than the exception in Italy?

Natural gas as a fuel could help to secure sustainable mobility for its environmental friendly nature and it is an immediately available alternative to oil with lower greenhouse gas emissions than any other hydrocarbon fuel, extremely low emissions of pollutants, reduced noise and vibrations, and, last but not least, an alternative which will reduce the overall fuellingcosts due to incentives granted by authorities because of its contribution in developing a wide sustainable mobility. In addition to natural gas, our industry can also offer the use of renewable biomethane - without any mixing restrictions or other complications. Biomethane can very efficiently be produced via gasification of lignocellulosic feedstock, or via anaerobic digestion of other biomass. Fuel yields per tonne of waste, or per hectare of land, will be substantially higher than for competing biofuels. So, environmental reasons, security of supply and economical aspects are the main reasons for driving a Natural gas vehicles.

Talking about Italy, the average monthly passenger car registrations for Natural gas (in Italian "Metano") powered vehicles in Italy were 14.200 during the period January through July, 2009. ACEA (the European Automobile Manufacturers Association) on 15th September published statistics stating that the total Italian passenger car registrations during July were 205.665 units. This means that in July NGVs in Italy accounted for 6.9 % of all new vehicles (OEMs 6.2 %, retrofits 0.7 %). One of the reasons for this fantastic development is of course the fact that the Italian and European automotive NGV industry is continuously introducing new NGV models to the market. Having said that, natural gas vehicles are far to be considered ‘not a niche’ anymore: national supporting schemes are still needed for a wide development of infrastructures and supporting NGVs sells.

AI: Tell us a little about the role that NGVs could play as developing a readily clean alternative fuel and bridging to a even cleaner fuel solutions.

Security of energy supply is an increasing global concern, particularly following recent surging oil prices and increasing worries about the reliance on imports from less politically stable areas. Also, there is an increasing evidence that worldwide production of oil and natural gas will undergo a major decline in coming decades as reserves run out. There is a growing consensus that renewable energy sources will be a very important part of the answer. The growing interest in renewable energies has been prompted in part by increasing concern over the pollution and possible climate change implications due to the continuing use of conventional fossil fuels.

In this view biogas and biomethane for transport are becoming increasingly interesting as an alternative to natural gas. Gas from biomass and ‘biogas’ are usually considered as a renewable energy source with low or zero lifecycle CO2 emissions, since the carbon produced in the combustion can be balanced by the formation of new biomass, this was the reason of the strong political drive to develop biogas and ensure security of energy supply and environmental friendly solution for transport. 

Having said that it s clear that another of NGV System Italia’s objective is to inform political decision makers about the real benefits that natural gas can provide NOW, from the standpoint of air quality in our cities, and to underscore how investing in natural gas, from the expansion of the circulating vehicle fleet to the realization of a more modern and efficient distribution network, means investing in the future, both short and long term. Natural biogas and natural gas/hydrogen blends present opportunities that are just waiting to be exploited. In fact, natural biogas is attracting increasing interest due mainly to two factors: on the one hand, the potential for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GhG) and on the other the ample variety of biomasses from which it can be produced.

In Europe, the use of natural biogas is still in the initial stages with respect to vehicle transport, but there are well-intentioned pioneers: in Sweden, for example, there are about 25 production plants in operation, supplying a significant proportion of the natural gas used for transport. Corresponding interest is shown in Germany, Holland, Austria and Switzerland, with the last vaunting “bio” origins for about a third of the natural gas used in the transport.

AI: What role does NGV System Italia play in the alternative fuel sector?

NGV System Italia operates to create stable conditions, in Italy and in Europe, regarding tax incentives and norms for natural gas fuel/vehicles and, as mentioned above, a uniform set of regulations.

More in detail, NGV System Italia believes that it is important to draw up and gather consensus on a development plan, within the future guidelines of European Union strategy for sustainable mobility, as well as creating a steady base that will allow investors to make their calculations based on reliable parameters (incentives scheme, infrastructures development, fiscal advantages,…). What we would like to see is a steadily increasing synergy between the operators in the natural gas sector and the national and European institutions, and one of our main objectives will be to try to involve distribution operators as well, so that they will become aware of the opportunities for profit offered by natural gas for transport and decide to invest in the sector. Investment, modernization of the network and new regulations would provide better service for drivers of vehicles fueled by natural gas and create the conditions for shedding niche status, which, fortunately, is becoming increasingly tight in any case. 

AI: And What are some of the milestones NGV System Italia has achieved in terms of influencing policies relating to natural gas usage in transport in Italy? 

What we see as important milestones achieved in the recent past related to the regulations is the fact the Italian Ministry of internal affairs recently issued two new decrees on the safety norms for CNG refueling stations: these two decrees introduce some important amendments to the precedent decrees that are allowing the adoption of multi-dispenser and self service in public CNG refueling stations. Mind you, in real terms, it is nothing new. Multi dispenser and self service are two aspects very common and well settled in the NGV sector, and they have been in application since long now in almost all the European countries having a NGV market, such as Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and also in many extra-European countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, North America, just to mention those with the biggest NGV market. But In Italy both multi-dispenser and self-service were de facto prohibited so far. This appeared quite odd, when considering that no country in the world can boast a longer experience in the application CNG to the of NGV market than the Italian one.

