The aim is to produce a road map for implementing a cargo transport route using natural gas-fuelled trucks, with 20% less emission as compared with diesel.  

In Europe, using natural gas in heavy duty vehicles (trucks and buses) is already a reality, as blue corridors have been developed for over two decades – these routes ensure self-sufficiency for fuel for vehicles using CNG (compressed natural gas) or LNG (liquefied gas). They are called “blue” corridors because of the colour of the flame when gas is burned. In Brazil, a group of scientists of the Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) intends to produce a road map to implement a blue corridor in the area of influence surrounding the cities of Campinas and São Paulo (SP).

“First, we will survey the technology available for using natural gas, and then begin working with the theoretical concept of what a sustainable fuel would be in the current scenario”, explains Professor Dominique Mouette of EACH-USP (School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities of the University of São Paulo), the coordinator of the project named “Integrated Sustainability Analysis of Natural Gas as a Transportation Fuel in heavy vehicles: The Paulista Blue Corridor”.

“One example is ethanol, which is considered to emit less greenhouse gases (GHG). On the other hand, we need to question if ethanol is indeed a more sustainable fuel than natural gas, given the current context of the growing need of land use for food production.” She highlights that adopting or not a particular technology depends on the context in which it will be applied, “Ideally, we need to have a certain diversity of sources of energy.”

The project used the concept of blue corridors presented in a previous exploratory work by doctoral student Thiago Brito, along with Mouette and three other colleagues, which simulated the implementation of the São Paulo-Campinas corridor. “We started from the question: if São Paulo and Campinas had efficient infrastructure to assist gas-fuelled heavy duty vehicles, which area could these vehicles serve with autonomy?” Brito explains.

“As a basis, we used a study that estimated the origin/destination of the vehicles. We considered the vehicles leaving one city and heading to the other using the same corridor. We calculated the distance between the cities and how much diesel fuel was used; later, we converted it to natural gas. Then, we calculated both GHG and pollutant emissions. We concluded that the truck fleet circulating in the area outlined by the blue corridor proposed could emit 20% less greenhouse gas per day (690 tons), in case of being fully replaced with CNG.”

Brito explains that even though natural gas emits more GHG, its CO2 emission is lower; therefore, the emission impact is smaller than that of diesel, in CO2 equivalence. “Also, natural gas emits fewer pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulphur and particulate matter.”

Road Map – The second stage of the project is an economic evaluation of the corridor implementation in the State of São Paulo, which would correspond to a 200 km radius starting from the cities of São Paulo and Campinas. “There are at least three cost estimates to consider: kilometres travelled, the cost of technology and infrastructure”, Dominique says, remarking that the few gas-fuelled trucks running in Brazil nowadays were imported.

Based on this information, the team, which is also composed by biologist Rodrigo Galbieri, will produce a road map with coordinates to implement the blue corridor. “How to do it? How much will it cost? Where to implement it? It will also include a financial survey on the advantages of replacing diesel with natural gas. The vehicle price does not vary that much, yet infrastructure has to be built. In general, gas is cheaper and requires lower maintenance than diesel, and the amount of energy generated per unit is equivalent”, Brito says. According to Comgás (Gas Company of São Paulo), CNG yields 25% more than petrol and 78% more than ethanol. A passenger car that runs an average of 10 km on a litre of petrol and 7 km on a litre of ethanol will cover 12.5 km using one cubic meter of CNG.