Urban pollution is a real problem that is increasingly making the headlines. The lack of rains last year has aggravated the situation and more than twenty Spanish cities have exceeded the established pollution limits, a reality that affects us and that should concern everybody.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, more than 400,000 people die prematurely every year in the European Union as a result of poor air quality, and several million more suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses caused by pollution. These statistics highlight our urgent need to find solutions.
There are many things that can be done to achieve cleaner and healthier air. The great challenge the world faces is to decarbonise the economy. In this respect, if there is a sector that will be evolving in the future to respond to this ecological transition, it will be the transport sector.
To give us a better idea, more than 65% of the urban pollution in Spain is caused by transport. More sustainable mobility will enable pollution levels to be reduced and compliance with the environmental targets set by the EU to be achieved by 2020.
A number of city councils have reacted by deciding to restrict the use of more polluting fuels and are turning towards more sustainable alternatives, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and natural gas vehicles (NGVs) that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Burgos already have extensive public transport networks fuelled by natural gas.
For individuals, there are a number of different state and regional programmes that offer subsidies for the purchase and use of these vehicles. The Movalt and Movea plans, the PIVE 8 programme of incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, income tax rebates and a range of regional government assistance plans are making the purchase of one of 24 models of private and light commercial, ‘near zero-emission vehicles’ already available from nine car makers in Europe a sound investment.
There are significant advantages to using an NGV instead of one that runs on conventional, polluting fuels: it reduces nitrogen oxide (NO) emissions by more than 85% and helps to lower emissions of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, by 24%. It also practically does away with all suspended particulate matter (96%), the main form of pollution affecting human health, and lowers global CO2 emissions by up to 20%.
These statistics were published by the Iberian Association for Gas-Powered Mobility from the study Greenhouse Gas Intensity from Natural Gas in Transport compiled by the Natural & bio Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA Europe), the European organisation promoting gas-powered transport. Enagás is a member of both entities.
Moreover, natural gas engines are quieter because they reduce noise emissions and vibrations by up to 50% compared to diesel engines, which also helps to mitigate noise pollution in cities. Along the same lines, it is necessary to continue to increase the number of filling stations.
The figures to date have been positive, but there is still a long road to go. Registrations of this type of vehicle in Spain increased by 133% in 2016, to a total of 6,100 NGVs, 1,700 of which were private cars.
There are already some 20 million private NGVs on the world’s roads. If heavier vehicles are also included, this figure rises to almost 25 million. This goes to show that NGV technology is mature and proven, and that it is more popular on the outside than on the inside of our borders. In fact, there are more than 1 million NGVs in Italy alone, according to NGV Global.
Spain still has much to learn. If we are serious about doing our part to reduce urban pollution, it is essential that we all know what sustainable alternatives are available.
This is a very important challenge. We have to rise to this challenge and convey more widely and more convincingly the advantages offered by natural gas, a fuel that has much to contribute to improving air quality.