Compressed Natural Gas

The past decade saw a near 15-percent annual increase in the number of natural gas vehicles. This figure today is 18.06 million, and the share of these vehicles is estimated to experience an annual 18-percent increase by 2020 globally. The European Union is to invest around 160 million euros in building up CNG filling station infrastructure in an effort to make CNG a sustainable alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel in the Old Continent.

With the lowest carbon-dioxide emission, compressed natural gas is believed to be one of the most promising, environmentally-friendly fuels of the future. In addition to the environmental aspect, the benefits of using compressed natural gas (CNG) are a considerably lower price of fuel in exploitation and sale, and its role in promoting energy independence from accessible petroleum fuel reserves. Conversely, the high price of vehicles due to CPG tank installation and engine conversion to CNG, underdeveloped infrastructure – network of CNG filling stations in many countries, as well as the high cost of vehicles for CNG transportation to filling stations are the main obstacles that stand in the way of a more widespread use of this fuel type.

According to NGV Global 2013 data, there are 18.09 million natural gas vehicles in the world, which is less than two percent of more than one billion vehicles on this planet. Nevertheless, taking into account that there were merely 1.7 million CNG-powered vehicles in 2001, their number has evidently been increasing by around 15 percent annually over the past decade. The association of natural gas vehicle manufacturers forecasts that the share of these vehicles will increase globally by 2020 at an annual rate of as much as 18 percent.

Most CNG-powered vehicles, around 70 percent, are driven in only six countries in the world, namely in Iran, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, China and India. As for the European Union, Italy has by far the largest number of natural gas vehicles, around 820,000. The reason is its openness to new makes produced by domestic car manufacturer Fiat, but also cheaper fuel. The number in Germany, however, is 96,000, in Russia it is slightly above 90,000, whereas Ukraine has as many as 388,000 CNG-powered vehicles.

EU Targets

There are currently slightly over a million CNG-powered cars EU-wide, which is around 0.5 percent of all vehicles in the EU member states. The car industry’s 2020 target is five percent, most of which is anticipated in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The European Commission’s expert analyses pinpoint three main obstacles to a more widespread use of this environmentally-friendly fuel, namely the high price of vehicles, low user acceptance rate and low CNG filling station network coverage in most of Europe.

The European Commission’s expert analyses pinpoint three main obstacles to a more widespread use of this environmentally-friendly fuel, namely the high price of vehicles, low user acceptance rate and low CNG filling station network coverage in most of Europe

In January 2013, the European Commission announced a series of measures to encourage and provide for the construction of alternative fuel stations around Europe that would meet equal standards regarding design and use. It was proposed that CNG filling stations be located at a maximum distance of 150 kilometres all over Europeby 31 December 2020. The construction of CNG stations is estimated to cost the European Union around 160 million euros. The idea is to ensure free travel for CNG vehicles across Europe and make CNG a sustainable alternative to diesel fuel.

The availability of compressor stations varies between countries. There are nearly 20,000 public CNG stations around the world, whereas in Europe, according to Cngeurope.com, Italy has by far the largest number of stations, as many as 999, followed by Germany with 912 and finally Austria with 176.

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This field is still in its infancy in the region, except in Bulgaria which has more than a hundred public gas stations.

Vasil Katinčarov, a European Commission fuel quality expert living in Bulgaria, says that savings are the main reason behind such a large number of gas-powered cars in this country. “CNG is twice cheaper than conventional liquid fuels and biofuel, and consumption per kilometre is also lower,” he says.

In Croatia there are only two public CNG filling stations in Zagreb and Rijeka. Montenegro has none, while B&H has only one internal CNG filling station in Sarajevo. There are two such stations in Macedonia, namely in Skoplje and Kumanovo, as well as in Slovenia, namely in Ljubljana and Jesenice.

In Serbia, there are currently two stations in Pančevo and Belgrade each, one in Kruševac, Kraljevo, Čačak and Niš, while the country’s second-largest city, Novi Sad, after many years of anticipation, is still waiting for its public CNG filling station to open.

CNG Plant at Palić MDS (Measuring and Dispatch Station) – plans and expectations

It is due to the very fact that CNG sales network is so underdeveloped that NIS has launched a pilot project for preparation and compression of natural gas at Pаlić oil and gas plant. New facilities are also planned to be constructed i.e. one will be constructed by the end of 2014 at Novi Sad 10 petrol station, and three new facilities are planned for 2015.

The oil and gas plant at Palić was put into operation on 1 July this year. According to Velibor Đurić, B-C Projects Manager in charge of the construction of compressed natural gas plant within Energy, the daily output and delivery is currently around 7,000 kg/d.

