Workers put up new Natural Gas signage at natural gas pump installed at an Abu Dhabi Adnoc station behind the Regency Hotel. Delores Johnson / The National
Last Updated: September 11. 2010 12:48PM UAE / September 11. 2010 8:48AM GMT
Abu Dhabi exports buses that run on natural gas, but it does not have any on its streets.
To the chagrin of vehicle-fleet operators in the capital, as well as some owners of private cars, an eight-year-old Government plan to introduce compressed natural gas (CNG) at fuel stations has made only slow progress with still much work to be done to ensure this cleaner, greener, cheaper form of fuel is as easily available as gasoline.
Not to be confused with LPG, or liquid petroleum gas, CNG is a mixture of the natural gas components propane and butane, which are easily liquefied under pressure at room temperature. The mixture is often sold in cylinders to fuel domestic appliances such as cookers. CNG is essentially compressed methane and is cleaner burning than either LPG or petrol.
One of the reasons for the delay in a wider roll-out of CNG filling stations is that Abu Dhabi’s supply of gas for fuelling power and industrial plants has lagged asdemand has risen while development of new sources has been delayed. Despite sitting on the world’s seventh largest gas reserves, both the emirate and the UAE are net gas importers.
“Abu Dhabi’s limited capacity to extract natural gas is the greatest short-term obstacle to deploying CNG infrastructure and vehicles,” Samuel Lissner and Peter Rose, researchers at the New York University Centre for Global Affairs, wrote in a transportation study they presented this spring. “To this point, only one pilot has commenced, which deployed 35 CNG vehicles.”
But in May there was positive progress towards making CNG more widely available, when Angela Merkel became the first German chancellor to visit the UAE capital. To commemorate the occasion, Dr Merkel inaugurated a CNG filling station on the outskirts of the future Masdar City, the Government’s flagship clean energy project. The CNG facility was built using equipment supplied by the German manufacturer Bauer Kompressoren.
“Bauer Kompressoren is successfully building a network of gas filling stations in Abu Dhabi,” the Munich-based group announced. The Masdar City facility is Abu Dhabi’s first productive CNG filling station and Bauer Kompressoren has plans to open more in the emirate.
“Before the opening, Bauer Kompressoren and Abu Dhabi’s state gas company Gasco [Abu Dhabi Gas Industries] signed a contract on the delivery of 12 further plants,” it added. “The project ... is a high priority for the government of Abu Dhabi.”
This may be a sign that the Government and the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) are finally getting serious about the CNG initiative.
“I have noted expansion activities at many Adnoc filling stations in recent months,” said Graeme O’Neale, the workshop manager at Action, a UAE industrial equipment rental and services company that owns a number of vans and lorries to support its business. “What they have done is extended the roof over the forecourt and added additional pumps. ... After stopping at the Samha filling station, I noted that the hoarding has been removed from the extensions, and CNG pumps bearing NGV livery are the newest additions.”
Action’s vehicles currently run on petrol and diesel. But O’Neale said the firm wanted to “be at the forefront of any advances” in fuel technology, partly to help the environment.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurates a natural gas filling station of the German company Bauer in Masdar City in May. Rainer Jensen / EPA
NGV stands for “natural gas vehicle”, which is what Mr O’Neale would like in Action’s fleet.
“It appears as if we are finally moving in the right direction. The only issue is how prospective end-users such as ourselves go about acquiring vehicles already adapted to run on CNG or converting existing vehicles,” he said.
Mohammed al Jarman, the director general of the UAE Government-owned school bus operator Emirates Transport (ET), said ET was already operating three vehicle-conversion centres that Adnoc Distribution had established earlier. These are centres where vehicles can be converted to use CNG but the ir popularity will depend on the availability of the fuel.
Adnoc Distribution and Gasco are sister companies, as both are units of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). Adnoc Distribution runs the more than 150 Adnoc-branded service stations in Abu Dhabi and some other emirates.
ET said recently that it would start operating an “advanced” vehicle-conversion centre by the middle of this month.
This is all promising news. But Adnoc has not revised its now outdated timeline for the CNG project, and repeated calls to Adnoc Distribution went unanswered.
However, Adnoc “has put into consideration the decision expected to be issued by Abu Dhabi compelling all concerned authorities to convert a percentage of their fleet and the contracting companies to run on CNG by January 1, 2010”, the company said in an article published in the May issue of ADNOC News, its in-house magazine.