Multidispenser and self-service are thus a couple of innovations the Italian NGV sector operators were anxiously awaiting. The practice will demonstrate, as it already did abroad with Italian products and components (!), that self-service and multi dispenser are two normal aspects of this market, and that they are fully compatible with the CNG refueling station infrastructures of the plant of refueling stations.

There are still certain aspect and room for improvement in those decrees and this is one of the next challenge for NGV System Italia.

Furthermore NGV System Italia want to move further with the permission of authorities to install Home Refueling Appliances because norms must push for innovative solution which must obviously meet the basic safety criteria.

Beside of that there are also the all activities related to the technical regulations within the ISO and ECE-ONU arena.

AI: Tell us a little about the increased R&D in Natural gas vehicles.

The companies of NGV System Italia invest heavily in research and development, justifying their leading role on the international level. In the sector of natural gas for vehicle transport, research is aimed at many objectives, such as innovation of components and the adaptation of refueling stations to face the challenge posed by the new energy sources (natural biogas and blends of natural gas and hydrogen), not to mention improving vehicle performance and the construction of vehicles ready to use either biogas or natural gas/hydrogen mixtures. More in details, the challenges to follow are:

• to reduce the fuel consumption and to increase efficiency in the Combustion Engine (downsizing + turbocharging, pumping losses reduction via variable valve actuation systems)
• to reduce the CNG components (i.e. cylinders).
• to redesign of chassis/body of vehicle with rationale integration of CNG components (cylinder).
• to developed advanced Liquefied natural gas (LNG) systems for HD vehicles;
• to reduce the Filling time with suitable dispenser/nozzle and cooling integrated systems in filling stations.
• to standardize components specifically defined for automotive use.
• to produce CNG/Hydrogen blends vehicle fleets
• to make technically feasible the Biogas introduction into CNG for automotive use, as renewable fuel.
• to control emissions with high performing and advanced system. 

AI: How do Natural gas vehicle compare with LPG vehicles?

Generally speaking LPG is also a clean and safe fuel with a very good distribution network), but in terms of environmental and safety performance CNG has an edge over LPG. From a safety point-of-view the main difference between methane and LPG is that methane (natural gas) is much lighter than air and any escaping gas would quickly rise and be absorbed in the atmosphere. LPG on the other hand is heavier than air and will fall to the ground and then spread sideways. Fire risks in the event of a leakage are lower with methane (with methane also lower fire risks than with petrol or diesel)).

CNG cylinders are many times stronger than LPG tanks and in the event of a leakage, or the opening of a pressure release device, the methane gas will vent to the atmosphere whereas the LPG stays on the ground. From environmental point of view regarding tailpipe CO2 emissions I offer the following comparison LPG/CNG vs gasoline: The base methane could, assuming identical energy efficiency, reduce tailpipe emissions by 25 % in state-of-the-art vehicles. For LPG the actual performance depends on the propane/butane ratio, and there is also for LPG bi-fuel vehicles slight weight penalties and engine optimization compromises. Around 12.5 % reduction of CO2 emissions would represent state-of-the-art solutions, i.e. half of the savings achieved with CNG cars. In terms of pollutants, NMHC (non methane hydrocarbon) LPG vehicles is emitting 20% less vs gasoline but CNG vehicles 80%:

In conclusion, natural gas is the most performing alternative to the traditional fuels but LPG as well could contribute as well to a sustainable mobility.

AI: What is the NGV System role in Regulations and Standard development activities?

Representatives of NGV System Italia are in permanent touch with Italian Government officials, supporting to them when technical issues are under discussion within ECE-ONU/GRPE (emissions and energy) and GRSG (safety) working groups in Geneva, mainly in relation to Regulations & Standardisation for road vehicles homologation and in particular to those linked to gaseous fuel vehicles (natural gas, hydrogen and natural gas/hydrogen blends).

Regulations and Standard which we followed and we follow right now, also in collaboration with NGVA Europe (www.ngvaeurope.org – the European Association of natural gas vehicles) are mainly on the following issues:

• OEM vehicles on-board components and installation provisions
• installation requirements for retrofitted vehicles and emission limits compliance
• on on-board CNG components
• on CNG cylinder
• on H2 and CNG/H2 blends on-board components
• on LNG filling connector
• on LNG on-board components
• ISO Standard on CNG and LNG filling stations for road vehicles (ISO Technical Committee in definition phases)

AI: I understand NGV System Italia is hosting a major international conference in 2010. Tell us a little about the conference. 

The event is NGV 2010, the 12th Biennial Conference and Exhibition of the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles (IANGV). It was last held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2008 and is coming to Rome from June 8-10, 2010. NGV System Italia bid for the event on the basis that Italy is the foundation of the global NGV industry. Being the longest established NGV industry in the world, Italy is home to some of the world’s leading manufacturers of conversion equipment, cylinders, dispensers, compressors and more.There will of course be international experiences and industry developments shared at the conference as well, along with a first class exhibition of technology from around the world. We are very excited about the event and look forward to welcoming delegates from all sectors of the automotive industry in June 2010.

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