Why Autogas Could Help Us All Breathe More Easily

This article is part of a three-part series published in Brussels media by Liquid Gas Europe. This article was published on the Energy Post with support from the WLPGA, which you can find here.

Since the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdowns, many cities around the world experienced a marked improvement in urban air quality, but with traffic getting back to “normal”, air pollution is rebounding and, alongside the continued public health crisis, we are now facing an economic recession. Mobility is essential to securing jobs and getting the economy back on track, but it should not come at the expense of the environment. Filipa Rio, Sustainable Mobility Director for the World LPG Association (WLPGA) and Liquid Gas Europe, explains that there is an affordable, readily available cleaner fuel in Autogas that can help maintain improved air quality post-lockdowns.

Air quality is an issue for cities throughout the world, with low- and middle-income countries suffering disproportionately from exposure. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that: “An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children.”1 According to IQAir2, 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, but the problem is a global one. In other areas, such as northern regions of Italy, for example, the geography means pollutants created by human activity cannot dilute, placing a heavy toll on health.

Although traffic is not the sole reason for the levels of pollution in cities, it is a significant contributing factor. Petrol and diesel-engine motor vehicles emit a wide variety of pollutants, principally carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM10). The UK’s Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), reports “the major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions.”3

As well as addressing health concerns, however, the need to reduce emissions extends to protecting our planet from climate change. Although studies are still being carried out, the impact of the Coronavirus and the reduction in global mobility it created certainly resulted in a drop in pollution levels and CO2 emissions. The other effect of the virus, however, is its impact on the global economy. This could slow down the ability of countries to invest more resources in ambitious schemes to lower emissions. To quickly reduce emissions of both air pollutants and greenhouse gases in road transport, one practical approach is to encourage a higher use of cleaner, alternative fuels, such as Autogas, that can easily penetrate the market and are compatible with current internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies, which will continue to play a significant role in the coming decades, and even beyond.

The demand for mobility, especially among the emerging economies will continue to grow, meaning that the global fleet of ICE vehicles will undoubtedly continue to expand for decades to come. That fact is evidenced by figures from the International Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), which reported the fleet grew from 892 million in 2005 to 1.282 billion in 2015 – a rise of 44 per cent. Although progress has been made, alternatively fuelled vehicles represent just 3.8% of the 2019 total car fleet in Europe, including electric vehicles with just 1%5 of the market share. Last year in Europe, over 90 per cent of vehicle registrations6 were ICE engines, which will rely on liquid fuels for the next 10+ years.  The future of sustainable mobility and associated air quality, both from new car sales and the more than one billion vehicles already on our roads, critically depends on the type of fuel used.

Electrification of vehicles is a clear winner for pollution levels, but these cars still have a number of barriers preventing mass deployment, one being cost. EVs are more expensive than petrol or diesel equivalents and, especially for low- and middle-income communities, not a realistic option in the short term. Further, they do not address the pollution from the existing fleet, so more options beyond electrification are needed. Autogas (LPG as a transport fuel) offers a practical solution to reduce emissions for new vehicles and for existing vehicle fleets that are too young to be scrapped but too old to meet sustainability targets. Converting existing cars to LPG can be achieved with limited investment in new technologies or infrastructure, and the conversion can reduce CO2, particulate and NOx emissions as well as lowering running costs for the consumer. According to real driving emissions tests by Liquid Gas Europe4, on a Well-to-Wheels basis, LPG emits virtually no particulate emissions, up to 98% less NOx compared to diesel, and up to 20% less CO2 compared to petrol, helping keep cities cleaner and healthier.

Andrea Arzà, President at Assogasliquidi, the Italian LPG Association said: “We have successful experience retrofitting taxies in some of our major cities. The availability of supply, together with the reduced environmental impact and lower running costs for operators and for citizens makes Autogas a winning choice”.

In many countries throughout Europe, including Italy, there is a strong LPG supply chain driven by a price differential from conventional fuels due to its environmental benefits.  Large storage plants load the product onto road tankers for delivery to Autogas stations, without the need for pipelines, making it accessible in even the most remote areas. Having a robust refuelling network is, of course, a critical factor for the success of an LPG business, which supplies product to over 47,000 refuelling stations throughout Europe. The move towards LPG, however, benefits from local and national government incentives. Consumers need affordable mobility, especially in a time of economic recession, and it’s proven that support in the form of lower fuel taxes for the development of Autogas is an ‘easy win’ when it comes to meeting air quality targets.

Arzà went on to say: “LPG is an alternative fuel that has offered advantages to drivers for more than 40 years in Italy. With over 35 models and over 100 different versions available for sale, as well as through retrofits, Italy now has the second largest Autogas market in the EU, reaching over 2.4 million units in 2017 – making up almost 6 per cent of all cars on the road today. It is a versatile solution, addresses the needs of new and existing cars, and is suited for both city and distance driving. It is the ready solution for sustainable mobility today, and in the future. In fact, the industry is investing in bioLPG, a renewable fuel that can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to conventional LPG. It is chemically identical, and therefore a ready drop-in substitute compatible with existing engine technology and infrastructure.”

LPG is already the most widely used unblended alternative to conventional oil-based transport fuels, (gasoline and diesel) in Europe, and in the world. Supplies of LPG are ample and can easily meet continued growth in demand for Autogas in the years to come. But for all its advantages, Autogas depends critically on government policies to send a clear market signal.

Conclusion

Autogas is a solution that is ready and waiting to improve the sustainability of mobility. With an established refuelling network, lower fuel costs, and environmental benefits. It offers convenience for customers while reducing CO2, NOx, and particulate emissions. There are already many Autogas car models offered by automakers, and fuel systems can be easily retrofitted to LPG on existing vehicles. With over one billion passenger cars on the road today with a life span of up to 16 years7 or more, converting the existing fleet to Autogas would have an immediate and direct impact on emission levels. Overall, the readiness and ease of Autogas offers a quick win for governments in the fight to reduce pollution in our cities, improve the health of their citizens, and help protect our environment.

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  1. https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/#:~:text=An%20estimated%204.2%20million%20premature,and%20disease%20from%20lung%20cancer
  2. https://www.iqair.com/world-most-polluted-cities
  3. https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/air-pollution/causes
  4. https://www.liquidgaseurope.eu/sustainable-mobility
  5. https://www.acea.be/uploads/publications/ACEA_Report_Vehicles_in_use-Europe_2019.pdf
  6. https://www.acea.be/uploads/publications/ACEA_Pocket_Guide_2020-2021.pdf