Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Running on natural gas?

The recent hikes in fuel prices have been changing the way people run their cars, reports Nesma Nowar


Car owners are reverting to natural gas as a cheap source of fuel
Car owners are reverting to natural gas as a cheap source of fuel

More and more people in Egypt are converting their vehicles to run on natural gas instead of petrol.

The reason is obvious: the recent hikes in fuel prices that have prompted many people already struggling with the skyrocketing cost of living to reduce their petrol consumption or even to abandon their cars.

As part of the country’s ongoing economic reform programme, the government has cut fuel subsides three times in the last three years, two of them in the last eight months alone.

On 29 June, fuel prices were hiked by up to 50 per cent. The price of 92-octane fuel, the most commonly consumed, increased by more than 40 per cent to LE5 from LE3.5 per litre.  

“I can’t manage with such increases. Converting my car to run on natural gas will save me more than LE1,000 a month,” said 40-year-old employee Ahmed Salem.

Replacing petrol with natural gas in vehicles could be a cheaper option for many people, as one litre of natural gas costs LE2, compared to LE5 for petrol.

Many people have chosen this option, with Chairman of the Egyptian International Gas Technology Company (GASTEC) Hisham Radwan saying that interest at the company’s conversion stations had increased by a whopping 250 per cent.  

He said in press statements that the daily rate of cars converting to natural gas had jumped to 35, up from just 10 before the government’s recent decision to hike fuel prices.

It takes four hours to convert a car from petrol to natural gas, Radwan said, adding that the process mainly involved installing parts in the vehicle’s engine and a gas tank in its boot.

Although the process is easy and conversion to natural gas seems to be a convenient alternative to petrol, cost could be a problem as it costs from LE5,000 to LE11,000 to convert a car depending on type and gas cylinder.

However, GASTEC and another conversion company Car Gas are offering instalment payment schemes of up to six months with zero per cent interest.

But converting a car to natural gas has drawbacks, including the fact that the gas cylinder takes up a lot of space in the car’s boot.

Mahmoud Tawfik, a Cairo driver who has recently replaced petrol with natural gas to fuel his car, said that he can now use only a quarter of the space in the car’s boot, meaning that he has much less room for bags.

“There’s also a difference in the engine. It’s not as smooth as it used to be, especially on starting,” Tawfik said.

However, he said the disadvantages of natural gas were not significant enough to make him change his mind. “You have to weigh up the options. I decided to save LE1,500 per month and disregard any inconvenience as long as it was not going to damage my car,” Tawfik told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Other people have been demotivated by the small number of natural gas stations in Egypt.

One employee at one of the conversion stations in Cairo said there were four companies, two public and two private, fuelling cars with natural gas and a total of 120 stations across Egypt.

He said there had been an increased demand for conversion at his station after the recent fuel price hike. The employee said that a car owner would need his ID, driving licence, and a recent electricity bill in order to carry out the conversion should he pay in cash.

If he pays by instalments, the owner would need a guarantor who should also present his ID.

The number of natural gas vehicles in Egypt stands at around 220,000 since the Ministry of Petroleum started its programme to convert cars to natural gas in 1996.

The industry started in Egypt in 1985 as a pilot project in one of petroleum sector’s affiliated companies, and then the ministry founded the two affiliated companies of Car Gas and GASTEC to establish fuel stations and convert vehicles to run on natural gas.

The ministry opened the way for private-sector companies to take part, and Shell/Gas Express, Master Gas, Arabia Gas and TOTAL Egypt have joined the companies working in the sector.

Egypt is a pioneer in terms of cars running on natural gas, and the total amount of gas sales in the country amounted to 6.171 billion m3 by the end of March this year, according to figures from GASTEC.

Internationally speaking, many countries are promoting the use of natural gas for transportation as well as for developing technologies, also using it to fuel trains, taxis, boats, and barges.

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