Under the auspices of Gazprom Export and Uniper, a caravan, that is, a tour of natural gas powered vehicles (NGVs) has officially started this year. It was first launched in 2008 to publicly promote the use of natural gas in transport. While last year’s route was from Europe to China, the Blue Corridor Rally 2019 caravan passed Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia; it has stopped in Croatia and stayed there for a few days now and will then continue to Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic and eventually end up in Germany. It started in late August in Turkey (where the TurkStream pipeline will arrive at the end of this year) and its ultimate goal is to reach Greifswald, a city known as the endpoint of the Nord Stream pipeline, on 20 September.

The Croatian Gas Association (CGA) in cooperation with the Energy Academy Ltd. (ENGA) was the lead and coordinator of the activities related to the passage of the caravan through Zagreb, to which special contributions were also made by: INA, d.d., Gradska plinara Zagreb d.o.o. and Gradska plinara Zagreb – Opskrba d.o.o., ZET – Zagrebacki elektricni tramvaj and Energy Prime.

The caravan of natural gas vehicles was welcomed in Zagreb on 2 September 2019 in the afternoon in Gradska plinara Zagreb, where all participants of this special event met and where the guests also took a technical tour of the filling station along with the demonstration of the vehicles being filled with compressed natural gas (CNG).

In the building of the host – INA, d.d., a round table on “The role of natural gas in transport today” was held on 3 September 2019 at 11 in the morning and the natural gas vehicles from the caravan were exhibited in front of the building. As a contribution to the exhibition, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered truck from Energy Prime was also exhibited.

According to statistics, Croatia has only 318 natural gas vehicles and a total of four CNG filling stations, with the prospect of the forthcoming opening of one CNG-LNG filling station in Zagreb and one in the Kukuljanovo industrial zone in Rijeka, and one CNG filling station in Pula. The project for opening a CNG filling station in Slavonski Brod is also underway.

Natural gas as a more economic fuel

At the beginning of the round table, in his opening statement, the President of the CGA, Assist. Prof. Dalibor Pudic, PhD, expressed his gratitude to the representatives of Gazprom and Uniper for their efforts in promoting natural gas as well as INA, d.d. and Gradska plinara Zagreb – Opskrba for hosting the event. He stressed the important role of gas as an energy source in transport whose consumption is growing at an annual rate of 30%. According to the German Vehicle Center, gas as an alternative fuel in transport is the best combination of cost-effectiveness, environmental friendliness and technology developments. However, nowadays, in the time of electromobility, gas is unduly neglected if we take into account the fact that electricity produced from a coal-fired power station produces a higher emission of gaseous pollutants than gasoline and diesel vehicles for the same distance traveled, while natural gas vehicles emit significantly less gaseous pollutants than diesel and gasoline vehicles. In the Republic of Croatia, the biggest problem is the lack of infrastructure for charging vehicles with natural gas, because without infrastructure there will be no vehicles, and that is why the government has a significant role to play here. On the other hand, while the subsidies for natural gas vehicles in Western European countries reach up to 20,000 euros for the purchase of the vehicles with the exemption of tolls and other charges, there are no subsidies in Croatia. In a few years’ time, we will wonder why Western European countries have more competitive public transport and transport companies if we do nothing about the issue of subsidies. We must also bear in mind that transport costs have a significant impact on the final price of the product.

At the opening of the round table, the meeting was welcomed by Davorka Tancer, Director of Gas and Energy, on behalf of the host – INA, d.d., and by Detlef Weissling from Uniper and Aleksey Gnatyuk from Gazprom Export on behalf of the representatives of the caravan.

The moderator of the round table and discussion was Davor Matic, MSc, from the Energy Academy Ltd. (ENGA).

