Growth in the use of natural gas vehicles (NGV) will depend on sustained efforts to address safety concerns, an international assembly of experts concluded in October following the sixth in a series of Clean Fuels Consulting Critical Issues Workshops that have been held since 2008.
This year's session in Brussels, Belgium drew 56 NGV experts from 16 nations and four continents, including equipment manufacturers/suppliers, vehicle makers, government policymakers and others who focused on addressing critical safety issues surrounding the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in transportation, offroad, marine and rail applications.
The experts' overriding conclusions involved changing perceptions of NGV safety to match reality, harmonizing standards and regulations, upgrading and broadening training, and expanding collaboration and cooperation among the various NGV technologies and fuels.
Results from the Oct. 8-9 workshop, published Monday, combinedthe conclusions of four panels:
Understanding the Critical Elements in the NGV Safety Chain;
Technical Issues for CNG Safety;
LNG Safety for Road, Rail and Sea; and
Design and Safety of CNG and LNG Fueling Systems.
A key finding from all of the presentations and discussions, the panels concluded, was that "the safety of CNG and LNG equipment and systems is an ongoing concern. Despite the best efforts of the industry to learn from accidents and incidents, safety issues -- real and perceived -- will be a continuing topic of concern, analysis and ongoing improvement."
This means that the NGV industry needs to meet two complex challenges, according to the experts. First, dealing responsibly and professionally to improve technology and safety through legitimate standards and regulatory channels. Second, there must be no compromise of existing standards and regulations, meaning there can be no part of the NGV value chain that uses inferior materials, poorly made equipment or lax oversight of standards and regulations.
Technical and safety issues for CNG and LNG also were spelled out in the workshop findings. For CNG, it is all about implementing the standards, ongoing lessons learned, and ultimately having the NGV industry learn from and adopt hydrogen vehicle industry practices, the experts said. For LNG, there are potential hazards as well as safeguards at each stage of the supply chain, and the transport sector can learn from industrial applications of LNG.
Ultimately, the NGV industry needs to place continued attention and effort on transforming perceptions into reality. "The reality that NGVs are safe requires a concerted and sustained communications effort to reach the widest audience of policymakers, regulators and customers," the workshop concluded.
Melding standards and regulations will "continue to be a challenge," but if it is made a long-term priority, there is a chance to promote safety and reliability, and reduce costs for manufacturers and customers, the report said.
Training is critical because the NGV industry needs to reach more people throughout its value chain as a means of assuring safe equipment and practices that permeate all NGV markets.
The final conclusion is that the various trade associations that make up NGV technologies and fuel sectors need to work cooperatively to expand ongoing working relationships between advocates and stakeholders.
"The workshop participants addressed existing gaps as well as some of the opportunities to fill the gaps in order to facilitate further market development and commercialization of NGV," said the authors.