The City CNG project

4th December 2017

By Jamie McMaster, Project Manager for Northern Gas Networks

As the UK looks towards a zero-carbon energy future, Northern Gas Networks is working together with Leeds City Council and Ofgem to build the first UK city-based compressed natural gas (CNG) station.

Leeds City Council, alongside other councils in the UK, has made a commitment to improve the air quality within Leeds by 2020, reducing the negative health conditions linked with existing transport exhaust fumes and in this instance, will examine diesel emissions.

A logical progression of this commitment is the creation of a future Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the Leeds metropolitan area, although some industry scepticism surrounds this proposal.
The initial phase of this air quality proposal NGN is partnering the local authority on – and longer term, the private sector – involves building a CNG station which will see LCC’s current 70-strong refuse vehicle (RV) fleet converted to CNG.

The council also plans on transitioning 180 of its fleet vans.

NGN has also made a commitment to convert 10 of its Leeds fleet to CNG in the first few years of the site’s operation.

Alongside the scepticism for the CAZ there is also market/industry doubt for the commerciality of the station scheme.

Industry views CNG as an untested fuel source, specifically when looked at as a long-term financial investment.

It is in response to this market uncertainty that NGN will first construct and build the high pressure gas connection with investment money from Ofgem and NGN, and then cover the costs of that initial spend through station use over a ten-year period.

It is hoped within this ten-year period that other sizable fleets convert to CNG, as well as taxis and private-use cars.

Contrary to the market’s suspicion of CNG as a credible substitute for diesel/petrol there are in fact 18.09 million-plus natural gas vehicles (natural gas constitutes both CNG and LNG) on the road around the world at this moment.

This is obviously a tiny percentage of the estimated 1.2-1.4 billion motor vehicles in use, but it is a positive figure.

Natural gas has been used in motor vehicles since the 1930s (in highly limited numbers, admittedly), but again commercial profitability especially in the West has been an integral part in the technology not taking as big a foothold as is possible.

CNG costs around 50% less than gasoline by equivalent volume, and emits up to 90% fewer harmful emissions when compared with Euro 6 diesel engines.

Figure 2. A Fully-Operational CNG Station at Leyland

Through building a connection to supply a Leeds city-based station, NGN aims to prove that this technology is buildable, usable, maintainable, and above all financially viable and profitable.

This is the first and most important domino to tackle in ensuring a structured, nationwide endorsement of CNG as a genuine alternative to the use of oil in combustion engines.

To extend the metaphor, once this domino is toppled, it is hoped other GDNs, as well as private enterprise, will work in conjunction with city councils across their networks to commission and build new stations of their own.

Irrespective of the success of the station, we must always be cognisant that financial profitability must not always be offset by, or in direct contradistinction to, positive environmental and human health factors.

Figure 3. A CNG Fuel Delivery System illustrates what CNG is, examples of other CNG stations around the world, the positive health impacts associated with the technology, and longer term will demonstrate station use as the scheme grows.

The purchase of land for the station is yet to be completed, but it’s expected the station will be operational for 2019.

Carbon neutrality, a more acute focus on how we live and work, and air quality are all areas which are rightfully being scrutinised more closely than ever before.

The City CNG project will be NGN’s contribution to driving cleaner air in Leeds, as well as proving that CNG is a viable option for business fleets, and for the vehicles you and I would want to own and drive in the future.

For any further information, please contact myself, Jamie McMaster at