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Natural gas vehicles slowly gaining traction in Africa

Natural gas-powered vehicles are becoming increasingly popular across Africa thanks to supportive policies, infrastructure development and heightened investor appeal.

Several African nations are taking advantage of their ample natural gas reserves to introduce gas-powered four-wheel vehicles to the roads.

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Nigeria, with substantial natural gas reserves, has approved the widespread use of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). Vice-president Kashim Shettima disclosed after the National Economic Council meeting on 20 July that, “We will also pursue vigorously the mass deployment of CNG-powered vehicles and establishment of autogas conversion plants/kits in all States in the short-term”.

The announcement came just weeks after a Nigerian automobile manufacturer, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing, began commissioning vehicles to run on CNG – including intra-city buses, heavy-duty trucks and passenger cars.

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The developments point to both policy-level and private-sector commitments in Nigeria leveraging its more than 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas base to cut carbon emissions and air pollution from the transport sector.

This is not exclusively happening in Nigeria, with the latest transportation sector trends showing a similar shift in major natural gas-producing countries in Africa.

Egypt leads the charge with its Clean Fuels Initiative, launched in 1995 to combat air pollution and which pointed to natural gas as a solution. Today Egypt boasts over 260,000 CNG-powered vehicles, with ongoing efforts to grow that number. The North African country added 61 refuelling stations between July 2022 and March 2023, with plans for up to 1,000.

Down south, Tanzania concluded talks with investors in a $42 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) project in May and is keen to apply natural gas to the transport sector.

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According to works and transport minister Makame Mbarawa, the government is considering a subsidy programme for CNG vehicles. In remarks featured in The Citizen, Mbarawa said this will “attract more people to convert their cars to CNG”.

This is alongside an ongoing project valued at US$65 million that seeks to power 8,000 cars and rapid transit buses and supply 30,000 households in Dar es Salaam with CNG for cooking, by 2025

The Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation in March licensed 20 companies to build CNG stations. Nine of those are expected to be operational by 2025.

Beyond the major natural gas-producing regions, other net natural gas-importing countries are witnessing a buzz of activity that could see more CNG-powered vehicles converted for use.

In Kenya, private sector initiatives are capitalising on the new market niche. Proto Gas (popularly known as Pro Gas) is one such company that has been undertaking CNG conversions in Nairobi since 2020.

Elijah Karuri, the technical lead at the company’s CNG conversions unit, talked up the competitive advantage of CNG-powered vehicles, due to lower maintenance costs and technical efficiencies over regular ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles.

“The cost per litre of diesel versus that of gas is one such cost-cutting element. In Kenya today, a litre of natural gas costs just about 85 shillings (about $0.62) while a litre of petrol is about 200 shillings (about $1.45),” he explained.

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