LPG back on fleet agenda as stepping-stone to electric power
The news of a multi-million pound scheme to convert diesel taxis in London to run on LPG has reignited the debate over gas as a clean and convenient interim fuel before electric power takes over.
Sales of LPG vehicles are rising in certain European markets , driven by subsidies and tax advantages, and threatening the fossil-fuel duopoly of petrol and diesel.
- In Spain, for example, Sales of LPG-powered cars were five times higher in 2018 than the previous year, and the number of gas-powered vehicles has risen from 3,000 in 2009 to 65,000 today. The increase is due in no small part to LPG vehicles being entitled to the same ECO label as plug-in hybrid vehicles with a range of less than 40 kilometres and non-plug-in hybrids, which lets them continue to drive in Madrid at times when local air pollution forces a ban on petrol and diesel models.
- In France, gas-powered vehicles qualify for Classe 1 Crit’Air badges, the same as Euro 5 and Euro 6 petrol, and better than any diesel vehicle.
- And in Lombardy, Italy, a three-year exemption from road tax is available for any motorist scrapping an older car in favour of a bi-fuel (LPG-petrol, CNG-petrol) or hybrid electric vehicle.
Italy is the second largest autogas market in Europe, with 2.3million LPG vehicles, second only to Poland where LPG accounts for about 10% of road fuel, according to a report by the World LPG Association.
The association reports that across Europe 18 OEMs offer 60 LPG models on their choice lists, and that the European LPG fleet totals about 15 million vehicles.
London subsidises LPG taxis
Following this trend, the Mayor of London has made £5 million (€5.8m) available to convert 1,000 Euro 5 diesel taxis to LPG as part of a major initiative to combat air pollution in the British capital.
Independent tests reveal that a typical TX4, London’s iconic ‘black cab’, emits over 70 per cent less NOx after being converted to run on LPG. Tax breaks on LPG also mean that drivers can save around £200 a month in fuel costs compared to diesel.
Road transport is responsible for around half of air pollutants in London, and the city’s authorities calculate that black cabs account for 20% of road transport emissions in the capital’s centre.
The new central London Ultra Low Emission Zone aims to reduce road transport pollution by 45% by 2020, but taxis will be exempt from the daily charges.
Moreover, Euro 5 diesel taxis could still be in operation in 2027, hence the new efforts to convert them to cleaner LPG.
“Euro 5 taxis produce a disproportionate amount of toxic NOx and are likely to be in the fleet for a long time. We believe the conversion to LPG of these vehicles could see more than a 70 per cent saving in NOx emissions,” said a spokesman for Transport for London.
He declined to confirm whether the city authority would like to see other diesel cars and vans convert to LPG as the city focuses on its zero emission targets.
LPG back on fleet agenda
But Paul Oxford, business development manager of Autogas, a joint venture between Shell and Calor, said London’s initiative “sends the message that LPG is back on the agenda. If you have a problem with air quality now, you have to deal with the problem now, and not wait for 10 to 20 years for the take-up of electric vehicles and the construction of a recharging infrastructure.”
He added that LPG-converted engines have both the range and reliability to provide viable fleet solutions, particularly in the light commercial vehicle sector. Moreover, as LPG refueling takes no longer than filling with diesel, gas avoids the delays associated with recharging EV batteries.
“After ‘dieselgate’ there has been a definite shift away from petrol and a swing to petrol,” said Oxford. “This means fleets will see an increase in their fuel costs, but switching to LPG would mitigate this.”
Simple engineering can convert a petrol engine to run on LPG for about £2,000 (€2,300), with a return on investment in fuel costs after five years, depending on mileage. Conversion of a diesel model to LPG is more complicated and costlier, requiring a completely new engine, at a price of about £10,400 (€12,000) in the case of the London cabs. Half of this cost is covered by the new subsidy.
Across Europe 18 OEMs offer 60 LPG models on their choice lists, and the European LPG fleet total about 15 million vehicles, with valuable incentives in many markets to encourage the fuel.
CASE STUDY: Diesel fleet switches to LPG
Anglesey County Council, a local authority in North Wales, is looking to transition more of its diesel vehicles to LPG.
The fleet currently has 86 LPG cars and light vans, and plans to replace larger diesel vans if LPG options become available.
Gareth Owens, fleet manager at Isle of Anglesey County Council, said LPG “works, saves money and is environmentally friendly.”
He calculates that each vehicle is saving an average of £1,000 (€1,150) per year by running on LPG rather than diesel, based on an annual mileage of 16,000km.
The council’s own workshop services and maintains the LPG vehicles, and the council also has its own on-site LPG refuelling tanks.