2+6+20+43 = natural gas HGVs

14th Nov 2017


No this isn’t an entry for the Today programme’s daily puzzle but a sequence of numbers that helps cement the public policy justification for a switch from diesel to gas HGVs.

Leaving aside the economics of such a switch (payback of about 3 years and falling), let’s talk numbers.

There are approximately 35 million vehicles on the roads in the UK and HGVs and bus/coach numbers make up just 2 per cent of that total. In total, a staggering 325 billion vehicle miles were travelled in the UK last year, with HGVs/bus&coach contributing around 6 per cent of that total.

So what I suspect you are thinking. Well those 2 per cent of vehicles, travelling 6 per cent of UK mileage, emit 20 per cent of the UK transport’s greenhouse gases. If you consider that the transport sector has been stubbornly refusing to reduce overall carbon emissions, a fall from 1990 of just 2 per cent, then perhaps that Italian economist Pareto would suggest we take a look at the big stuff. Transport carbon emissions now account for 24 per cent of the UK’s total (compared to domestic heating’s mere 13 per cent). Evidence from the Leyland CNG station, supplying Waitrose gas powered HGVs, suggests carbon emissions are down 84 per cent when using biomethane compared to diesel.

So is there a “killer stat”? Well yes there is. Those 2 per cent of vehicles, travelling just 6 per cent of the miles in the UK, also emit 43 per cent of road side nitrogen oxides. Given the air quality concerns in our cities this matters. Given that diesel emissions are notoriously bad for public health, it matters. Given that there were an estimated 40,000 early deaths last year as a result of poor air quality, then it should matter. Low carbon vehicle trials showed NOx emissions down 70 per cent when using gas not diesel.

There has been some action in London around ultra clean air zones, but wholesale switching from diesel to gas HGVs, whilst economically rational, has been too slow. Yes, there is a need for another 150 or so, strategically located gas-filling stations to give fleet operators a real choice but Government could do more. Signalling intent by scrapping road excise duties in the forthcoming Budget for dedicated gas-powered HGVs would save operators a few quid, but importantly, it would send a signal about how seriously they take the nation’s public health.

 Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE