By Petri Österberg, (D.Sc. (Tech.)) and (M. Sc.), Technology Advisor at CEMIS / Kajaani University of Applied Sciences.

The actors in Kainuu region should discuss who would be willing to commit to purchasing gas fuelled vehicles, if there was a refuelling station built e.g. within two years.

Parliamentary elections stimulated the debate on transport and climate issues in Finland. Climate-friendly traffic is essential and vehicles with low environmental impact over their life cycle are becoming more common. Electric cars are not the only solution, in many situations the best or not always a feasible solution, at least considering the technology of the near future.

Replacing internal combustion engines with EV’s utilising lithium-ion batteries is impossible due to lack of raw materials. Replacing the cars manufactured in 2018 alone with electric cars would have caused a shortage of raw materials (The Finnish News Agency STT 4.11.2017).

There are also ethical problems related to battery technology: cobalt needed for lithium-ion batteries is rare in the world and a year ago more than half of the world's cobalt was produced in Congo, where Amnesty International has revealed the extensive use of child labour in mines (The Finnish News Agency STT 4.11.2017). The automotive industry is constantly striving to develop battery technology based on new, more environmentally and ethically sustainable raw materials. E.g. placing cobalt with silicon is being studied, but the situation in the near future is problematic.

The prices of electric vehicles are still expensive compared to traditional vehicles. The range of consumer EV’s is from 150 up to 250 kilometres, setting limitations. The batteries needed increase the vehicle mass, and in heavy traffic, the use of today’s battery technology isn’t a reasonable option due to reduced transport capacity. Driving a hybrid car, when not using electricity, consumes more fuel than conventional combustion cars because of the larger mass.

I would raise gas-fuelled vehicles beside electric vehicles in future transportation. Both have their own place in the future traffic. The electric car is suitable for those traveling in city centres and in the nearby areas. The gas car is also suitable for longer journeys and for the heavy traffic.

As gas cars increase, the first development phase will be of purchasing more bi-fuel cars. Almost every passenger car or van could be altered to allow using also gas. The cost of conversion is 2,000-4,000€ depending on the car, and a 1,000€ state aid available until 2021. The price of new bi-fuel cars is not very different from a traditional gasoline car, and the operating range is also approaching one thousand km.

Gas cars operate equally on natural gas from Russian oil production as well as biogas produced from waste. Both mainly consist of methane and the impurities must be removed before use. In Southern Finland, there is a natural gas network coming from Russia available. Due to possibility to use fossil natural gas, gas cars are not exempted from fuel tax like electric cars.

The environmental load of natural gas car is clearly lower than that of a gasoline or diesel powered car, but the environmental load of biogas is only a fraction of the environmental load of natural gas. The domestic biogas production has also other significant benefits: the fuel production increases security of supply, since we are not dependent on imported fuel, and the cost of fuel production and transportation goes to the regional economy.

In Kainuu, increasing gas-fuelled traffic faces a classic problem: if there is no gas refuelling station, no one will buy gas cars. In order to get a gas refuelling station, more gas cars will be required. The gas distributors have their strategies for expanding their supply network and priority will be given to areas where better returns are expected, but we can actively work to get a supply station. Discussing the minimum vehicle fleet required for investing in a refuelling station with operators, the amount is not at all impossible: less than ten heavy vehicles in daily traffic. These could be e.g. city buses or private garbage trucks. Alternatively, a couple of dozen delivery cars or a few hundred passenger cars. The amount should be doubled in about five years.

It is worth discussing in Kainuu, who would commit to purchasing a gas vehicle if a refuelling station was built in the next two years or so. E.g. transport and waste management companies, the city, social and health services, taxi companies and educational institutions could be such investors; examples are found elsewhere in Finland. In addition to the possible private gas car drivers in Kainuu, more and more tourists with gas cars are planning their trips based on refuelling possibilities. If there is no suitable service in Kainuu, potential travellers will go elsewhere.

See the full article in Finnish language: here