Veolia and Volvo Trucks on the road to becoming carbon neutral

Posted on 04 March 2021.

Since December 2019, the two groups have been working together on an innovative solution to heat the truck manufacturer's facilities in Belgium. The idea? Exploit the potential of biopropane to create CO2-neutral heat production.

New to the European market, biopropane emits less than 60g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour over its entire life cycle.

35% down. The record decrease recorded by Belgium between 1990 and 2017 for CO2 emissions produced by its industrial sector, according to the official federal website Climat.be. And that’s despite the increase in heat production in the sector. More heat, less CO2: the major industry players have been stepping up the pace of replacing coal with gaseous, non-polluting fuels for several years now. Among them is Volvo Trucks.

The truck manufacturer was looking for a carbon-neutral solution to heat its facilities in Ghent. The challenge was a daunting one in view of the fact that the manufacturer's installations require 15 GWh of heat annually – that’s 15 million kilowatt hours. But it’s a challenge Volvo Trucks took up in association with Veolia, which offers an ambitious solution: biopropane.

This new natural gas, which has only recently been introduced on the European market, emits less than 60 g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour over its entire life cycle, according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe). On average, it represents a reduction in carbon emissions of almost 80%. The secret? Biopropane is made from recycled waste (cooking oils and animal fats, in particular) and vegetable oils such as rapeseed. As these plants grow, they absorb CO2. Biopropane is therefore a renewable, 100% carbon neutral gas.

Challenges ahead

Although Veolia and Volvo Trucks teams were quickly onboard, biopropane does however present a number of challenges. In the Low Countries, a major network has been built over the years to supply industry, offices and homes with natural gas. The equivalent for biopropane does not yet exist.

That's why a tank with a capacity of more than 29 metric tons of biopropane has been built at the Volvo Trucks site to ensure a continuous supply of biopropane for the central heating plant, which heats all the offices, factories and workshops.
Another challenge for both partners is adapting all the existing facilities to the new natural gas. Gradually, the teams have redesigned the boilers and altered the burners for use with biopropane. In short, the Volvo Trucks site in Ghent is now an industrial circular economy pioneer. It will be one of the few sites in Europe to heat with 100% carbon-neutral gas.