Egypt has adopted a plan to expand the use of natural gas by road vehicles in a bid to reduce fuel imports, lower emissions to protect the environment, and make use of the country’s own massive natural gas production.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced last week during the inauguration of a housing project in Cairo that no licenses will be issued to new cars unless they run on natural gas and called for low-interest loans to be made available to those wanting to replace cars more than 20 years old.
Trade and Industry Minister Nevine Al-Gamea said during the same event that Egypt was planning to replace about 1.3 million older private cars and 50,000 taxis and to convert hundreds of thousands of other vehicles to run on a hybrid system of natural gas and petrol at a total cost of an estimated LE320 billion.
Egypt adopted a recycling programme for cars for the first time in 2008 when the government decided to scrap taxis manufactured more than 20 years ago and provide their drivers with new ones. About 45,000 drivers benefited from the scheme.
The introduction of a similar scheme for private cars was discussed for years, but there were no clear plans for its implementation until last week’s announcement. However, private car owners were free to convert their vehicles at conversion centres, and there had been growing numbers of conversions in recent years following the rise in petrol prices.
According to Minister of Petroleum Tarek Al-Molla, 42,000 cars were converted to run on hybrid fuel in fiscal year 2019-20, an increase of 25 per cent compared to the previous year.
About 320,000 vehicles, mostly taxis and minibuses, had been converted to dual-fuel systems since the late 1990s, he added. Private cars now make up about 30 per cent of conversions.
Al-Molla said in a statement on Sunday that there were 74 conversion centres in Egypt and 19 new fuelling stations had been established in the governorates of Qena, Assiut, Minya, Beni Sweif, Qalioubiya, Sharqiya, Port Said, Giza, Cairo and the Red Sea, bringing the total number to 206 in 23 governorates, with another 366 planned nationwide over a period of three years.
The ministry aims to convert 50,000 cars to run on natural gas during the current fiscal year, with increases being studied in the light of the presidential initiative to expand the use of dual-fuel systems in vehicles.
Al-Molla added that the plan included establishing 50 new stations annually to keep pace with expected growth during the coming period.
Abdel-Fattah Farahat, head of the Gastec Company that undertakes car conversions, explained that converting a car to a dual-fuel system takes four hours, which includes a technical examination and equipment that takes into account standard specifications and safety requirements.
He added that drivers can easily change between natural gas and petrol once the modification is made and that there is no change to any part of the engine during the conversion process. Conversions can be done on installments and through simplified procedures that include the provision of a copy of a national ID card, car licence, and home electricity or gas bill.
According to Al-Gamea, there is an initial plan to convert 147,000 vehicles to the dual-fuel system, in coordination with the Ministry of Petroleum, at a cost of LE1.2 billion. The cost of converting a petrol-fuelled car to one running on natural ranges from LE9,000 to LE12,000 and can be paid in installments, she added.
The natural gas recently discovered in Egypt meant that petrol should be increasing substituted for by natural gas, she said, a shift that would result in savings and help to protect the environment.
Egypt has witnessed a boom in natural gas exploration and production since the discovery of the giant offshore Zohr Field in 2015, helping the country to become self-sufficient in natural gas in late 2018.
Car owners could cut their fuel costs by almost half if they convert their cars to run on natural gas, Al-Gamea said. One cubic metre of natural gas costs LE3.5, while the prices per litre of octane 80, 92, and 95 petrol are LE6.25, LE7.5, and LE8.5, respectively, with octane 92 being the most widely used grade in Egypt.
Motorists have given the dual-fuel system mixed reviews, however. Some have praised the cost savings on fuel and the positive impacts on the environment, but others have complained of reduced power, less luggage space as a result of installing gas cylinders, and problems with warranties from dealers.
Alaa Al-Sabaa, a member of the Cars Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, said that dealerships would not maintain their warranties on cars that switch to the dual-fuel system because installing a gas cylinder in a car can add 100kg to its weight, affecting the suspension system and engine in the long term.
New cars have specifications that cannot be modified under the same warranty, he said, adding that converting cars to a dual-fuel system might be more suitable for more economical cars that do not have high technological specifications and engines that can only run on the highest-octane grade of fuel.
“We are still waiting for the final draft of the initiative, but there is no doubt that replacing older cars with new ones will help to revitalise the auto trade and manufacturing industry,” Al-Sabaa concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly