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Sustainable Transport Solutions: CNG Emerging as a Clean Fuel Alternative

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The transportation sector has become one of the largest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitters worldwide, having relied significantly on the utilization of conventional fuel sources such as petroleum. Now, as the world begins to transition to cleaner fuel sources in light of climate change and the move away from oil, alternative fuel sources are being considered. Accordingly, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) has emerged as a noteworthy contender, with its cost effectiveness, accessibility, and sustainability positioning the resource as the ideal fuel solution for the global transportation sector.

In 2020, the transportation sector emitted approximately 16.2% of the worlds GHG emissions, with energy used in industry and the agriculture sector taking the lead. Notwithstanding the energy required for the manufacturing of vehicles, this figure showcases direct emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to power transport activities. Of this, 11.9% of emissions are derived from road transport with the major contributor comprising passenger vehicles. With the transport sector accounting for nearly one quarter of energy consumption worldwide, decarbonization of the industry would play a critical role in energy transition and climate change mitigation, with alternative fuel sources emerging such as CNG.

CNG is gradually gaining popularity as an ideal fuel source in countries such as Germany and Italy, as well as markets in Asia and South America taking the lead in CNG vehicle utilization. There are many advantages to using CNG as a fuel source, some of which include its cost effectiveness, sustainability, and widespread availability.

Specifically, with natural gas becoming more widely available with the advent of new developments worldwide, as well as new technologies enabling effective monetization, the resource has become significantly cheaper in recent years. Unlike other natural gas products such as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), CNG proves easier to refuel – as it does not require special handling and equipment – has an unlimited hold time, and has a lower production cost compared to LNG.

Additionally, CNG is significantly more sustainable compared to conventional fuel sources in that it produces 77% less particle emissions, 90% less nitrogen oxides, and has an 11% reduction in CO2 emissions. CNG is also 35% cheaper than diesel, and 75% cheaper than petrol. With a CNG vehicle getting the same fuel economy as petroleum powered vehicles, and having significantly less wear and tear on engines due to less combustion residue, it has emerged as a suitable fuel alternative in a green fuel economy.

Despite major challenges hindering a more rapid uptake of the fuel comprising the cost and placement of fuel storage containers, CNG is rapidly gaining popularity with municipalities and governments pushing for suitable infrastructure developments. With the number of vehicles using the resource increasing by 30% every year, stakeholders, particularly in Africa, have the unique opportunity to capitalize on this emerging, and high potential, fuel market.

Meanwhile, despite the increasing availability of natural gas and the acceleration of associated developments across Africa, the continent has been slow in its uptake of CNG within the transportation sector. As of December 2019, there were only 295,349 natural gas vehicles in Africa, with 210 stations. The monetization of natural gas in emerging markets such as Mozambique – with 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of reserves -, Senegal – with 450 billion cubic feet -, and Nigeria – 187 tcf – could, in fact, spark a continent-wide transition to alternative fuel sources. As Africa begins to gradually move away from traditional oil resources, natural gas as emerged as the ideal transitionary resource, and the transportation sector could lead the way in utilization and monetization.

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Charné Hollands

Charné Hollands

Charné Hollands is the Deputy Editor at Energy Capital & Power. She holds a Higher Certificate in Professional Photography and Masters in Media Studies from the University of Cape Town. Charné writes content for ECP's website and events as well as co-authored African Energy Chamber: Road to Recovery.