AutoGas, which, in South Africa, is usually liquid petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) or methane obtained from biomass, is being punted as a viable and affordable alternative fuel for petrol and diesel vehicles in an industry that is slowly transforming towards electrification. Using gas as a fuel source also has the benefit of making substantial reductions in harmful exhaust emissions – a reduction of as much as 25%.
This message came through clearly at the recent Automechanika online seminar “Powered by Gas: Why AutoGas is a viable alternative energy source,” which was presented with the full support of the RMI and in association with Absa. This seminar was part of an ongoing programme of seminars relevant to the upcoming Automechanika Johannesburg trade fair for the automotive aftermarket, which will be held at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, Nasrec, from June 7-10.
Speakers at the local online seminar were Eddie Cooke, an industrial gas consultant, Attie Serfontein, National Director of the Automotive Remanufacturing Association (ARA), Frank MacNicol, ARA Chairman, and Justin Schmidt, Head of New Sector Development at Absa.
Eddie Cooke, who participates in international AutoGas projects and works with the South African Bureau of Standards on this subject, says the country is well positioned to use gas as a vehicle fuel because the relevant regulations are already in place, while both LPG and CNG are readily available locally.
“Contrary to what some people may think, gas as a fuel is safe because the fuel tanks are 20 times stronger than those used for petrol or diesel fuel, while safety valves cut off the gas flow in the case of a collision,” explained Cooke.
Cooke said that there was five times more gas than oil in the world and a greater number of countries had gas than oil, so it was not only a fuel source available globally, but it is also considerably less expensive than petrol or diesel fuel – as much as 50% cheaper in terms of petrol and 30% less expensive for diesels. This is a major consideration in these times of rocketing liquid fuel prices.
“Although there are very few vehicles available in South Africa that are sold as standard to use LPG or CNG as a fuel the conversion of petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles can be undertaken nationwide,” said Cooke.
Frank MacNicol, whose ARA organisation has been involved with gas conversions for many years, said there is growing interest in this business, and they are becoming more affordable with light vehicle conversions costing less than R20 000 and heavy truck conversions costing between R200 000-R250 000 for those with engines of 350 horsepower or more. He added that these costs can be amortised in a comparatively brief period, particularly if the vehicles are well utilised.
Attie Serfontein said that costs would be even lower if the major conversion components were made locally instead of having to be imported. He added that engines running on gas were also cleaner as there was no oil contamination and service intervals can be extended significantly. A gas conversion industry will provide additional employment as well as upskilling opportunities in the local motor industry.
“Gas conversions on existing internal combustion engines (ICE) will also extend the lives of present-day service and maintenance workshops and the people who work in them,” said MacNicol. “Vehicles with gas conversions also escape the ban on driving ICE vehicles in congested areas and operating in certain countries after cut-off dates,” added MacNicol.
It was revealed during the informative online seminar that there are currently 27 million gas-powered vehicles in the world at present, with some countries having as many as 50% of the vehicles on their roads powered by gas.
LPG was used as a vehicle fuel for the first time in Germany in 1930 but since then the United States has been responsible for many of the latest developments and technologies that make this fuel even more efficient.
Few people realise that the Metrobus service in Johannesburg has more than 140 dual fuel buses in its fleet that use a combination of CNG and diesel fuel. Nigeria is a country looking seriously at using gas on more of the vehicles operating on its roads and is is initially targeting the conversion of more than two million of these vehicles.
“Now it is to be seen whether South Africa will also accelerate its move in this direction, but the time is certainly ripe with a roll out in the Western Cape shortly,” concluded MacNicol.