di Diego Gavagnin

The new year marks the beginning of six key months for Europe's climate and energy policies, where the role assigned to natural gas will be central. Fundamental because the decision-making process announced by the new European Commission, which in the meantime can count on a widespread consensus of the Parliament, will be crucial, that is, it will lay the foundations on which to build the development of the Old Continent over the next 30 years.

Every productive sector will be affected by it and a policy of three decades seems (barely) sufficient to give back certainty of return on investment. Regardless of the greater or lesser sensitivity to the risks of climate change, the brakes that have slowed down European growth in recent years are evident. There is now a clear objective: climate neutrality by 2050.

Less impactful technologies have a higher cost (illusion that the public incentive would be enough, and it would not be healthy) and a longer-term return; it cannot be done if competitors continue with old technologies. So precise choices that apply to everyone: a new starting line, protected by the announced "carbon border tax" that will prevent "importing" climate-changing gases from other continents.

Then there is the role of public opinion, increasingly attentive and concerned about climate change. Uncertainty in production choices, new attention to consumer behaviour. The case of the collapse of car sales in Germany, which has caused the slowdown of that economy and consequently of ours, according to many people caused by the doubts generated by "dieselgate", is a resounding one.

On the other hand, the positive case, starting from the sensitivity of large distribution companies, which have asked the distributors of their products to use the less impactful transport technologies available. Hence the development of LNG in heavy transport. The need arose, truck manufacturers responded, although they were aware of their higher cost compared to Diesel, which they continue to produce and sell.

Similarly the case of shipowners, particularly cruise shipowners, who have chosen LNG even though they have cheaper but much less efficient alternatives available, such as open-cycle scrubbers, which remove sulphur from the "fumes" but discharge it into the sea. Or the use of gasoil with a sulphur content of 0.5%, even though it is known that it will soon have to fall to 0.1%, as is already the case in large areas of the world: another great uncertainty.

At this point it is necessary to be explicit: thirty years to be free of fossil fuels, where the main theme is not coal, already "condemned", but oil. With a strong determination perhaps we can succeed, but not without its replacement in large areas with methane, gaseous or liquid. Yes, but methane is also fossil. But it can become renewable at lower costs and with greater efficiency than coal and oil.

Methane must be well managed: since it is also climate-altering, it is essential to avoid releases and leaks. Proper exploration, production, pipelines and all other steps up to the final consumer, including the quality of combustion, must be guaranteed. LNG lengthens the chain, increasing the risks, but managed at minus 162 degrees it is much less likely to escape, with double steel jacket and being at ambient pressure.

Gaseous methane and LNG become renewable by mixing them with biomethane and bio LNG, with hydrogen produced from electric renewables and synthetic methane (hydrogen plus CO2 removed from the environment), until completely replaced. In the meantime, electrification will increase and the use of fuels will be reduced. If hydrogen retains a role, methane logistics is the closest that will be needed.

The use of methane does not close, it opens new ways. It requires scientific research and development of new technologies, sectors that we have neglected in the past despite Italy's leading role in this sector. New industrial sectors can be foreshadowed, for example in the field of emission control, with advanced remote sensing and new sensors. For LNG new emphasis on cryogenics and mini liquefaction.

These are the prospects, with Italy which can rightly play a leading role in the next European decision-making process, provided, however, that we do not delay in the anti-historical defence of the oil system, the success and increase in prosperity of which we obviously do not forget. As is often repeated when talking about the future of oil, "the Stone Age is not over for the end of stones": better choices have been made.

For LNG in Italy, which despite the uncertainties mentioned above continues on its path, some successes and heavy regrets. ConferenzaGNL was the first to signal the conquest of Italian supremacy in Europe in heavy land transport and road infrastructure, but we would have much more numbers if only LNG could be available at similar prices in the south of the country.

It is absurd that almost ten years after the first cryogenic natural gas station (Villafalletto, Cuneo, September 2010) Italy, the eighth largest economy in the world, Europe's second largest methane manufacturer, still does not have an LNG supply point on its soil for transport uses. An entire sector with a breath in the air for days for the strikes in France, from where we get almost 100% of LNG.

On 21 December, Costa Crociere's new flagship, powered by LNG, will start sailing from Savona in the Mediterranean Sea, also climbing Civitavecchia and La Spezia. A great success. Too bad that this ship cannot refuel in any Italian port. Reason? There is a lack of rules, on usual procedures for a decade in Northern Europe and with similar activities already carried out by us since 2014.

Costa Smeralda, this is the name in honor of the Sardinian town, next May will also reach Cagliari. But the biggest disappointment of 2019 comes from Sardinia. The island, which has been asking to be methanized for over 60 years, will have at its disposal from next August the first coastal LNG depot not only of Italy, but of all Europe if not the world, in the port of Santa Giusta (Oristano).

For this leadership great investments of private Italian and international entrepreneurs. Not only the depot, but also tankers to supply it. Surprise: Sardinians are no longer interested in methane. There is no other explanation for the impasse on age-old questions of rules, which hold purchases in check. The tankers that would have guaranteed sufficient volumes also for the city networks were hijacked to Malaysia and Brazil.

The parent company, involved in the supply of ships worldwide, guarantees that LNG will still arrive for those who request it (other LNG tankers travel around the Mediterranean and can stop in Sardinia when needed) but this incredible regulatory blockade imposes delays in the island's industrial development and increases costs. Unexpected manna for fast paced competitors.

ConferenzaGNL has spent a great deal in recent years on the "Sardinia LNG hub in the Mediterranean". We are as disappointed as our readers.

In copertina il primo rifornimento di Costa Smeralda lo scorso 18 dicembre a Barcellona, dove dallo scorso aprile effettua rifornimenti di GNL anche la Aida Nova, di stazza simile.