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Blue Corridor 2012 - on a blue route
The Blue Corridor is not just any old cross-country drive – the convoy of eco-friendly and economical vehicles started in Moscow to cover 6100 km and return to Russia's capital, but not before passing through Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and Belgium en route. Notably, the cavalcade is not the same from start to finish – some vehicles join and drive along in particular countries only, others take the time to be there from the beginning until the end. Unfortunately, Russian curiosities such as factory-converted KAMAZ trucks did not come to Warsaw, but instead we could see an LNG-powered Polish city bus – the Solbus Solcity. We will return to that later on, but meanwhile let us focus on speeches delivered by guests introduced to the conference.
The first speaker, Eugene Pronin – an NGVA Europe representative an co-organiser of the entire event – explained the very idea of the Blue Corridor. The venture dates back to 2007 and only includes factory-converted CNG-/LNG-powered vehicles, which drive along either a national or an international route to raise natural gas awareness and engage in dialogue with local policy makers to gain their support in the effort to develop the market of CNG/LNG as motor fuel available here and now. Speaking of which, one of the main messages of the Blue Corridor initiative is that natural gas is not an idea for the distant future, but should start being utilised as soon as it can be implemented in a given area. Methane – in whatever form – is safe to use, affordable, versatile and renewable (as biogas made from biomass). The word has been spread widely – the 2012 Blue Corridor lasted for 18 days and during that time there were as many as 10 conferences like the one in Warsaw.
Next up, Karol Wieczorek of cng.auto.pl presented the Polish CNG/LNG market in a nutshell. Its growth is still hindered by an underdeveloped network of refueling stations, consisting of only 28 facilities (after four have been shut down since the beginning of 2012). Out of these 28 stations, 24 are being operated and administered by the PGNiG (the national natural gas supplier) – a monopolistic tycoon. There are changes for better, too – the station in Poznan has been revamped and updated (it is now operational 24/7, accepts payments made with cards and is easier to access than before) – but challenges remain: new stations do not replace the shut-down ones (three more could soon be out of business), self-service CNG refueling is not permitted, MOT tests for natural gas-powered vehicles are very strict, CNG price is closely related to that of diesel fuel and rises whenever the price of diesel does and – on top of all that – excise duty may be imposed on CNG as soon as on November 1, 2013, before the market will have had a real chance to kick off.
The following speech was delivered by Slawomir Nestorowicz, until recently employed by the PGNiG, now representing the PIMot (the Automotive Industry Institute), and more specifically it new division dedicated to CNG as motor fuel. Apparently, there are numerous new ideas on how to spread the use of methane fuels, such as the Iveco truck tractor, which can be fueled by either CNG (compressed natural gas) or LNG (liquefied natural gas), as it has two types of tanks (pressure and cryogenic ones) installed paralelly. Sadly, there are wasted opportunities, too – a new NGV (natural gas-powered vehicle) is being assembled somewhere in the world every four seconds, and in 2008 alone, over 100 thousand NGV's were produced in Poland (through Fiat and Volkswagen factories). Nearly all of them (if not all literally) were exported. In 2014, a new marine LNG terminal is to be launched and perhaps biogas – today used primarily for heating – will be used to a greater degree in the future than it is today.
Speaking of biogas, Wojciech Gis of the ITS (Motor Transport Institute) had a lot to say. While in Poland biomethane accounts for a margin of the energy market (not to mention automotive use, the level of which is next to nothing), it is significant in Germany, although even there it is used for heat generation and fuel for cogeneration rather than as motor fuel. Nonetheless, biomethane should be taken into consideration, as it is nearly 100% renewable and the material for its production is abundant (take for instance household waste, waste water and landfill waste). Truth be told, bioCNG can ultimately be as expensive as diesel fuel (at the pump), but its advantages to the environment (hardly any harmful emissions, lower noise level of engines running on CNG) make it an interesting alternative with great prospects.
Subsequently, Robert Zajkowski of Iveco Poland presented the Italian company's eco-friendly range of commercial vehicles. The Natural Power CNG lineup comprises the EcoDaily (including a hythane variant, running on a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas – methane), the Eurocargo, the Stralis (including a CNG/LNG version), EcoDaily Minibus and Citelis. Natural gas-powered vehicles are by 2-3 times less noisy than their diesel counterparts, thanks to which they are allowed to operate at night, even despite stringent noise pollution standards in European cities. As for the Citelis city bus, it remains one of the most popular CNG vehicles of its category in Europe – Iveco has to date produced and delivered over 4500 examples, including 2100 for France, 1800 for Italy and 500 for Spain. Iveco has also got some interesting ideas on how to increase the range of CNG-powered long-distance transport trucks: they invented a way of placing additional pressure tanks in the chassis of the semi-trailer. The truck tractor in turn has its own CNG and LNG tanks, so limited operating range is no longer an issue.
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