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What Are the Implications of Adopting CNG Vehicles in Nigeria?

What Are the Implications of Adopting CNG Vehicles in Nigeria?

What Are the Implications of Adopting CNG Vehicles in Nigeria? | Afrocritik

Although CNG is a byproduct of crude oil production just like petroleum and diesel, it is considered safer and healthier for use in the environment.

By Michael Akuchie 

Last month, Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced that all government ministries, departments, and agencies should only acquire vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). This directive, as the government claims, is part of the administration’s plan to make the country more energy-efficient and less reliant on petrol. Before the president’s announcement, a few Nigerian state governments had procured CNG vehicles for intra-city operations. For instance, CNG buses began operations six months ago in Ogun as part of the state’s public transport initiative, and in  Edo State, these buses were acquired last October to boost the State’s existing public transport fleet. 

To many Nigerians, and even Africans, the term CNG may feel foreign, and understandable so, as we have been accustomed to petrol or diesel-powered vehicles for many years. Even the electric vehicle, which is considered the future of clean mobility is still many years from mass adoption on the continent.  

Unlike petrol vehicles, CNG vehicles run on natural gas, which is odourless.  However, CNG should not be confused with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is popularly called “cooking gas” and is stored in cylinders that are normally used for domestics. Although CNG is a byproduct of crude oil production just like petroleum and diesel, it is considered safer for the environment. According to Central U.P. Gas Limited, an Indian-based company, their usage considerably lowers the release of harmful gasses such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide which contribute to carbon emissions. Compared to petrol vehicles, the carbon emissions released by CNG vehicles are 5 to 10% lower. 

This singular reason justifies why many countries, including Nigeria, are interested in accelerating adoption plans. While most of Africa is still in the early adoption stage, countries such as Iran, Argentina, China, and Brazil currently possess the highest number of CNG-powered vehicles across the globe. As of last October, Iran, an oil-producing country, was said to have one of the world’s largest networks of CNG fueling stations (2,500 stations). 

What Are the Implications of Adopting CNG Vehicles in Nigeria? | Afrocritik
A line of CNG-powered buses| Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing

Aside from being more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel, CNG buses are relatively less expensive to refuel. Countries also get to enjoy cost savings on CNG vehicle maintenance since the gas does not pollute a vehicle’s engine oil, which allows vehicle owners to change motor oil less frequently. Regarding safety, CNG is also less flammable compared to petrol, which means it’s unlikely that a vehicle will accidentally ignite when parked on an extremely hot surface compared to petrol-powered vehicles. This is because it is lighter than air, making it possible to diffuse quickly, thereby reducing the chances of an explosion. 

Also, because it is odourless, it easily mixes with the air and does not cause irritation when inhaled. This is a welcome development for urban areas which are often overpopulated and suffer from air pollution. CNG vehicles translate to a better quality of life in those areas. The adoption of these vehicles can also create new jobs for people to handle roles such as maintenance, refuelling, and assembly. 

However, there are several downsides to introducing CNG vehicles to the roads that should be strongly considered to determine if they’re worth the effort. For instance, CNG buses or cars cannot match traditional petrol cars, due to the huge performance gap. CNG vehicles (22,453 Btu/lb) have a lower energy density than petrol cars (120,388–124,340 Btu/lb), and as such, they have reduced horsepower. 

Drivers who like to push their engines to the limit when driving may not be satisfied with the CNG experience. Another disadvantage is that CNG cars will need larger tanks compared to petrol cars. This may warrant manufacturers to convert part of the vehicle’s interior space to a storage tank. Seeing as a wide interior space for storing luggage plays a huge role in convincing shoppers on which car to get, this adjustment may discourage those who like to have plenty of storage space. 

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CNG Vehicles being refueled 1
CNG Vehicles being refuelled | Treehugger

Although manufacturers can build these vehicles from scratch, they can also convert petrol cars to become dependent on CNG. And while driving a CNG car offers long-term savings on maintenance and ownership, the huge initial cost of conversion may not appeal to many prospective users. Also, CNG may be advertised as a cleaner alternative to petrol, but it still contributes to greenhouse emissions, although minimally. This is because it contains methane, a major greenhouse gas. So, if the vehicle were to suffer a gas leak, the accidental release of methane into the atmosphere would counteract the environmental benefits it originally provided. 

The adoption of CNG vehicles in Nigeria or any part of Africa demands strategic thinking and a comprehensive roadmap. Today, most of Nigeria depends on petrol and diesel to power its vehicles. As such, any attempt to introduce a new and slightly better method must be well structured. The public will need to be sensitised on the benefits as compared to petrol. The popular misconception that the gas used to power vehicles is the same as the one used in kitchens should also be tackled in the sensitisation programme. Helping people to see the vast difference will play a major role in determining if the switch is worth the effort. 

The government in collaboration with vehicle manufacturers should establish assembly plants and refueling stations. A major downside of electric vehicle adoption today is the low number of charging stations. To remedy this issue, refuelling stations should be available along highways and smaller roads. Nobody would want to drive a car that they can not easily refuel, especially for long-distance trips.  

Although President Tinubu’s eagerness for his government to use only these cars sends a strong message about the administration’s readiness to adopt clean energy, the infrastructure to facilitate this change is not yet available. With Nigeria yet to be densely populated with CNG refuelling stations, it makes one question the point of adoption at this moment. Also, what plans does the government have to encourage adoption? Will there be credit rebates or subsidies to intending buyers? The current economic realities do not encourage the purchase of a new car or the added cost of maintenance and refuelling. Unless the government shows an actionable plan for getting people to own and drive CNG cars, mass adoption may take a long time to occur. 

Michael Akuchie is a tech journalist with four years of experience covering cybersecurity, AI, automotive trends, and startups. He reads human-angle stories in his spare time. He’s on X (fka Twitter) as @Michael_Akuchie & michael_akuchie on Instagram.

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