Sleeping in the pendulum clock – the funny battle against so-called zero-emissions vehicles

In Austria, we have a funny saying. When someone just misses every opportunity that comes his way, we say that he sleeps in the pendulum clock. It’s mostly a cute mockery at someone who has not seen something coming, that any normal person would have caught half asleep.

The sad part is, that in many situations, this is still the kindest way to describe a total lack in initiative. It’s a situation where an individual, a company or an industry is in a state of absolute and total complacency the consequences of which it cannot seem to grasp.

And this is a situation Natural Gas and its two fuel embodiments CNG and LNG sadly find themselves in.

Seen at face value, things should be very different.

Methane-based fuels are the best chance for the transport business to go really clean at every level of the value chain without making the industry uncompetitive. Both, CNG and LNG are technically mature applications with decades of operational expertise under the belt at every level of the supply chain. Both are economically attractive alternatives that pass the smell test against diesel on the cost and on the reliability front.

Methane-based fuels are not only clean, they can potentially be emissions-free with very little extra technology that will also not break the bank and is available right now.

Just imagine a 40-ton truck that produces zero emissions. Imagine the heaviest diesel engines your mind can fathom, the biggest construction machines or mightiest road trains or ship engines. They run just as well on Methane based fuels as they do on diesel. And you won’t sacrifice ease of use or range.

With bio-methane that’s a possibility.

Hell, even SpaceX and Blue Origins new proposed rockets are running on LNG and if you used, we could see super low emissions rockets hauling cargo and people into space.

That’s a match made in heaven you would say. Would could possibly oppose such a great thing?

As it turns out – many. And it’s an unholy alliance that’s (maybe unwittingly) collaborating here. Because the diesel aficionados use the current zero emissions hype to prolong diesel’s monopoly on heavy transport.

How comes?

Both, Electric Trucks and hydrogen trucks are way too immature, expensive and incapable in order to provide any reasonable, realistic and immediate choice for any freighter.

So, the question is not if it will be LNG but rather how fast the world wants to get away from diesel as a fuel. Right?

WRONG!

Because this game is not a game of what is – but rather what people chose to believe that could potentially be.

Let me explain.

Exactly those two currently unobtainable options battery and hydrogen pose as the Emerald city on the hill.

Anything that exists in those two sectors does so as a technology demonstrator only. Those vehicles are very far from normal transport duty in a truck pool. And even if they could be made to work quickly, they have range, cost and availability issues that make them unfit for anything but as showpieces at auto salons.

That’s what the head tells us. So it’s Natural Gas again – right?

Still wrong.

Because many managers prefer to not do what feels like halfway right now and wait for those pie-in-the-sky solutions to not only become available but also drop in price quite a bit.

And in the meantime, well, as there is no good alternative they want to stick it out with diesel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to diesel as long as emissions rules are being observed. And I really do understand those logistics managers – in their place I would very likely have the same gut reaction. Who wants to dabble with expensive technologies that can or maybe will break your business?

Commercial actors in Natural Gas as a fuel – and especially LNG as a fuel – cannot afford to be complacent right now. They need to start driving the market, building the market, to not shy away from hard discussions and issues, and pushing policymakers, potential customers and the general public by showing them not only the advantages LNG presents as a fuel but also that there is no realistic alternative and that waiting will only make countries fail on their emissions target.

The companies in the LNG as a fuel industry are in a sweet slumber and I have a feeling that some of them just trust that things will somehow sort themselves out.

But they won’t.

People need to understand that radically going for non-existing options will make their lives way more expensive as the price for those laboratory beasts will be borne by all of us. Just look at Germany, the bellwether of the renewable movement. Their electricity prices are among the highest on the planet with some people switching the heating off and in some cases freezing to death in winter because they can’t afford power anymore. All this despite a load of subsidies that would make anyone croak under the strain.

Transport companies going for Electric Trucks and/or hydrogen would require copious subsidies which would probably bust the budget and still, prices for wares would go steeply up.

People need to understand this. They need to come to know that there is a price to pay for complacency. The industry needs to know that. Politicians need to know that they will lose elections once people find out that they have gotten the short straw once more.

Current structures won’t do that. But LNG Europe will.

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