*This week’s Sunday Read series visits two trailblazing companies who have invested in natural gas powered trucks. Pictured is Brian Lyons at the Clean Ireland Recycling refuelling station in Shannon.

THE Government’s climate action plan aims to have one million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 – the proposed cut-off point for the sale of fossil fuel engines. However, doubts remain over the country’s charging infrastructure, the expense of EVs along with range anxiety.

The same action plan has also challenged the transport sector to cut emissions by about 50 per cent by 2030, with particular attention on CNG (compressed natural gas). It is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise with HGVs and buses generating 30 per cent of road transport emissions despite accounting for just four per cent of vehicles on Irish roads.

Gas Networks Ireland has been the key player and are on a mission to get as much green gas into the national gas grid as possible. Last year they launched a €2.9 million CNG Vehicle Grant scheme to support the purchase of up to 400 natural gas-powered trucks and two Clare companies have already begun the process of converting their HGV fleets from diesel to CNG. This week, we caught up with local haulier CargoKing and Clean Ireland Recycling to see how they are dealing with the unprecedented rising gas prices, a situation being exasperated by the Ukranian invasion by Russia, a major gas supplier to Western Europe.

One of the earliest partnerships Gas Networks Ireland developed was with Clean Ireland, who developed a private CNG filling station in Shannon which opened on May 21, 2018, in what was a first for Ireland. Overall it was a €750,000 investment between the purchase of CNG Scania trucks, a compressor and refuelling station.

A Clean Ireland Recycling CNG truck at the company’s refuelling station in Shannon

Brian Lyons, General Manager of Clean Ireland Recycling, noted at the time that there would be a fuel saving of up to 30 per cent per vehicle when compared with a diesel equivalent. Today, he tells The Clare Echo, “Unfortunately until things settle down again in the market, I can’t see many making the move from a price point of view.”

Brian admits that Clean Ireland Recycling were lucky to “be in early” as European funding and support from Gas Networks Ireland made the project possible. “The advantage we have here is we’re buying the gas at the wholesale price so we’re not buying it through a retailer like Circle K. But it did take a lot of investment and infrastructure and land. Certainly there was a long-term view. It’s important to note, it wasn’t just financial motives… that wasn’t the primary motive for going for CNG,” says Brian, who believes gas prices will again find their “equilibrium” soon.

“There are huge environmental benefits to using gas over diesel. It has far less CO2, it has 22 per cent less CO2, 70 per cent less nOX, 60 per cent less sulphur dioxide, and the big one is 99 per cent less particulate matter. That’s the fine solid sooty particles that might come from the exhaust of a diesel or petrol engine, so that’s a clean air policy from a health and societal level that’s huge.”

However the company, which was founded 31 years ago in Cree by brothers Michael and John O’Donoghue, takes a much longer-term view to the project. Clean Ireland Recycling sees CNG as a gateway to biomethane, a 100 per cent renewable transport fuel which will some day be generated by their own collected waste material and processed at an AD (Anaerobic Digestion) plant in Limerick. “That’s ultimately our aim of where we need to get to,” says the West Clare man who resides in Ennis.

Currently, four of Clean Ireland Recycling’s 40-strong HGV fleet are powered by CNG. Brian calculates that they will need in the region of 10 gas-powered trucks before the move to biomethane becomes viable. Brian caveats this by noting their West Clare facility will never be serviced by gas trucks due to an absence of refuelling facilities in the area.

Despite arguing that the Government needs to introduce stronger incentives to encourage companies to make the switch, Brian “absolutely would” recommend the move to CNG. It’s a sentiment not wholeheartedly echoed Aengus King, owner of Newmarket-on-Fergus based CargoKing.

One of CargoKing’s Scania CNG trucks

CargoKing has been in operation for 40 years as a freight transporter and more recently has been contracted to carry out depot-to-depot transport for a DPD, whose demand has been propelled steeply by the pandemic. Aengus had previously explored alternative fuelling methods such as cooking oil but technical concerns left that idea undercooked. It was a shared ambition with DPD to lower their carbon footprint which saw CargoKing finally take the leap into CNG. Of CargoKing’s 15 arctic lorries, two CNG-fuelled vehicles have been introduced to the fleet in partnership with DPD, to whom they are contracted to for 20 years.

The initial investment saw CargoKing purchase the Scania trucks at a 35 per cent higher premium than the diesel equivalent, with the expectation that this cost would be recouped over time thanks to lower fuelling costs and a higher premium paid by their client in exchange for a lower carbon footprint. However, a quick scan of recent CNG pump prices are cause for alarm. In January 2021, CNG cost 91.90 per KG at the pump. As of February this year, that figure more than doubled to an eye-watering 219.40.

“We’re lucky we have only two trucks out of 15 and it’s not going to kill us. What we’ve done is put them on the shortest routes so we try and minimise our costs but it’s not what we wanted them for.”.

“Initially it was a nice idea, you’re making some impact on the climate and the price was cheaper than diesel so you were saving about 20 per cent, now we’re losing about 20 per cent,” says Aengus, noting that fuelling vehicles accounts for 30 per cent of their entire overheads. “The exercise was that if gas did anywhere within 15-20 per cent – which is the norm with most fuels – of where it was, we were away on a hack. We didn’t expect it to end up where it is, over double,” says Aengus, who spends his spare time training horses including Miss Cunning, who won in Dundalk under Newmarket native Jessica O’Gorman last weekend.

Aengus is adamant that cleaner fuel “is the way to go” and CargoKing will continue on the same path. However he admits, “Our intention was to keep going and if it worked, our next order would have been more CNG trucks but we would be definitely taking a brake from it at this stage. We have bought a diesel since and we have another diesel coming.”

Aengus (left) with his winner in Dundalk last weekend

Much like Brian Lyons, Aengus sees CNG as a stepping stone to another fuelling method, in his view that could be hydrogen. He also contends that gas prices may level out in the coming months. “This might all change by April, May, June. The demand on gas is going to drop because heating in Northern Europe, it drops completely.

“That’s my expectations but the facts are not written in stone. Hopefully by the time we’re getting into next winter, all these issues with Russia and their supply will be sorted, and I think that will make a big difference.”

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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