Biogas wobble is an obstacle to sustainable waste transportation

August 29, 2023
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The Norwegian Ministry of the Environment's lack of faith in biogas is about to reduce the number of gas-powered transport vehicles on Norwegian roads. Political wobbling like this not only creates challenges for the transport industry, but also becomes an issue for those who need to offer climate-friendly transport services in public tender processes.

By Country Manager Norway at Geminor, Kjetil Hausken.

In a written answer to the Norwegian Parliament in May, the Minister of Climate and Environment Espen Barth Eide wrote that there are "...other solutions than biogas that are cheaper and do not contribute to local air pollution. In short, what can be electrified should be electrified." To the many companies that had already invested, or were about to invest in biogas vehicles, this statement came as a rather unpleasant surprise.

The signal from the minister was not difficult to interpret. Biogas, which had previously been seen as part of the solution, was no longer among the Government's priorities for emission reductions in the transport industry. The fact that ENOVA has cut support for both biogas vehicles and electric vans does not lessen this uncertainty. In the eyes of many, this has made it difficult for several transport operators to invest in biogas.

One of the transport companies that have invested in biogas, Litra, has told Norwegian media that this will affect their operations. In practice, this means that they are back to filling their tanks with diesel. They are also one of the companies calling for a functioning filling infrastructure for biogas - a prerequisite for delivering good transport services. The latest signals from the authorities do not indicate that biogas fueling infrastructure is high on the priority list, which in turn creates uncertainty and a lack of willingness to invest throughout the country.  

Transport on biogas (Photo: Litra)

Effects beyond the transport industry

A political "change of course" like this is not only a potential challenge for transport operators. For us in the recycling industry, the transportation of waste resources is a significant part of the services we deliver. Like many other industries, we participate in public tendering processes where environmental requirements are now emphasized by as much as 30 percent. Stricter sustainability requirements are good, but environmental weighting in tenders quickly becomes irrelevant if the sustainable alternative does not exist. Tender criteria then become just a cost element that is ultimately imposed on the public purchaser, and ultimately the consumer through the waste disposal fee.

As long as electricity - according to the transport industry - is not yet a real alternative in road transport, biogas will provide the best option for ensuring environmentally friendly transport in the short term. In this respect, we need biogas as a springboard for further investment in other and more climate-friendly solutions, and if this is to become a reality, better support schemes should be implemented for both the production of biogas and the development of a national network of filling stations.

Sustainability weighting in tenders only has a function when there are sustainable alternatives to offer. It is therefore important to listen to the transport industry and create good framework conditions for hauliers who want to invest in climate-friendly fuels. Regardless of which energy source we want to invest in, political wobbling on these issues only creates uncertainty. The Governement should be a supporter of this process, and not spread uncertainty.