1.6 million cars run on CNG

Oct 01 - 07, 2007

In Pakistan, there are presently four kinds of fuels being used for the motorized vehicles, which are petrol, diesel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). The bio-fuel that is the most economical and significantly eco-friendly mode of transporting a vehicle seems to be neglected as a non-profitable option. It may be because of the opportunity cost. The foreign investment is pouring in the CNG sector after all. Noteworthy is the development in our neighboring country, India, where farm produce is alternatively used for running the motor vehicles. In comparison to LPG, CNG is considered more environment-friendly fuel for vehicular transportation. Unlike LPG, it contains less quantity of sulfur, which is detrimental to the ozone layer as well as for human health. Many other reasons are being highlighted to promote the usage of CNG in motor vehicles. It might not be wrong, but, as per business ethics getting advantage through mudslinging at competitors is not tactfully fair. Secondly, to map out a CNG-run-vehicle ambience congruent developments at infrastructure front are the wishful thinking of the top-notch policy influencers of the industry.

According to an estimate, there are now more than 5 million motorized vehicles on roads. A survey indicates the size of this automated fleet is increasing at a rate of about 5 per cent per annum. The production of car and motorcycle has grown over 50 per cent and 100 per cent, respectively. The trucks, buses, tractors and the light commercial vehicles (LCV) sector are having unprecedented growth.

According to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Pakistan stands the second largest CNG user country in the world. The number of CNG-run cars have exceeded to 1.6 million throughout the country. The number of CNG pumps has increased to 17000, while around 200 CNG pumps are being established. Brazil, the second largest user of natural gas, has 1.42 million CNG-run vehicles. The third largest user, Argentine, has 1.35 million consumers. Private owners run around 70 percent of CNG filling stations while 30 percent are run by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs). PSO holds the maximum figures. Initiatives are underway to convert diesel-run buses to CNG-run buses. It would save around $3 million foreign reserve in lieu of oil imports. Government has allocated Rs. 5 billion to buy 8000 CNG buses for Karachi only.

The government would extend interest free loans for the purchase of buses and mini buses. In this regard, provincial government has been asked to take steps for setting up big CNG stations. The local companies would also be encouraged for manufacturing CNG products besides transfer technology projects would be launched with assistance of foreign companies. Foreign companies are also being persuaded to set up plant in Pakistan.

Talking to PAGE, Abdul Sami Khan, Chairman Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, opined that conversion of Diesel-run buses to CNG is neither a viable strategy nor possible within the present circumstances. He said, since there are flaws in planning in relation to gas supply infrastructure development and low differential prices between diesel and CNG, this may become an infeasible venture. In a lighter mood, he said, in Punjab inlets pressure of about 15 PSI is being provided to vehicles while in Karachi it is only 8-10 PSI. With this modicum of pressure, he sarcastically added, how long it would take to refuel CNG in HTV, which requires approximately 50 PSI, is comfortably imaginable. Equipments that are used in converting Diesel-run buses to CNG such as compressors, etc. are not easily available. Above and all that, spacious locations are highly needed for accommodating and refueling large buses, he commented informing, though government has allocated few plots for building such stations in Karachi. Even then, the gas supply to these stations would become an uphill task.

There are around eight hundreds illegal LPG supplying outlets being operated in Karachi contrary to the safety laws, he said. They are also damaging the environmental conditions by putting sulfur infested gas in the vehicles that end up emitting green house gases.

If the LPG were hazardous human beings would not have survived in northern areas, replying to a question asked by PAGE, Chairman LPG Distributors Welfare Association, Hadi Khan said, because LPG is a common household item in northern areas where usually gas is not supplied through pipelines. While illustrating the demand and supply mechanism of LPG, he briefed that LPG has 16,500 tons nationwide production per day besides import, which was about 7,000 tons in last month. Artificial shortages are being created in the market as soon as winter approaches. Further more. The recent price hike enlisted LPG among 33 items of Sensitive Price Index and raised inflation.

There are around 800~1100 illegal LPG retailers in Karachi while number of registered distributors supplying LPG is, amazingly, 1100. There are 4,500 distributors across the nation. Apparently justifying the sale of LPG through illegal outlets, he feared, if government iron-handedly bans illegal operations of LPG selling the business might become an in-house trade. Tricky situation would be to eradicate the menace from residential areas. However, he suggested, government should ban the illegal trade of substandard LPG cylinder along with provide alternative ways of earning money to LPG retailers. Every now and then, he said LPGDWA has convinced government to set up formal LPG filling stations. The advices are not being heard as the other party is clamorous and powerful enough to block our voice, he lamented indicating pro CNG group.

He accepted that there might be few safety precautions attached to LPG usage but black propaganda has tarnished the image in public and misinformed the masses. He assured that a cylinder, which is re-inspected by SSGC-licensed third party, can never be blasted. There are only 8~10 licensed cylinder manufacturers nation over while 62 companies are supplying cylinder and LPG.

In a positive step to provide alternative way of earning money instead of imposing inhuman laws, CDGK vowed to give financial assistance to the owners of rickshaws in order to dissuade them using two stroke rickshaws.

To provide a level playing field to all economic segments on long term basis, a research and development centers for monitoring the affects and performances of energy sector across the board should be encouraged to come up front. The commercial application of CNG technology now forms an important element of government's petroleum policy. It is fine; however, exploration process should not remain stagnant at one point. After all, we have to dig out the other options to fulfill prospective energy needs of the nation. Sticking to an option and neglecting others is tantamount to losing choices, which are necessary to build free economy- laissez-faire.