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More CNG infrastructure needed in Middle East, truck makers say

Government needs to scale up compressed natural gas network to encourage more widespread adoption

PHOTO: MAN’s Lion’s City CNG bus, which underwent trials by the Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transport in 2011. Credit: Man Truck & Bus Middle East

The UAE and wider Middle East need to have more infrastructure in place to support vehicles running on alternate fuels like biofuel and compressed natural gas (CNG), truck manufacturers say.

While companies hail efforts of the government to go green – like Dubai Municipality deciding to power its vehicles with biofuel, or the RTA urging driving institutes to adopt CNG – they say it is simply not easy enough to switch from non-renewable energy.

Lars Möller, general manager for aftersales at Al Shirawi Enterprises, distributor for Scania trucks and buses in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, said the government needs to make it easier for customers to switch to more eco-friendly alternatives.

“When you go on [natural] gas or on biodiesel or whatever, you need to make sure that you have the infrastructure in place and that it is as convenient to use as carbon fuels are today,” he said. “Right now we don’t have anything.”

Möller added that if the use of biofuel becomes more widespread, like the Dubai Municipality’s shift to biodiesel, Scania is prepared to meet the demand.

“We know that we have a certain dependency on non-renewable energy so whatever we can do to get away from that, I see that as something positive,” he said.

“As and when the municipality takes a formal decision to really move ahead, there will always be a transition period. But from our side, it’s something that in principle, we’re ready for.”

Richard Brown, product expert on trucks and alternative fuels at MAN Truck & Bus Middle East, echoed Moller’s comments over the lack of infrastructure to support CNG in the UAE and wider Middle East.

“You would need a considerable infrastructure for delivery of CNG,” Brown told Truck & Fleet ME. “The distances that are being covered per day in the Middle East, it’s not viable for a CNG-powered vehicle yet with the current technology because the range of the CNG tanks would be about 200km.”

The short range of a CNG tank combined with the lack of filling stations means it will be a while before it can be implemented on a wide scale in the country, he pointed out.

“If you have 50 or 100 buses running [on CNG], you need to have a proper network. And this has yet to be developed,” said Sabine Geiter, head of marketing and communications for MAN Truck & Bus Middle East.

“For passenger transport, you see that there’s many efforts in discovering different technologies. Currently, there’s for example hybrid buses under test which have the very, very big difficulty that the current technology of the battery manufacturing does not cope with the heat in this region so the lifetime of the batteries are so short which does not make this technology affordable,” she noted.

“CNG for that matter is the future for the Middle East,” Geiter added.

The rest of the region isn’t faring any better than the UAE, she pointed out. “In Saudi Arabia, the cost for diesel is still so low so the willingness to further develop CNG network is still not there.”

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