Article written by Effective Media. The analysis and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and not those of OPENLANE Europe.
If most policy-makers and trend-watchers are to be believed, soon we will all be driving an electric vehicle. But are there really no alternatives? Today we will take a closer look at three: hydrogen, CNG and LPG.
In hydrogen vehicles the electric motor is powered by a battery, which is in turn connected with a fuel cell which brings oxygen and hydrogen stored under the floor in contact with each other. This chemical reaction, known as hydrolysis, produces electricity, and only releases water as water vapour from the exhaust. In other words, you drive with self-generated electricity. It is an electric vehicle with the advantages of a petrol vehicle: you always just fill up with hydrogen at the pump.
There are a few disadvantages however: there are only two models on the market (Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo), which both come at a premium price. In addition, the number of filling stations in Europe is extremely limited. It’s a negative spiral: designers are focusing on BEVs because more are being bought. This means there are fewer hydrogen filling stations, and people are buying fewer hydrogen vehicles, meaning that they are not becoming cheaper, and the number of models remains limited. Renault has indicated that they see something in this technology, and BMW and Land Rover are experimenting with an X5 and a Defender running on hydrogen respectively.
The cost price of hydrogen is currently also a problem: around €10 per kilogram, but that will change in the future. From a recent independent global study carried out by BloombergNEF (BNEF) it appears that there is potential for clean hydrogen to be used in the coming decades to reduce the global emissions of greenhouse gases through fossil fuels and industry by a maximum of 34%. And for a price which is described as “doable”. This will only be possible however, if a policy is introduced to help to develop the technology and reduce the costs.
In other words, hydrogen may be a great alternative, on the condition that we can produce it through green methods, and that the designers see a benefit in it themselves, allowing the technology to be democratised. So, one to keep an eye on.
CNG (compressed natural gas) is an alternative fuel which is more environmentally friendly and cost- effective than fuels based on crude oil. In environmental terms with CNG engines, when compared with diesel and petrol, a reduction has been identified of around 75 to 90% of fine particulates and oxides of nitrogen. The CO2 content is also 7 to 16% lower, and the engine only makes half as much noise.
According to the ‘barometer’ of the Observatorium van Bedrijfswagens (commercial vehicle observatory), carried out in 3,300 European companies (2018), CNG is still a fuel which is not really popular. Only LPG and hydrogen are (still) less popular than natural gas. Only 8% of the companies surveyed already use CNG vehicles in their fleet or are considering integrating CNG in the fleet within the coming three years. It is also mainly the large companies and very large fleets which are most open to its use.
In many countries however, CNG loses its tax advantage, since it is seen as a fossil fuel. Today it is also only possible to source these types of vehicles from a few car producers: the Volkswagen group, FCA/Stellantis and SsangYong (which offers conversions in many countries) are the main players. The fuel seems to have lost its momentum somewhat, probably due to the higher natural gas prices of the recent months. This fuel certainly had its value, and still does in certain circumstances, but it appears that CNG may be out in the coming years. Furthermore, there is also the problem of infrastructure here: in Belgium and Italy for example there are quite a few stations, however in other countries the fuel is virtually unknown.
Liquid petroleum gas, LPG, was here before CNG, but is currently even less popular. Today you can get vehicles running on LPG ex-works from Renault-Dacia, but the fuel is primarily known as being used for converted pickups such as the Dodge Ram. For these kinds of gasoline powered vehicles, the fuel is also especially interesting due to its low-cost price.
Disadvantages of LPG: not all vehicles are permitted to enter underground car parks, manufacturers’ warranty is voided on conversion, and the consumption of LPG is somewhat higher than that of CNG. Here too, the same conclusion as with CNG: in certain European areas and for limited applications LPG remains useful, but this technology threatens to fade into the background more and more in the coming years.
Hydrogen could develop into a good alternative in the coming years. CNG and LPG are of interest in some markets today. It is best to rely on a wide support network to purchase these vehicles, because they are not available in large numbers. This means a partner such as OPENLANE is crucial because vehicles from various European countries are offered on the auction platform. Including those with the fuel type which is the most advantageous for your region.