By Maitane Sardon


Volkswagen AG's (VOW.XE) logistics brand is exploring more sustainable engine technologies and fuels for its overseas cargo ships.

Last Friday, the company launched two car freighters powered by liquefied natural gas from Xiamen, a port city in southern China. The ships, Volkswagen said, are equipped with dual fuel engines that can refuel liquid and gaseous fuels and will replace from January 2020 two oil-powered cargo ships that the group logistics currently uses on the Atlantic between Europe and North America.

The move, Volkswagen said, is part of its goal to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, as engines that are powered by liquefied natural gas can reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by up to 25%. The company said it is planning to introduce more sustainable car freighters over the next few years.

However, some experts said Volkswagen's choice of LNG to power its freighters is not the most sustainable option, as the spark-ignited internal combustion engine will release other greenhouse gases such as methane, a big contributor to climate change. Although carbon-dioxide emissions are the primary driver of climate change, methane is about 25 times more potent than CO2 in trapping the earth's heat, according to estimates used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Switching to liquefied natural gas is a step in the wrong direction" said Faig Abbasov, shipping manager at Transport & Environment, a research and advocacy group.

Mr. Abbasov said a better option would have been the use of clean marine diesel as a short term solution before completely switching to ammonia, a carbon-free fuel that has a lower combustion temperature and only emits nitrogen and water. He added, however, that alternative fuels like clean marine diesel or ammonia are more expensive than liquefied natural gas.

Volkswagen said its choice of natural gas is an intermediate step in its goal to reduce its environmental impact. "Volkswagen is aware that this is not the last step. We want to be prepared when environmentally better fuels, like fuels with lower emissions than LNG or conventional marine diesel, are available," said a Volkswagen spokesperson, adding that ammonia was not the subject of the investigations in the project, which started more than two years ago.


Write to Maitane Sardon at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 21, 2019 06:12 ET (11:12 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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