“For vehicles with average CNG tanks as currently used, it is possible to fill around 200 vehicles per day,” Mr Đurić explained.

NIS has invested 540,400 euros in constructing this plant under a turnkey contract with GasTeh. Mr Đurić says that functional testing will soon be finished and final calculations will be made upon acceptance.

“The first phase includes know-how pilot projects like Palić and will be used for wholesale or industries using CNG as energy source for burners that are currently using heavy fuel oil, diesel fuel etc. Five locations are being analysed for the purpose and it is likely that two to three mobile units will also be built up. Apart from these projects, the pilot project at NS-10 PS will serve as the basis for developing a network of plants producing CNG for passenger and specialised vehicles and buses,” said Mr Đurić.

He went on to say that car industry was soon to start using NIS’ high-quality CNG primarily with an aim to reduce emissions ofnoxious gases and suspended particles.

According to the latest data on CNG sales in Serbia, Panledi Pančevo leads in wholesale (around 70t/d) and Criogas Novi Beograd in retail of CNG (passenger vehicle consumption is around 7,000 kg/d, or around 200 vehicles/d, while the rest is for buses).

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Impediments to more extensive use in Serbia

Taking into account that CNG is a relatively new energy source in the local market, NIS made the Marketing Study in 2012 aiming to examine the demand.

NIS’ high-quality CNG would soon be used in car industry primarily to reduce emissions ofnoxious gases and suspended particles

Mr Đurić says that chief impediments to using CNG in Serbia areno CNG regulations and an underdeveloped filling station network in Serbia.

“Fuelling must be available along main roads, at every 100 kilometres. Another problem is the fear of the unknown and the misconception thatthis fuel isdangerous due to the high pressure when used,” he says.

After the testing period of six months, Serbia will receive precise indicators from NIS and will be able to develop a network tailored to its customers.

“We have launched the pilot project cautiously, avoiding major investments and the problem of underused capacity. The experience from an internal pump of Srbijagas after more than ten years of operation suggests that there should be around ten vehicles a day in the initial period,” says Mr Đurić.

Ivan Blagojević, assistant professor at the Motor Vehicle Department of Belgrade Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, says that the scope of gas usage for passenger vehicles in Serbia does not meet the expectations from few years ago.
“CNG use in Serbia has always been marked with ups and downs depending on fuel price and installation, but has never become massive,” he explains.

As regards freight transport, the low use rate in Serbia is believed to stem from the cost of initial investment, even though CNG in freight transport which entails huge mileage proved to be cost-effective, like in Russia.

Cleaner cities and government’s role

The government has the greatest leverage in extending the use of alternative fuels, both through benefits and positive campaigns. Buses, for example, which are one of the major air pollutants in urban areas, were increasingly converted to CNG in many European capitals including Paris or Berlin through various initiatives, city projects and subsidies in the past decade. In the City of Bologne, for instance, CNG-buses account for 90 percent of the public transport vehicles.

Mr Blagojević said that western countries give incentives, especially for use in city and freight transport, while some even provided subsidies for engine repair. Poor as it is, Serbia offers no such possibility. Neither is there any domestic regulation governing the matter of CNG whatsoever.

Only slightly over a million natural gas vehicles are driven in the EU, which is around 0.5 percent of all vehicles in the member states

“Back in 1995, I was involved in the first pilot project of installing CNG equipment in several vehicles of GSP Beograd,” Mr Blagojević says. The Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty of Mining and Geology and the City of Belgrade were all involved in the project and everything started very ambitiously. A plan has been prepared for the entire project, but everything stopped when the money ran out. To be more precise, it stopped with the construction of CNG filling stations. At that moment Serbia had two filling stations, one of which was in Belgrade.

There have been few more attempts, as Mr Blagojević says, to increase the number of methane-powered vehicles in transport companies GSP and Lasta, but have not gone any further from having a few buses remodelled.

According to Slavica Stevanović of Belgrade’s Public Transport Service, the construction of gas station is underway. However, since it involves large financial resources, it is uncertain when the project will finish. In 2011 GSP purchased 10 new gas-powered buses and they are still used in the capital’s public transport. It is still a very small number against a total of 1,019 buses in Belgrade. Novi Sad also purchased six buses a few years ago, but there is no news of new purchases to be made by this city either.

In the region, Bulgaria has the most developed bus programme. The transport service lines in five largest cities as well as intercity lines are covered by 105 CNG buses. Out of a total of 61,000 passenger vehicles, as much as 95 per cent have been converted to CNG, mainly to make savings, even 75 percent being taxis.

Despite all the impediments to using this gas type, CNG is regarded as the fuel of the future because of its environmental properties, and judging from the current situation, the price is not an insignificant factor either.

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