AGL Energy have announced plans to open a series of compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling facilities across the East Coast of Australia. The new sites will be both public and on-site refuelling stations and aimed specifically at commercial vehicles.
The process is planned to start this year with the first sites opening in the Melbourne area. The roll-out is slated to be situated in key locations to suit freight routes and enable transport companies to utilise the fuel.
“The sixth largest country by landmass, Australia’s road transport sector is central to our economy, getting food from farms to homes and connecting businesses to markets,” said AGL Managing Director ,Michael Fraser revealed at the ITTES during the launch. “The transport sector is also the second most energy intensive industry in Australia. A rising proportion of our road transport sector is also fuelled by foreign crude and fuel imports, increasing from 60 percent in 2000 to over 90 percent today. Diversifying our fuel mix and building an alternative fuels industry locally, is part of the solution to developing a more resilient economy.”
The launch saw a number of examples of the kind of vehicles available now, powered by CNG. There were two Isuzu trucks, an FSR and NLR alongside an Iveco Daily with CNG engine. Elsewhere on the Melbourne Showground site Dennis Eagle had unveiled a CNG powered truck with an innovative high density gas storage from Intelligas.
AGL Smart CNG is following in the footsteps of a number of similar projects launched in the past. They have had limited success but been hampered by a lack of government financial support for alternative fuels, an increase in the price of natural gas and only a small number of trucks capable of using CNG on the local market.
One of the problems is the limited number of tasks for which CNG is appropriate. Fleets of garbage trucks and buses with set routes are ideal but freight vehicle with varying routes need flexibility of fuel supply, something a limited number of CNG filling stations cannot offer.
Natural gas is getting traction in the US with subsidies available and many trucks on set local routes. There are 120,000 natural gas powered truck on their roads, probably enough to justify an increase in refuelling infrastructure. Those sot of numbers are unthinkable in Australia for a long time.
Until then, we are in a chicken and egg situation. If there were more filling stations, the industry would buy more trucks. If they bought more trucks, the truck manufacturers would bring a wider range in. If there are more CNG trucks on the road, more CNG service stations would spring up. If…if…if…AGL will probably need deep pockets and nerves of steel to get this one up. Good luck to them!