Applications of BioNGV in rail transport

Let’s not miss the train!

2021 is the European Year of Rail, one of the most sustainable transport modes we have. Compared to other options, rail is performing very well: in the EU, transport is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, but only 0.5% belong to rail transport. This makes it one of the most sustainable forms of passenger and freight transport. However, only about 7% of passengers and 11% of goods travel by rail.

During 2021, EU institutions will work to encourage its citizens and industries to look at the advantages of this sustainable transport mode as part of the Green Deal efforts to reduce transport emissions by 90%. The Commission’s legislative agenda will include proposals on a new rail industrial partnership, better links for rail with other modes of transport, and making freight transport more sustainable.

In a previous article, we analysed the contribution of biomethane (upgraded biogas) to decarbonize maritime transport. This month, we will look at the applications of BioNGV (bio-Natural Gas for Vehicles) in the railway world, particularly in passenger transport.

A recent study by Sia Partners proposes the implementation of TER (Express Regional Transport) sector based on a BioNGV fleet in France. This would support the deffosilisation of the TER sector. The current fleet of 930 TER railcars running on diesel would be replaced by a sustainable alternative. These railcars make it possible to serve the smallest service lines and isolated stations of the territory, where electrification would represent a significant cost.

The study has evaluated the feasibility of this transition and the impact of this change in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Between 33% and 70% of the fleet could be composed by BioNGV by 2030.  A shift of 61% of the fleet to BioNGV could lead to a reduction of 175,000 t / year of CO2 emissions. This is the equivalent to the amount of emissions produced by 38,000 passenger vehicles fueled with gasoline every year.

The development of sustainable transport brings environmental benefits but also social opportunities, notably green jobs for our bio-economy. According to the same study, the establishment of such sector in France would represent 15,200 long-term jobs by 2030. This figure considers the operation and maintenance of TER, but also on BioNGV refueling stations and biomethane production units. 2,100 non-sustainable jobs would also be generated over the year 2030 to finalize the implementation of the sector (transformation of TERs into BioNGV, construction of BioNGV refueling stations and construction of anaerobic digestion units). A total of 16,750 jobs would therefore be created by 2030.

Finally, the replacement of diesel trains by a BioNGV fleet would be more efficient in terms of costs. BioNGV are less expensive because they consume less fuel. Up to 55% of the costs related to fuel consumption can be avoided, which represents 65,000 euros per year for a TER traveling 100,000 km per year. According to Sia Partners, this increased profitability could support, indirectly, the maintenance of TER lines in rural communities in France.

Reaching the CO2 emissions reduction targets involves replacing fossil fuels in all transport modes, whether by converting the engines or renewing the fleet. This study proves, as other previously mentioned by the EBA, that the deployment of BioNGV with the adaptation of the already existing infrastructure appears to be a relevant short-term and low-cost solution to meet these objectives.