Keolis, a pioneer in the operation of intercity lines running on bioNGV

In Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the intercity buses operating on the region's most emblematic line run on bioNGV (Natural Gas for Vehicles). This is a first for the region and for Keolis Drôme Ardèche, the first Keolis Group subsidiary to introduce this low-carbon form of motorisation on an intercity line.

Supporting the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region on the path to clean energy

Since June 2020, Keolis Drôme Ardèche has been replacing the diesel coaches on the region's most important line (X73) with NGV coaches, 50% of which are fuelled with bioNGV (gas from renewable sources). This sustainable form of motorisation was identified by Keolis and the PTA as the most appropriate solution for meeting the requirements of the local region, during the call for tenders launched at the end of the network's operation and maintenance contract. "New energies were a major topic in the local region's specifications," recalls Saïd Darraz, technical advisor, Keolis Dauphine Savoie Sector. "Line X73 is symbolic, with 300,000 passengers and 1.3 million kilometres travelled each year. It is also the longest line in the network, because it covers 80 km to serve the Aubenas-Privas-Valence-Valence TGV hub with daily coach services of 280 km on average. Electric vehicles were unable to meet these operational requirements in terms of range, which is why we turned to NGV, which offers between 500 and 600 km of range."

Fewer polluting emissions and less noise pollution

NGV is a real alternative to petrol-based products as it leads to a drastic reduction of CO2, particulate matter and NOx (nitrogen oxides). And with bioNGV, the environmental footprint of the fuel is even smaller, because it is a gas that is produced and consumed locally, from organic waste (household waste, agricultural products or residues from the food industry). NGV vehicles are cleaner, quieter and have a greater range than electric vehicles. All these benefits will help Keolis and the public transport authorities meet their energy transition objectives, while providing greater comfort for passengers.

Using our own refuelling stations to guarantee continuity of service

Ensuring energy availability, and therefore continuity of service, is essential for Keolis. This is why, after studying the public stations likely to emerge in the local community, the subsidiary decided to invest in two fast-charging stations for refuelling with bioNGV located near its depots and the railheads of the termini.  "Having our own stations means that we are not dependent on public stations for energy supplies and therefore do not disrupt the operation and continuity of service of our lines," explains Saïd Darraz. "The other advantage is the scalability of our stations, which will allow us to meet our future needs after the other coaches have been converted."

Accompanying the change to ensure peace of mind for drivers

Switching from a diesel engine to a bioNGV engine is no easy task. The installations, depots and workshops have to be made compliant, strict safety standards need to be respected, and accreditation must be obtained. Maintenance and operating personnel need to be trained as well. All these measures are taken by the subsidiary to prevent all risks and to reassure employees, especially drivers, who are the first to be affected by this change. "We train them to use the on-board screens of the various safety sensors that alert them to gas leaks," says Saïd Darraz. "We also train them in handling these new vehicles, which may very well provide greater comfort and driving flexibility than conventional engines, but require them to change certain habits. Our goal is for them to be able to drive in complete safety and peace of mind."

Learning from this initial experience

Eighteen months after the launch of the 14 coaches fuelled by bioNGV, the outcome is positive, not just for the employees but also for the passengers and the local authority. This achievement is all the more remarkable for Keolis Drôme Ardèche, which pioneered the transition in the wake of the great lockdown of 2020. For Saïd Darraz, the success of a project of this magnitude depends on several factors: close collaboration between different in-house teams, the support of an industrial supplier with expertise in the field of refuelling stations, and work carried out well in advance of entry into service to take all operational and regulatory constraints into account. "Each department has its own contribution to make: the studies and operating methods department to determine the scope and cost of our requirements, the Keolis Group fleet purchasing department to identify the type of vehicles and the supplier, the HSE department for training, management control to ensure that our investment choices are consistent with local authorities' objectives, the marketing department to raise passenger awareness, and finally, the technical department to study daily energy consumption, operating costs and investments."

"Keolis New Energies Tour"

To support its public transport authority customers in their energy transition policy and inform them about the different options available, Keolis organises tours in a number of French cities. The aim is to encourage them to adopt a new generation of vehicles that run solely on low-carbon energy (bioNGV, electric, hydrogen, etc.).

Keolis' alternative energy experts share their knowledge and their vision of the different alternative energies and existing rolling stock with elected officials of the local authorities. They then discuss ways of achieving more sustainable mobility, while offering specific solutions for the operational deployment of vehicles fueled by alternative energy.

Two "Keolis New Energies Tours" have already taken place, in 2019 and at the end of 2021, leading to the introduction of cleaner vehicle fleets, as in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Key figures: Keolis Drôme Ardèche

  • 14
    NGV coaches, 50% powered by bioNGV
  • 1 journey
    on the X73 line emits about 3 times less CO2 than the same journey in a diesel-powered vehicle
  • 2 refuelling stations
    in the Keolis Drôme Ardèche depots in Portes Les Valence and Privas