Natural gas fuel and greenhouse gas emissions in trucks and ships

Speirs, Jamie and Balcombe, Paul and Blomerus, Paul and Stettler, Marc and Achurra-Gonzalez, Pablo and Woo, Mino and Ainalis, Daniel and Cooper, Jasmin and Sharafian, Amir and Merida, Walter and Crow, Daniel and Giarola, Sara and Shah, Nimil and Brandon, Nigel and Hawkes, Adam (2020) Natural gas fuel and greenhouse gas emissions in trucks and ships. Progress in Energy, 2 (1). 012002. ISSN 2516-1083 (

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Natural gas is a transport fuel which may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in shipping and trucks. However, there is some disagreement regarding the potential for natural gas to provide significant improvements relative to current ships and trucks. In 2015, road freight represented ~7% of global energy related CO2 emissions, with international shipping representing ~2.6% of global emissions. These emissions are also expected to grow, with some estimates suggesting road freight emission growing by a third, and shipping emissions growing by between 50% and 250% from 2012 to 2050, making absolute emissions reductions challenging. In addition, reducing emissions in ships and trucks has proved technically difficult given the relatively long distances that ships and trucks travel. This paper documents a systematic review of literature detailing well-to-wheel/wake greenhouse gas emissions and economic costs in moving from diesel and heavy fuel oil to natural gas as a fuel for trucks and ships. The review found a number of important issues for greenhouse gas reduction. First, moderate greenhouse gas reductions of 10% were found when switching to natural gas from heavy fuel oil in shipping when comparing the lowest estimates. Comparing lowest well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions estimates for trucks, the benefit of switching to natural gas fuel is approximately a 16% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, these emissions are highly variable, driven particularly by methane emissions in exhaust gas. Given this, in the worst cases natural gas ships and trucks emit more greenhouse gasses than the diesel trucks and heavy fuel oil ships that they would replace. It appears relatively cost effective to switch to natural gas as a transport fuel in ships and trucks. However, the limited emissions reduction potential raises questions for the ongoing role of natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the challenging greenhouse gas reduction targets emerging in the transport sector.