Taxis turn to natural gas
DRIVEN BY BOTH economic and environmental pressures, the use of natural gas in vehicles as an alternative to petrol is picking up dramatically worldwide.
According to NGV Global, there are well over 1 6m natural gas vehicles (NGVs) on the roads. The use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for fleet/commercial vehicles and taxis is proving to be particularly effective and increasingly popular i n developing countries: of the over 20 000 CNG dispensing stations worldwide, 60% are in Brics countries.
While CNG is a fossil fuel, it is a lower-carbon alternative to petrol and can reduce fuel costs by up to 40%, with a 20%-25% reduction in carbon emissions.
In South Africa, the use of CNG is currently being trumpeted as a costeffective and clean way to fuel the country’s estimated 285 000 taxis.
Stephen Rothman, managing director of CNG Holdings, which supplies natural gas to l arge i ndustrial customers as well as the taxi industry, says that CNG represents a “huge opportunity” for the local energy industry.
He notes that i n SA, a litre equivalent of CNG is sold at R9.99 – including VAT, as well as R1.26 for the recovery of the conversion kits.
“We’ve converted and funded 448 taxis so far,” he says. CNG Holdings has created a dedicated fund for taxis, because most owners and drivers cannot afford to fund the R19 000 conversion themselves. To increase awareness and promote the use of CNG, the company has been running an incentive programme for drivers and owners, with cash rewards for those who fill up most frequently.
“Our drivers are making good savings,” says Rothman. “Our top driver used over R18 000 worth of CNG in October, and savings can vary from R600 to R1 500 per week depending on driver habits and routes.”
CNG Holding’s subsidiary NGV Gas l aunched i ts f i rst flagship CNG filling station in Langlaagte, Johannesburg i n March, and Rothman says that a second filling station in Dobsonville, Soweto will be opened in the coming weeks.
The integrated gas company NOVO Energy has three NGV filling stations, with a fourth in the pipeline. Andri Hugo, CEO of NOVO, says that the company currently supplies around 200 taxis, and also has microlending and financing platforms in place to encourage adoption.
He explains that the main barrier for the taxi industry is the conversion cost ( between R1 8 000 and R20 000), but once drivers make the change, they “don’t want to go back”.
Commercial interest is also strong, according to Hugo, with companies l ooking to reduce their carbon footprints as well as reduce costs.
Fleet operators and originalequipment manufacturers such as Tata, Volkswagen South Africa and Mercedes- Benz South Africa are
Taxi cabs in the Chinese city of Chengdu, Sichuan run on natural gas that is stored in a cylinder in the luggage