Railways: The new link in the LNG logistics chain

Claudio Rodríguez's picture
Claudio Rodríguez, Gas Assets General Manager , Enagás
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More than 50 years have passed since the gas industry found the formula to “globalise” the LNG business. This was achieved through the use of tanker trucks, establishing the bases for a small-scale logistics development and short distance and accelerating the gasification process in countries such as Spain, and even exporting more than 5,000 annual loads to Europe.

LNG has helped to guarantee global security of supply, allowing it to build up a strong track record with regards to safety, efficiency and technological development.

The last chance for natural gas in mobility? Mobility is a sector of the economy in which total decarbonisation is a limited, partial solution. On the other hand, hybrid solutions with batteries and/or hydrogen fuel cells are still around 20-30 years away from being fully technically developed and competitive. Therefore, natural gas is currently the only alternative that can achieve a significant medium-term carbon footprint reduction across all mobility sectors by around 20%.

A strengthened strategy for the sector: LNG also stands out for its competitive cost compared to its competitors. It currently has a mature infrastructure system with sufficient capacity and a greater emission reduction capacity than petroleum-derived fuels (up to 20% depending on the segment). However, this advantage could depend on the uncertainty of methane emissions. Resolving this uncertainty should be a key objective for the sector in order to determine whether LNG is up to 40% more environmentally efficient than traditional fossil fuels.

Logistical solutions, the priority: Given these conditions, the gas sector’s greatest ally in terms of cost competitiveness is logistics. The same is true for the development and expansion of its portfolio of solutions as this ensures the demand for LNG as an alternative fuel is met.

Although there is sufficient capacity in maritime mobility, a transition and development of logistics chains needs to be established. In the short term, this can be achieved with the use of tanker trucks and/or multimodal iso-containers until solutions with vessels that are supplied directly by regasification plants are incorporated.

In road mobility, LNG transport is a technically mature solution for short and medium distances. However, for distances greater than 1,500 km, it will be necessary to develop the only alternative land-based solution: railways, as small scale liquefaction technology is not a competitive alternative.

Railways: the new link in the LNG chain: In both demand segments, there is a clear need to complete the current portfolio of logistics solutions, in combination with multimodality. This allows for the competitive development of the market whilst other more efficient solutions are developed.

The railway is presented as the most appropriate solution for achieving both objectives as it is 80% more efficient, 10 times safer and more versatile than road transport.

Enagás, through the Core LNGas Hive project and in its "railway roadmap" (under development since 2014 with Renfe and Naturgy), is promoting the deployment of practical experiences for a competitive commercial development in this area.

In particular, a multimodal LNG transport pilot project, the first of its kind in Europe, is underway. By transporting a 20-foot iso-container tanker by rail, road and sea, the project is being developed in two phases: the first has already been carried out from Huelva to Melilla and the second, from Cartagena to Ceuta, is planned for February 2019.

From the result obtained from the first test, it should be highlighted that the transport was carried out with a single multimodal consignment note. All iso-container transport operations were carried out in the logistics and railway operator terminals without the need for additional means. Thus, the product remained within the conditions of its physical-chemical safety parameters throughout transport This pilot test demonstrates the effectiveness of the iso-container as a versatile and flexible solution for transporting LNG. It facilitates the loading and unloading of LNG and can be easily transferred from one means of transport to another, allowing the gas to travel long distances in a faster and safer manner. At the same time, it highlights the efficiency of the railway as a new logistics solution, opening up the possibility of LNG access to new locations and markets.


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