Politics and Society
Is cooking gas the solution to petrol dependency?
Kenyans are increasingly adopting the technology that infuses liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), typically used in homes for cooking, to ignite and drive their cars. The Auto tech essentially turns a car into a hybrid vehicle that can use both regular petroleum and LPG as fuel.
Sustainable fuel options have been a top global priority as the ravages of petroleum worsen. Hybrid car options are described as the best and in some cases only options moving forward.
For example, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) which is well-used for cooking all over the continent, has been and is being used to fuel cars in other parts of the world. LPG or in this context Autogas is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases, specifically propane, propylene, butylene, isobutane, and n-butane. When used in a car, the gas moves from the cylinder to a reducer, where it is heated and turned to vapour. The vapour is then purified in the filter before moving into the injector lane, where it is distributed.
In larger economies, LPG was identified as an important component of petrol in 1910 but didn’t emerge as a retail option until the global oil crisis of 1973. But the sale of dual fuel and full-LPG aftermarket systems truly boomed around 2006.
Over time, however, LPG usage has dipped because vehicle tastes and styles have changed, phasing out many cars with the space to house the cylinder in the rear or underneath the vehicle. Additionally, the price advantage of LPG was eroded when governments introduced high excise duties. Lastly, the low frequency of petrol stations that stocked the fuel made refuelling difficult, especially in peri-urban and rural areas.
Due to the decline, investors in larger economies are now actively backing Electric Vehicles (EVs) instead. Just last year, the European Parliament voted to ban diesel and petrol cars from sale. This means that within thirteen years, the European market aims to be almost zero-emitting.
But for consumers who are only accessing Autogas for the first time, how does it stack up?
- Lower running costs- LPG is typically less expensive than petrol or diesel (research proves that using it saves almost 50% of the cost spent on petrol) and due to the absence of carbon deposits, engine oil and spark plugs need changing less thus vehicles service costs are also greatly reduced.
- Environmental benefits include reduced particulate, CO2, and NOx emissions. It is also lead-free.
- High adoption potential- because of high petrol prices and frequent hikes, more people are becoming more open to using LPG for their vehicles.
- It provides a uniform charge for combustion, in cases of multi-cylinder engines.
- It has remarkably high compression ratios.
- It has exceedingly high antiknock characteristics.
- Safety concerns- due to its odourless nature, detecting an LPG leak is difficult, and its handling is done under high pressure.
- It produces 10% less power, compared to petrol, on the same engine.
- Its Ignition temperature is higher than that of petrol, which leads to 5% less lifetime of valves.
- An efficient cooling system is required to provide heat to the LPG vaporiser (convert liquid into Gas).
- Due to the heavy cylinders, used to store LPG, the weight of engines increases considerably.
- A special fuel feed system is required for it.
- It reduces volumetric efficiency due to high vaporisation.
Uptake in Kenya
For over 3 years, Nairobi taxis and private vehicle owners have been increasingly converting their vehicles to accommodate locally sold LPG. The initial cost of installation is Kshs. 50,000 (USD 400), which motorists find is a worthwhile investment to pay Kshs. 60 (USD 0.48) per litre of LPG against Kshs. 177 (USD 1.42) per litre of petrol.
In fact, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) is encouraging consumers to leap by releasing regulation standards for the technology. “The standard for application of/and compressed natural gases as fuel for internal combustion engines is in force, and investors are at liberty to venture into this line of business,” the body told The Nation.
Insurers who were previously resistant due to the dangers that could arise have also relaxed their stance, and motorists who make the switch can look forward to full coverage from their providers in the near future.
Currently, the main player in converting vehicles into hybrids is Proto Energy Ltd, a partner of leading European provider, Autogas Systems, trading as Otogas. Another early adopter is Hashi Energy which is optimistic that LPG will help transform transport in the region by significantly reducing operating costs.
Penetration of fuel stations where LPG can be accessed may still be a barrier in Kenya as well. But the country has a history of consumers driving up the supply for goods and services that help reduce the exorbitant cost of living or create a workable solution to an ongoing problem.
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