Home Fleetwatch 2020 Are Natural Gas Vehicles the next frontier

Are Natural Gas Vehicles the next frontier

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Wayne Williams, group sales & marketing manager of CNG Holdings, points out that UPS in America claims up to 40% savings in fuel costs by running their vans on natural gas instead of diesel.

The focus of the world is understandably concentrated on Covid-19 but let’s not forget that there is another global crisis facing us all – global warming and environmental degradation. One of the means by which the world is reducing its impact on the environment is via the use of alternative fuels, one of which is natural gas.

That the South African trucking industry is moving on this was brought home to our readers via a story we recently ran in FleetWatch telling of how Babcock – the sole distributor of DAF Trucks in southern Africa – is tackling carbon emissions and exploring more efficient fuel alternatives by bringing dual fuel CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) powered DAF Trucks to the southern African market.

Mark Gavin, sales director for Babcock’s Transport Solutions business, said natural gas as an alternate fuel source has been a significant topic in South Africa’s automotive industry for years. This is due to the growing necessity to curtail dependency on conventional fossil fuels, the soaring price of diesel and petrol, and the need to reduce harmful CO₂ emissions.

As a follow on to that story, FleetWatch received an information bulletin from CNG Holdings which, through its division NGV Gas has a number of fuelling stations throughout Gauteng. We thought it pertinent as a follow on to the DAF story to give readers a little more insight into natural gas which Wayne Williams, group sales & marketing manager of CNG Holdings, describes as the next frontier in fuel. Here he throws some light on the subject by highlighting various aspects generally not known about this fuel and Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs).

A NGV Gas filling point in Gauteng. Natural gas filling stations have been active since 2014 in South Africa but a recent survey showed that over 72 percent of small to medium-sized fleet owners are unaware that NGV conversions exist in our market.

South African fleets unaware

According to Williams, running a vehicle on Compressed Natural Gas is a novice concept for many South Africans and this despite the fact that Natural Gas filling stations have been active since 2014. But why is this?

A recent survey termed “GLA”, conducted by NGV Gas found that over 72 percent of small to medium-sized fleet owners were unaware that NGV conversions existed in our market. Furthermore, 66 percent of companies participating in the survey indicated that they would switch and save, based on the provision of additional information or case studies.

“Similar to China, India and Argentina in the 1990s, South Africa’s mobility landscape is changing, in a sense, evolving to include other fuel types. Vehicles powered by Compressed Natural Gas will play an important role in the evolution of fuel supply in our market. Taking the outcomes of the GLA into consideration, fleet owners, armed with the right information, will be ready to drive the switch to NGVs post lockdown,” says Williams.

Factors driving the move

He cites a number of factors as driving the move towards natural gas. “Firstly, there has been a continuous increase in natural gas production around the world. This includes the completion of production facilities in Mozambique which has heightened interest in the use of natural gas within Southern Africa,” he says, adding that natural gas is a fuel in abundance.

Enlarging on this he says the United States alone has enough natural gas to last over 92 years. “Worldwide that translates into 6.923 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. Russia holds the biggest reserves in the world. South African industry has been using Natural Gas since the 1950s. Interestingly, fuel supplied by Sasol is produced from coal using Natural Gas. Companies not on the existing Sasol pipeline can make the same savings through a virtual pipeline offered by companies like Virtual Gas Network.”

The second factor relates to environmental changes. “Global carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector have risen to 23 percent of overall emissions and NGVs, with their lower emissions of particulate matter, provide a solution to the increasing threats of air pollution,” says Williams.

Natural gas’s lower carbon content means it burns cleaner than diesel. NGV’s also release fewer greenhouse gases, including 20-30% less carbon dioxide, 70-90% less carbon monoxide, and 89% fewer volatile organic compounds. Running a fleet off CNG gains carbon credits and reduces the maintenance intervals. He gives as an example, the Scania 480HP truck which only needs servicing every 45 000 km.

Isuzu Motors South Africa (IMSAF) has also been evaluating trucks powered by alternative fuels, including natural gas. Isuzu is looking at two types of technologies: a CNG dedicated truck and a dual fuel truck converted to run on natural gas and diesel.

The third factor is Government intervention. “Government policies have driven the deployment of NGVs in several countries. In South Africa NGV Gas, a division of CNG Holdings and in partnership with government institutes, converted public vehicles including mass transit and police fleets some years ago. Fleets which run vehicles off CNG are Metrobus, TRT, Johannesburg City Council, Fidelity Security and Intertoll, run vehicles off CNG. According to Williams, there are currently over 3 000 vehicles, private and public, running on Natural Gas in Gauteng alone.

In South Africa, however, few fleet vehicles are factory fitted with natural gas kits and thus conversion is the name of the game. “There is a conversion cost and if you are buying a natural gas vehicle, it will cost approximately 10-20% more. However, the savings in the long run will far outweigh the initial conversion costs. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such bas Scania and Iveco are pioneering the selling of factory-fitted natural gas kits in new vehicles.”

Williams reckons that in less than 25 years, natural gas vehicles could comprise more than a third of all new vehicles sold in the world.

“Locally, as NGV Gas opens more CNG fuel stations nationally, the popularity will drive an overall increase in demand. There are currently 3 850 CNG fuel stations in Europe alone while locally in Gauteng, the number of CNG fuel stations is doubling every year,” he says.

In terms of variances in pricing, Williams reckons that unlike diesel and petrol, natural gas offers stable pricing. “It remains unaffected by the oil price and general market fluctuations. This key benefit along with the fact that natural gas is a fuel in abundance, will prove to be of incredible value in a time of instability.”

Time will tell but according to Williams, the story will be a good one to tell for natural gas.

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