Chicken-Egg Problem Resolved: Fluxys and Mattheeuws Inaugurate LNG Filling Station
The inauguration of a LNG filling station for trucks on the premises of Mattheeuws Eric Transport in Veurne marks an important step in putting LNG on the map as an alternative fuel for trucks in Belgium and northern France.
"Fluxys wants to break the vicious circle in which the development of LNG infrastructure for transport finds itself: transporters are holding off on switching to LNG for lack of filling stations and too few filling stations are being built because the customer base is lacking," says Fluxys CEO Walter Peeraer. "By joining forces with Eric Mattheeuws we have lowered the threshold for other transporters to make the switch from diesel to LNG."
Fluxys has built the filling station and takes cares for the maintenance. Mattheeuws operates the station while its sister company Romac Fuels transports the LNG with tanker trucks from the Fluxys terminal in Zeebrugge to Veurne. Eni is also involved in the project, a commercial gas supplier. However the filling station is accessible to other haulage companies too, Mattheeuws will be an important end customer himself: earlier this year he bought 26 Volvo LNG powered trucks. This order creates a notable evolution in the Belgian LNG landscape: at the moment, in Belgium only 38 LNG tucks are registered, while the Netherlands have 327 and the UK 621. "The switchover to LNG means a drastic reduction in emissions and has considerable financial advantages as well," adds Eric Mattheeuws, CEO of the haulage company bearing his name.
His filling station doesn't lie along an international motorway. It attracts its customers by a lower price and bases its cost-effectiveness on the volumes sold. The position near the route between the UK and the European continent is an advantage: for professional users, buying fuel in the UK is less attractive than on the continent. From England, the first continental stop is Calais. Float owners, fearing illegal passengers, however encourage their truckers not to stop in Calais, unless they can't avoid it. From Calais, trucks can choose French routes or a Belgian route, passing Veurne. And contrary to French, Belgian motorways are toll free.
The European Commission supports LNG as an alternative fuel for trucks. Stefano Campagnolo, project manager transport at the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (Inea) of the European Commission: "The new LNG filling station will most likely be co-financed for 50% by the European Commission. The European directive about alternative fuels aims to make to European economy more sources efficient and less dependable from oil." Europe also wants to dispose over a LNG filling station along the main traffic routes about every 400 km.
For Fluxys the project is a pilot both in terms of engineering, technology, permitting and working out the economics of an LNG filling station. The experience gained during construction and the feedback from Mattheeuws is to yield recommendations and best practices to be used when building additional stations. Fluxys has high expectations for the transport of LNG by road as a particularly useful alternative for supplying natural gas to sea-going and inland navigation vessels, trucks and small industrial consumers who are located to far from a distribution grid and whose consumption is too small to justify the construction of new pipelines.
Fluxys already targets on the transport of LNG in tank trucks for a longer time and has the ambition to put Zeebrugge stronger on the map as a hub for small scale LNG. It offers the service of loading LNG trucks at its Zeebrugge terminal where one of the storage tanks is connected with an LNG truck loading station. The current loading capacity reaches 4.000 trucks per year. They stock up destinations in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, Poland, Sweden and even gas producing country Norway. At now, fourteen companies are operational in this niche. A second jetty, under construction now, and a fifth storage tank, have to support this growing offer. The new jetty has to become operational during next year. Together, the four existing storage tanks can hold 380.000 m³ gas. The design for a fifth tank has been upgraded from 160.000 towards 180.000 m³. For a sixth tank, space on the artificial peninsula in the North Sea would be insufficient, so it looked best practice dimensioning the fifth tank as large as possible, to be prepared for a future traffic growth. Using the four existing tanks, Zeebrugge can operate 110 slots per year. LNG truck loading has boosted here over the past few years and Fluxys has innovated its service offer to enhance availability and flexibility. The current subscription window offers customers the opportunity to secure the number of loading slots they wish to use from 2015 until 2024 included. With the new 24/7 service customers no longer have to keep to business days and a 9 to 5 schedule for their loading operations.
Meanwhile, Fluxys-Zeebrugge wants to remain a large scale player in LNG. At the moment, the terminal can cover 10% of the European gas needs. The high storage capacity will allow to take advantage on the demand for storage space. Fluxys expects this demand will increase, because of price fluctuations caused by the large offer of American shale gas, the nuclear run down in Japan and contractual restrictions to unload natural gas in certain regions. Fluxys also sees possibilities for a hub tot tranship LNG coming from Yamal on Ice Sea-equipped tankers on traditional tankers for more southward destinations and for Eastern Asia.