In her inaugural speech, the new President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen set up a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. Under these circumstances, in order to make the so-called “European green deal” effective, the terrestrial transport sector is among those that are set to undergo major changes.
Indeed, while overall greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 22% and 23% between 1990 and 2016, those from the transport sector increased by 27% and 2%, respectively, in the European Union and Italy, highlighting the environmental criticalities of this sector compared to others. Transport is also responsible for the progressive deterioration of air quality in urban centers and constitutes a primary field of intervention for compliance with European and national commitments relating to the reduction of local pollutant emissions, as stated in the "Clean air" package aimed at reducing the impact of air pollution on health by about 50% by 2030.
To counter this trend, both supranational and national policies have been aimed at promoting the use of natural gas in transport. The EU recently approved a Directive on the development of infrastructure for alternative fuels while the Italian Annex II of the National Energy Strategy (SEN 2017) contains the indications for construction of a network of small-sized coastal deposits for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) meant to be used in heavy road transport. The National Integrated Climate Energy Plan (PNIEC) also specifies how methane should play a fundamental role in the hybrid electric-gas system in the mobility sector, defining a strategy for the reduction of oil derivate -fueled vehicles through the allocation of huge financial resources for the renewal of the industrial vehicle fleet.
This development is expected to continue thanks to the environmental advantages of natural gas, which are emphasized when assessed with the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach in place of the traditional Well-to-Tank and/or Tank-to-Wheel methodology. By assessing the environmental impacts "from the cradle to the grave", that is, not only with reference to the production phase (in this case the combustion inside the engine), but considering the entire value chain, starting from the supply of the raw material (gas), passing through consumption and use, up to the disposal of the vehicle, it can be observed that natural gas, in addition to allowing a significant reduction in global emissions, is competitive with respect to diesel and also to the electric carrier, considering the environmental impact of battery production and disposal, and the current generation mix. As regards local pollutants, and by limiting the comparison to EURO 6 standards, natural gas is better than competing fuels in terms of particulates, sulfur, benzene and nitrogen oxides.
The above mentioned environmental advantages are also destined to increase due to the massive investments in technologies aimed at containing emissions relating to the upstream part of the logistic chain (gas extraction and long-distance transport) and to the development of biomethane, whose production/use is encouraged through a mechanism based on the Certificates of Release for Consumption (CIC) and on the withdrawal of biomethane at a pre-determined price by the Gestore dei Servizi Energetici (Energy Services Manager - GSE) for ten years.
An increased consumption of the latter would also contribute to the use of renewable energy sources (RES) in the transport sector, a goal that is synergistic with that of reducing CO2 emissions. In particular, the EU has set an aggregate target of RES penetration on total final energy consumption of 32% by 2030, which should be met also by a specific target for the transport sector, for the same time horizon, recently raised to 14% by Directive 2018/2001 and, at national level, to 21.6% by the PNIEC.
Blending renewable methane with fossil gas would lead to a macroscopic reduction of emissions, making it less polluting than the electric carrier: with a 30% blend, expected on the basis of the requests for connection to the national network already accepted by the Italian TSO, the global effects of natural gas would become significantly lower than those of the electric car, and comparable to those of the latter also in the hypothesis of achieving the objectives of the PNIEC in terms of evolution of the generation mix.
Global environmental impact of different cars in the C segment
(in grams of CO2eq per kilometer)
Source: Bocconi University, 2019.
Italy ranks first in Europe in terms of circulating fleet and number of fueling stations and the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in the automotive sector can boast over 60 years of tradition and a consolidated organizational system, while, albeit marginal at the moment, the demand for LNG for heavy-duty vehicles is increasing due to the greater difficulties encountered in this sector by the use of propulsion with electric engines.
According to the previous considerations, and based on the historical dynamic of natural gas fueled vehicle registrations and the development of new LNG refueling stations, it is possible to quantify a size of the natural gas market in the terrestrial transport sector in Italy as between 3.4 and 4.7 billion cubic meters by 2030, forecasting growth of more than 4 times the current consumption levels.
Such development is to be considered appropriate in order to accelerate the energy transition for those transport modes (such as heavy road transport) in which no other alternatives to oil are currently available, and to achieve a sustainable and decarbonized mobility system by focusing, at least in the short and medium term, on a mix of different solutions, even with different introduction timing, rather than on a single technology.
The consolidation and expansion of the natural gas market in the land transport sector would also make Italy the undisputed leader in the sector at European level and would represent an excellent opportunity for economic and employment growth.
 (COM (2013) 918 final).
 Directive 2014/94/EU, so called DAFI, (Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure).
 Small Scale Liquified Natural Gas (SSLNG).
 See De Paoli L., Dorigoni S., Sileo A., Le prospettive di mercato del gas naturale liquefatto e compresso nel settore dei trasporti in Italia: vincoli e opportunità, GREEN, Bocconi University, 2019.
 As of inter-ministerial Decree 2 March 2018.
 The target set by the EU for the reduction or GHG is represented by a 30% decrease by 2030 (compared to year 2005) for non-ETS sectors including transport.
 So called RED II.
 Transmission System Operator, Snam SpA.
 Considering the current national generation mix.
 That is a contribution of RES of 55.4%.
 So called “Medium Cars”, the type mostly used by families.
 The number of circulating CNG vehicles is currently above one million, while filling stations on the national territory are about 1,300.
 With more than 1,300 heavy duty vehicles and 60 LNG filling stations.
 Light and heavy road transport.
 See again De Paoli et al, 2019.