The article said Adnoc had “taken the lead” by converting 50 taxis and utility company fleet vehicles to run on CNG, and that the Khalifa City CNG station was the “first leg” of the company’s wider initiative to fuel vehicles with natural gas.
“Adnoc’s initiative to use natural gas as alternative fuel of vehicles comes in implementation of the instructions of our wise leadership to intensify and promote efforts aiming at prevention of environmental pollution and protection of natural resources and to strengthen strategic partnership with Germany,” Adnoc News quoted Yousef Omair bin Yousef, the CEO of Adnoc, as saying.
Without specifying a target date for the pumps to be in service, bin Yousef said Adnoc would install another 16 CNG refuelling stations “in strategic areas in Abu Dhabi”, to be followed by 12 more in Habshan, Asab and Al Ain.
But with only one CNG filling station operating in the country so far – an earlier one built for the pilot project is out of service – it is doubtful that the conversion centres are about to be overwhelmed with clients. And an Adnoc service station worker questioned by O’Neale guessed the new pumps already built might be in service “sometime next year”.
“My father has been working on this project with the UAE government for more than a year now and finally they have managed to test their first car,” Imran, 19, wrote last month on the PakWheels.com discussion board. He also posted a photo of the test vehicle with a large white gas cylinder clamped inside its boot.
“Conversion of fleet vehicles, including the taxis, utility company fleets, Adnoc’s own vehicles, [and] armed forces and police vehicles will be Adnoc’s first priority,” Imran added.
Members of the public who have been waiting for word on when their neighbourhood filling stations will make CNG available will have to wait a little longer. Missing from the Adnoc Distribution web site is any mention of CNG, although there are detailed descriptions of the oil-change and car-wash services available at Adnoc service stations, as well as the Oasis convenience stores to be found there.
“The company’s management pays particular attention to these stations in order to provide the best products and services to customers throughout the UAE,” says the Adnoc subsidiary. “At these service stations, multiple services are offered, including a wide range of petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, lubricating oil, LPG and more.”
‘That is the main rationale for using it to power vehicles. The exhaust pipes of CNG-fuelled vehicles emit smaller amounts of a spectrum of noxious pollutant than equivalent models run on petrol or diesel, as well as venting less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The toxic and irritating emissions that are minimised include carbon monoxide, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen – the latter responsible for the brown haze of photochemical smog – certain cancer-causing chemicals and particulate matter.
In countries where fuels tend to be taxed rather than subsidised, CNG is also usually cheaper than petrol, reflecting the persistent price discount for gas relative to oil on international markets.
In the UAE, as in most developing countries, fuels are subsidised. Therefore, Adnoc plans to offer CNG at 25 per cent discount to petrol, as well as offering to refit vehicles to run on the fuel for a nominal fee. It was hoped that would encourage private vehicle owners to use CNG, despite the considerable disadvantages of needing to fill up more frequently at a narrower choice of locations, the significantly longer time required for refuelling and having a large gas tank take up luggage space.
The more generous subsidy promised for CNG would especially make a difference to businesses owning vehicle fleets, such as Action.
“We are continually looking towards improving efficiencies and streamlining costs,” said O’Neale.
But the workshop manager said he might even be willing to pay more for CNG than petrol if it helped the environment.
Hafilat Industries, which assembles buses to European quality standards at its 15,000 square metre factory in Mussafah, has been hoping to sell its products in the UAE. Two years ago, it shipped an initial batch of gas-fuelled buses to Australia.
“At Hafilat, our vision is to produce world-class products locally. This benefits local operators in having a high-class facility at their doorstep to back up the product in service – a most important factor in bus operating,” Robert McCulloch, the company’s general manager said last year.
In the past two years, however, Abu Dhabi has purchased hundreds of diesel-fueled buses from Germany’s MAN Nutzfahrzeuge.
The emirate’s state-owned International Petroleum Investment Company last year bought a 70 per cent stake in the affiliated German manufacturing and engineering company MAN Ferrostaal.
From The National Newspaper
Text for image 1: Workers put up new Natural Gas signage at natural gas pump installed at an Abu Dhabi Adnoc station behind the Regency Hotel. Delores Johnson / The National