Andre Schumann from Uniper initially informed us about the history and reasons for the Blue Corridor Rally caravan. The caravan has been held from 2008 on various routes and has traveled 55,100 km so far, in more than 24 countries and 142 cities with more than 200 vehicles across Europe and all the way on the Far East in China. It promotes the idea of natural gas as technically and environmentally friendly energy source. Natural gas vehicles have proven to be durable, reliable over long distances and without technical malfunction.

Eugene Pronin, an independent advisor from the Russian Federation, mentioned that natural gas has a great future in powering heavy vehicles, taxis and public transport, as well as short-range and long-range commercial vehicles. He emphasized the important fact that at a price range between diesel and gas of approximately 20%, investing in such vehicles grants profitability. He also gave a detailed overview of the current state of the natural gas market in transport at the global level and in the European Union, which is improving every year.

Detlef Weissling from Uniper said that it is possible to get EU funds for infrastructure development, based on well-prepared projects, such as Uniper’s. Uniper received 10 mil. euros to build 14 filling stations and a complete LNG chain as a part of the LNG Blue Corridor project. He said that he expects a large expansion of new filling stations in Germany in the next 5 years, but administrative difficulties in getting a permit to build the LNG-CNG station which prolong the process for a year and a half or more are creating obstacles in speeding up the construction, in spite of big plans. He also noted that different countries are promoting LNG as a motor vehicle fuel. For example, France taxes diesel, which goes in favor of gas, while Germany taxes gas less as a fuel and by 2027 will exempt truck drivers from tolls and will provide 30% tax reliefs for buying gas powered trucks.

Alexey Gnatyuk from Gazprom Export spoke about the current situation on the gas market and noted that Russian exports to Croatia reached 2 billion m3 last year. In the new gas year (2019-2020) Gazprom Export expects to export 194-204 billion m3 to Europe. He particularly emphasized the changing trend in the increasing utilization of LNG terminals in Europe, which has reached 52% in the first two quarters of this year in contrast to 28% in 2018, proving that high terminal utilization is possible and will play a significant role in the future. According to the latest data, the LNG share on the EU market will increase from 12% up to 20%. Gas prices have currently dropped by 25.5% compared to ones of the same period last year which dropped to $182.9 per thousand m3. Mr. Gnatyuk believes that the underground storage will be one of the factors of stability and security of supply.

Marko Hodalic, MSc, from the representative office of Iveco S.p.A., Belgrade, presented the latest technological advances of LNG trucks and their prospects compared with diesel trucks. Mr. Hodalic believes that filling stations are the key to the further expansion of LNG trucks, because they are of the highest quality in terms of combustion emissions, which makes them environmentally friendly.

Igor Culjak from ZET – Zagrebacki elektricni tramvaj, briefly introduced the audience with the history of the use of CNG buses in Zagreb and functionality and efficiency in their work so far. The buses have so far proved to be great at running smoothly and without malfunction.

Igor Grozdanic, MSc, from the Croatian Chamber of Economy stated that the Republic of Croatia is facing a very big challenge – to reach the EU target of 14% of renewable energy sources in transport by 2030. We are nominally only at 1.3% (and in reality below 1%). He emphasized the importance of biogas in decarbonizing the transport sector and the entire gas sector. He also stressed the importance of natural gas in transport as a significant measure for reducing problematic energy intensity and reducing emissions. In the end, he concluded that without natural gas in transport, with the lowest participation rate of 5% by 2030, it would be difficult to reach the set goals and plans for reducing emissions and problematic energy intensity. Therefore, the subsidy policy must also change. A very small amount of 300 mil. kunas, which are paid as environmental taxes for motor fuels to the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund, remains and only a small proportion is intended for cars and filling stations for electric vehicles and gas.

At the end of the round table, the conclusion was expressed by the majority of those present that without infrastructures and subsidies for transport companies and public transport in cities and in the local governments (municipalities), the use of natural gas in transport will not be able to grow and the consequences will be felt in a few years.

Upon the end of the program, the caravan visited the ZET natural gas filling station in Podsused and then continued its journey to Slovenia.