Volvo Trucks in Sweden is about to be the first to market a methane-powered truck for long-haul operations in Europe.
Volvo's new FM MethaneDiesel truck is actually powered by up to 75% methane gas. The idea of a dual-fuel truck is rather interesting, I thought, and of course it generates something like 10% lower CO2 emissions than a diesel engine does.
"If things go as planned," the Swedish outfit said, "we expect sales to take off in six to eight European countries within the next two years, with about 400 Volvo FM MethaneDiesel trucks sold a year. Future sales will naturally depend largely on expansion of liquefied gas filling stations for commercial vehicles."
So I may sound a bit dumb here, but is methane the same as natural gas? Volvo, after all, used the two terms interchangeably here. Adding biogas as a third equivalent.<!break>
Well, in a word, they're not all the same. Methane is the major component of natural gas, about 87% by volume (the rest being things like ethane and butane), and it's the simplest hydrocarbon we've got. Lighter than air, it's also a nasty greenhouse gas.
Most methane is extracted from natural gas fields, but it's also produced -- without being called natural gas -- during the decomposition of plant or organic matter, and from wetlands and marshes. My favorite source is the digestive processes of some insects like termites and beasts like sheep and cattle. Burps and the like, if you must know.
Methane is also released from garbage decomposition in landfills (and then it can be called biogas, I believe) and from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels.
As I understand things, natural gas is mostly methane, and biogas is all methane.
Somebody's going to write me a letter and call me an idiot, I just know it.
Anyway, like a lot of folks over here, Volvo is pretty high on methane or biogas or natural gas or whatever we want to call it.
Compared with conventional spark-ignited gas engines, Volvo claims its technology offers 30 to 40% higher efficiency, which is an awful lot. They say it drops fuel consumption by 25%.
The Volvo FM MethaneDiesel sports a 460-hp 13-liter engine, a conventional diesel equipped with gas injectors, a special Thermos-like fuel tank that keeps the gas liquefied and chilled, and a specially modified catalytic converter. In a truck with a gross weight of 40 tonnes, the tank is good for a range of up to 500 km or 300 miles in normal driving. Not much, but this FM still has an ordinary diesel tank so if the gas runs out, a switchover is automatic.
The new Volvo will initially be sold in the Netherlands, Great Britain and Sweden, where gas infrastructure is best established. Other parts of Europe and the rest of the world will follow. Series production will get under way in August.
And my big question: we won't see the FM truck here, but will this dual-fuel technology cross the pond?
Read more on Volvo's website.