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Autogas to the rescue

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EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper By Wole Olaoye

My heart bleeds each time I encounter long petrol queues which have become a permanent fixture of city landscapes in Nigeria. Petrol scarcity has become so endemic that we are no longer embarrassed by the scandalous petrol queues. All over the country, lives have been lost, millions of man-hours wasted and citizens’ health negatively impacted — all because we have mismanaged the liquid gold flowing in the bowels of our land.

The story of how our petroleum sector has become the most audacious crime scene where invisible ships routinely ‘sneak’ in undetected to load millions of barrels of stolen crude oil will be told someday. So will the other tale about how all Nigerian refineries conveniently stopped working for over one decade to enable the country import refined petroleum products at prices that pick the pocket of helpless motorists.

The situation wouldn’t have been this bad if the government had lived up to its promise to provide an alternative to petrol as automotive fuel. In December 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that an autogas policy in the works would ensure that vehicles on Nigeria’s roads run on either Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). By now, analysts expected that at least two million out of the 12 million vehicles on Nigerian roads would be running on either autogas or electro-batteries to reduce the demand for petrol. That dream is still a dream.

During the virtual launch of the Autogas Initiative on the back of the National Gas Expansion Programme, a much-trumpeted Decade of Gas policy and 203 trillion cubic feet of gas resources, President Buhari had projected that nothing less than 40 per cent vehicles plying Nigerian roads would run on compressed natural gas. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, had also disclosed that the Federal Government’s plan was to provide autogas that would cost between N95 to N97 per litre.

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An investigation carried out by The Guardian newspaper revealed that Inadequate infrastructure, high cost of gas, lack of proper planning, prevailing harsh economic realities and safety concerns continued to frustrate the president’s autogas plan.

The initial projection was that motorists would pay about N250,000 to convert their vehicles from petrol to gas. With the way the Naira has been dancing yo-yo in recent times, that estimate must have doubled by now, making the scheme farther from the grasp of motorists desirous of seeking alternatives to petrol.

In some other countries, whenever a massive scheme with serious implications for the environment is contemplated, the government weighs in with incentives, including tax waivers to enable the average citizen to take advantage of the new scheme. But in Nigeria’s case, the various units of government seem to be working in silos. There isn’t a central coordinating unit to harmonise activities and ensure that timelines are respected. The result is that investors are disillusioned. The N250 billion set aside by the federal government for willing investors in autogas assembly plants to ensure that autogas conversion of vehicles was accelerated, has been rendered insignificant by the passage of time. The funds would barely convert 100,000 vehicles to autogas at today’s market rates.

Marketers complain that because of the typically Nigerian way of doing things, the business is becoming too risky to venture into. Little wonder, there are only two CNG-compliant stations in the entire Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Why tie down money while government daydreams?

Apart from solving a problem in the transportation sector, the use of autogas is also more environmentally friendly. Petrol can enter the environment both as liquid and as vapour, from leakage and handling during production, transport, and delivery (e.g., from storage tanks, from spills, etc.) even without being ignited. Petrol contains known carcinogens. One litre of petrol emits about 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, contributing to human-caused climate change.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is made by refining petroleum that can also be defined as “wet” natural gas.

Many countries use it to cook their food and heat homes. Perhaps the most common use of it is as motor fuel. LPG costs about half the price of petrol but LPG cars need more fuel to go the same distance as petrol vehicles. While LPG still releases greenhouse gases that have negative environmental consequences, cars that use LPG generate less carbon-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions than petrol and diesel cars. Experts assert that LPG produces 90 per cent less carbon monoxide and 50 per cent less smog than natural gas. It also evaporates on its own, eliminating environmental risks if there are spillages, just as it doesn’t cause any black smoke from the exhaust.

Every year, 3.7 million deaths are attributable to ambient air pollution. There are 1600 cities worldwide reporting high air pollution levels in a global environment with 76,00 Refuelling Stations.

Most petrol cars can be fitted with an LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) conversion, turning them into ‘dual-fuel cars’ that can run on LPG as well as petrol.

Imagine a large-scale use of autogas on Lagos roads! The perpetual smoke in the atmosphere will disappear and commuters will breathe in cleaner air. And Lagos will only be joining its fellow megacities in the gas journey. Autogas is widely used in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South-Korean, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, US.

Interestingly, the Lagos State Government has outlined its plans for the conversion of one million vehicles, representing 25% of the four million vehicles in the state, to Autogas over a four-year period. The initiative is in line with the federal government’s National Gas Expansion Plan.

The state government is encouraged by the fact that Automotive LPG or Autogas is the most accessible alternative fuel. Driving an LPG vehicle is safe, easy and, in many countries, considerably cheaper than driving a petrol or diesel model. The use of gas, whether LPG or CNG is clean, safe, convenient, available, growing, ready for tomorrow.

Nigeria could spend up to N6.72 trillion next year if it continues its opaque petrol subsidy, a 68 percent jump from this year’s fuel subsidy budget of N4 trillion. But without subsidies, CNG costs between N100 and N110 per standard cubic meter (equivalent of a litre).

The imperative of encouraging the use of gas becomes more glaring when one considers the fact that Nigeria is so blessed with gas that we have been flaring it for decades instead of processing it for export or local use. Nigeria has 180,490,000 million cubic feet (MMcf) gas reserves. Our planlessness is responsible for a situation where our local folks use firewood for cooking (thereby contributing to global warming) while gas is flared instead of being piped to homes.

Approximately 6.63 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas was flared across the various oil fields in Nigeria in 2021. Flared gas has a significant impact on the economy and by extension development. In 2021, an estimated $761.19 million was lost to gas flaring. A total of N316.5 billion monetary value would have accrued to the government.

The amount would have financed the total expenditure for Primary Health Centres (PHCs), rural electrification projects, and the maintenance of all road and bridge projects by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). These have a collective figure of N227.13 billion. In the last decade, approximately $9.05 billion has been lost to gas flaring. This money would have offset 23.62% of the country’s total foreign debt of $38.32 billion.

The flaring of 6.63 bcm of gas in 2021 released at least 17.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is estimated that one cubic metre of gas produces 2.8 kg of carbon dioxide.

Gas flaring alone has released 210.36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the last decade.

We can take a cue from our brothers in Egypt. The conversion rate of old conventional fuel-based vehicles in that country is rising because of the low operational cost. The Egyptian government is spending heavily on providing the required infrastructure for the promotion of CNG vehicles in the country under the conversion program initiative.

We can also tap into the new technology of electric cars.

As the Buhari administration winds down in preparation for a new government, one of the more desirable legacies it could leave is the facilitation of the autogas project in such a way that private concerns that have teamed up with government agencies are encouraged to roll out so as to accelerate a large scale use of gas across the 12 pilot states and subsequently, across the nation.

It is depressing seeing Nigerian motorists spending valuable hours and days on interminable fuel queues. Just imagine if there had been a viable gas alternative!

  • Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at wole.olaoye@gmail.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021

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