How Aecom is helping to build Europe’s expanding network of LNG fuelling facilities
04 August 2023
Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuelling stations is set to grow rapidly across Europe over the next decade.
Volvo Trucks estimated in 2022 that there will be 750 stations across Europe by 2025, up from around 400 last year. That number could grow significantly higher, to over 2,000 in 2030. Other countries like China and India are also looking at expanding their networks.
The surge in the construction of more LNG fuelling stations is being driven largely by sustainability considerations.
LNG offers a significant reduction in CO2 emissions over diesel fuels and suits long-haul transport, for which electrically driven trucks still lack the range. That’s particularly the case for trucks running on bio LNG, which is created from organic matter such as food or animal waste during anaerobic digestion (AD) to produce methane-rich biogas.
Up until now, the strongest construction growth in LNG stations has been in Germany, where thanks in part to government incentives there are now over 70 stations, compared to three in 2018, according to Volvo, although growth there has now slowed.
‘Growing construction demand’
One company involved in the construction fuelling stations capable of delivering both LNG and Bio LNG is Aecom, which is working in partnership with client Shell.
Henry Penders is program manager low emission fuels for Aecom in the Netherlands and oversees construction of LNG fuelling stations in the Benelux countries as well supporting Aecom’s team in northern France.
“Big logistics companies need to look into having a mixture of fuelling solutions as there’s no clear step ahead,” he says.
“The current hydrogen market is still not that mature. So we see a growing demand for LNG in the coming years. The energy crisis did have an effect on the cost of LNG. But those prices are coming down again and there is still a demand to reduce carbon dioxide, so the market is still growing.”
In the Netherlands, Penders expects bio LNG to make up 100% of the supply by the end of 2025, once production has been ramped up high enough.
But whether it is LNG or bio LNG, the process for building fuelling stations is the same.
The timeline for building a station itself is relatively short, at only 10-12 weeks, including the civils works which can involve piling, depending on the site a station sits on, Penders says.
But before work can begin, Aecom has a lot of work to do in terms of meeting all of the different rules and regulations of the market it is operating in.
“The French market has specific regulations on fire protection and that has an impact on costs. So during design, we’re constantly seeing what we can do to fully commit to standards that the client has and the local standards,” he says.
“Shell has a global framework agreement with a vendor of these installations, and we use these standard installations to see if we can fit it into a specific location.
“The big thing is checking risk circles. Because it’s an LNG installation there is a volume of natural gas on site and in line with local guidelines we need to check several scenarios. For instance, we need to look at whether vulnerable sites/objects and make sure that aren’t situated in a specified area around the station.
“We also need to take into account the total cost of ownership. We can do all kinds of mitigations to reduce that area, such as building big firewalls or explosion walls but that has an impact on total cost. So we try to keep the site as standard as possible also to be sure that the site is safe to operate.”
Aecom handles the design, tendering and procurement, and while it works with certain approved vendors for the equipment that makes up the station, it will usually tender for civils work among local contractors.
Installations normally consist of a larger LNG tank and a smaller liquid nitrogen (LIN) tank which is used to keep the LNG tank at the correct pressure and temperature of -155C.
The LNG tanks are usually white to reduce the heat impact, although under some circumstances, in response to local planning requirements, they can end up being a grey colour.
The double-walled, vacuum-insulated LNG tanks are stored above ground and configured either horizontally or vertically.
While the construction of LNG fuelling stations themselves is relatively rapid and allows for repeatable designs, the challenge frequently comes before construction has started, Penders says.
Often, obtaining building permits for such facilities can end up being a laborious process, at least in the Benelux countries. Competitors concerned about a new facility being placed too near to their own station can also raise objections. Penders gives the example of one LNG station, now under construction, that took three years to obtain a permit.
But in other countries, like France, there are different challenges. There, the fuelling stations generally sit on motorways and can be in remote locations. That means there’s less of a problem with objections to the scheme but in some cases, Aecom has to build in extra technology to make the site operable.
For example, at a recently built site in Bonneville, in France, which sits in the mountains, Aecom had to specify Starlink technology to connect all the systems to the internet.
“Those installations are monitored remotely 24/7. We have CCTV, gas detections, temperature detections - there’s all kinds of safeguards in there. So you need to make sure there is a solid internet connection,” Penders says.
Electrically powered machinery for future construction
Penders notes that one thing set to change in the future, in the Netherlands at least, is that there is likely to be a requirement to build using only electrically powered construction machinery.
“We have already started to build a new petrol station in the Netherlands where 90% of all activities will be fully electric, including machines like excavators and transport. That’s something that’s going to be changing, at least for the Dutch market.
“So we really need to look into alternative ways of building, including checking what can we prefabricate, bring to site and install,” he says.
And talking about his work, he adds, “I have a 12-year-old daughter and it feels good to say that I am working in the energy transition and trying to improve the world a bit.”