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Phasing out sales of non-zero emissions HGVs – a misguided announcement

Dr Chris Mann, Co-Founder, Chairman and CTO of Bennamann Ltd will be joining the panel session Deciphering biomethane’s role in decarbonising transport at ADBA National Conference 2021 on 14th December, prior to his presentation, we spoke to Chris for a sneak preview of what he will be focusing on.

The UK Government announcement at COP26 in Glasgow of the 2035 and 2040 target dates for the phase out of non-zero emission HGV sales was a big disappointment to Bennamann, particularly as it came without any reference to the related consultation held over the summer.

Our team, along with many other people across the industry, had invested substantial time during the peak holiday season to respond to the latter, so to have had our efforts brushed aside so casually was doubly saddening.

In our view, this move will not help the UK meet its legally binding net zero target because the announced policy conflates two separate issues – namely air quality degradation resulting from tailpipe emissions: and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero.

Zero emission at the tailpipe is required to help solve air quality problems, particularly in urban areas and alongside road corridors with high levels of HGV movements. This requirement can be achieved through mechanisms such as the use of clean air zones / zero emission zones, more specifically by extending and/or tightening those already being rolled out and introducing new implementations where necessary.

Whereas net zero carbon emission can be achieved with zero carbon and net zero carbon vehicles and does not necessarily require zero emission at the tailpipe.

Phasing out the sale of all new non-zero emission HGVs will make the transition to net zero harder than necessary by excluding from the marketplace “ready to use” technologies that can help deliver net zero carbon in the short and long term despite not necessarily being zero emissions at the tailpipe. For example, according to modelling work recently undertaken by Element Energy, rapid deployment of biomethane based technologies over the next decade could deliver a 38% reduction in GHG emissions from HGVs, whereas deferring decarbonisation while focussing on the development of electric and hydrogen technologies will result over the same time period in a mere 6% reduction.

There are proven examples of fuels and vehicle technologies that are already available to achieve zero carbon through commercially attractive business models and, further, when using fugitive methane captured from livestock manure as a fuel, deliver a carbon footprint that is negative and thus “better than zero carbon”. For example, under REDII the biomethane default value for manure is associated with a large credit of 206%; this significantly lowers the carbon intensity of biomethane production to -85gCO2e/MJ.

To meet the nation’s transport decarbonisation targets, many UK biomethane suppliers are scaling up the production of fuel sourced from agricultural manures, and Bennamann is leading the way in the integration of 1,000s of small-scale livestock farms into the fuels market whilst simultaneously tackling the issue of fugitive methane emissions from agricultural manure slurries. In this regard, the company has developed technologies and commercially attractive business models that enable small-scale livestock farms to become local energy providers. For example, in rural Cornwall, Bennamann is demonstrating the use of livestock manure to establish energy independent dairy farming (including self-sufficiency in power, heat and fuel for farm machinery, such as gas tractors) alongside generating farm business income through sales of surplus fugitive methane, either as compressed gas or liquid fuel for local HGV use. The approach also delivers savings on farming input costs beyond those associated with energy bills, such as reducing fertiliser bills through using the soil restoring post-processed digestate to underpin regenerative practices.

By supporting the deployment of this type of local approach to fuel production for HGVs, the UK Government can create economic green growth and skilled jobs that help maintain the viability of farms and rural communities, whilst simultaneously helping to increase their energy security and resilience, reduce fuel poverty, and contribute to delivering a sustainable circular economy, along with meeting the nation’s legally binding net zero targets.

Sophisticated analysis that considers the carbon intensity (i.e. gCO2e/MJ) of the energy used in vehicles, based on a full understanding of well-to-wheel (WTW) GHG emissions incurred from its sourcing, processing, distribution and use, should be adopted as the foundation of UK Government net zero related policy making, not simply a blanket ban on tailpipe emissions.


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