As the UK’s natural gas refuelling network grows giving operators more choice of where to fill up, some stations using more expensive refuelling technology may be forced to close, experts have warned.

The business case for buying gas trucks depends heavily on the price operators pay for gas, so cheaper stations will see volumes increase faster than those charging more.

Steve Carroll, head of transport at the Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell technologies (Cenex), a not-for-profit consultancy, would like to see greater transparency on gas pricing. He points out that only one station currently advertises its prices online.

As a rule of thumb, Carroll told MT, the lower cost stations are CNG grid connected ones, particularly CNG Fuels’ Leyland station. This is connected to the National Gas Grid via a local transmission system (LTS), providing gas at a higher pressure of 20 bar, which makes it much cheaper to raise the pressure to the 200 bar required to fuel trucks.

He added that LCNG stations, which compress LNG, shipped to site, into CNG, are likely to be the most expensive, whilst LNG station prices vary, depending on how close they are to the LNG terminal on the Isle of Grain.

As more LTS connected sites are developed prices should come down, says Celine Cluzel, Element Energy associate director.

“The high pressure points [on the gas grid] create opportunities for high capacity stations delivering cost competitive gas to hauliers. Our research shows that the station operator will pay back its station two years earlier if connected to the high pressure, compared to the medium pressure network,” she said.

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Carroll said the challenge for hauliers is to plan their fleet around lower cost gas stations, pointing out that hauliers on the Low Carbon Truck Trial did exactly that.

“A poorly utilised station will become uneconomic and potentially close - or be mothballed until vehicle activity picks up. That’s why it is important that the number of gas vehicles increases so to have a network with thousands of gas vehicles and multiple stations along the same routes.

“A few did close down on the Low Carbon Truck Trial, which meant some operators weren’t able to refuel. The more gas used, the cheaper and more robust the network becomes for everyone, and the better the residual values of the vehicles giving certainty on the economic operating model.”