Kazakhstan Kicks Off its NGV Program

| Kazakhstan | Source: Clean Fuels Consulting

Workshop emphasizes adopting a safe NGV program based on the development of internationally recognized standards and regulations

Kazakhstan, the vast central Asia republic, kicked off its natural gas vehicle (NGV) program on 30-31 March 2011 with a Clean Cities Transportation Workshop in Almaty, the former capital city regularly choked by severe bouts of air pollution.  Almaty ElectroTrans (AET), the city’s main mass transportation company, is receiving 200 Chinese-made Zhengzhou Yutong natural gas buses powered by low polluting Cummins Westport natural gas engines. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is providing a US$35 million loan to help start the natural gas bus program and make general improvements to the city’s transit system.

The natural gas bus program is seen as a first step in helping to clean up Almaty’s heavily polluted air quality and was an opening activity for a greater Kazakhstan-wide NGV program. The workshop, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE), the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and coordinated with Clean Fuels Consulting also was designed to introduce a Clean Air Bus & NGV ‘Roadmap’ that the Kazakhstan stakeholders could use as a model strategy to introduce the 200 NG buses to the city and to kick off a larger national NGV program.

The presentations sparked significant interest amongst the more than 150 stakeholders and interested parties representing educational and research institutions, bus companies, energy companies, equipment suppliers, consultants, and the media participated in the two day event.

After the opening session, which included introductions from the Mayor, the EBRD, the U.S. Consul General, and DOE, seven sessions presented key aspects of NGV market development, covering:

  • technology and politics: the world view of other countries’ activities with NGVs (showing market development compared to different types of incentives and policies being used);
  • vehicle and fuelling station technologies;
  • the importance of standards and regulations in the development of new technologies and fuels; and
  • the U.S. Clean Cities Program and how that program and process can benefit Almaty by bringing together their civil society, all levels of government, and industry partners.

The final parts of the workshop were devoted to the Roadmap developed jointly by the DOE/ANL/Clean Fuels Consulting team.

Outside experts provided much of the ‘big picture’ views. BG International and Dresser Wayne, who funded and constructed the CNG station supporting the bus fleet (see Editor Note), along with IMW Industries, Cummins Westport and Landi-Renzo were on hand to showcase their technologies.

A principle message for the entire group was the fundamental need to focus on having a safe NGV program based on the development of internationally recognized standards and regulations. Multiple speakers stressed the need for cooperation among stakeholders to create a mutually acceptable vision and action plan as well as engage outside experts to build local knowledge capacity through training and education (about NGVs, transport planning and sensible policy making and enforcement).

The NGV Roadmap is introduced

The Roadmap was based on in-depth interviews with 29 Kazakhstani stakeholders from 14 local and international institutions. Their comments, observations, and views were incorporated into the Roadmap, which presented discreet sections devoted to each of the principal stakeholder groups: the Akimat (municipality) of Almaty, KazTransGas (KTG) — the gas company — and AET.

The Roadmap is designed as a model for the Kazakhstani stakeholders to create the structure, substantive actions (including achievable milestones), regulatory processes as well as market conditions needed to first incorporate the initial 200 CNG buses into city operation and then proceed with a plan to expand upon its initial success. Some of the Roadmap strategies, however, also rely on changes and improvements in other Almaty transportation-related activities, such as those being funded by the EBRD and the United Nations Development Program, which is providing an additional USD 5 million to facilitate the transit system improvements.

Challenges must be addressed

As a start-up program in a country with very little NGV experience there are a number of significant challenges that need to be addressed.

  • Political commitment and leadership is essential for success. As with many startup NGV programs, getting the federal and local governments to work together will be a substantial challenge and opportunity to ensure that the initial CNG bus program is implemented safely, efficiently, and sustainably. The federal government should assess all policy options to provide a variety of incentives to support their national and local NGV development. A first priority is to review and adapt the Roadmap so that key government policy makers as well as NGV stakeholders have a clear operating plan into the future.
  • National standards and regulations for vehicles, conversions of petrol vehicles to natural gas, workshops and CNG fuelling station construction and operation need to be developed immediately based upon existing international standards and United Nations regulations.
  • Fuel infrastructure development and marketing of NGVs must be strategic and focused.  KTG has developed a good start-up plan, but will have to work with the private sector, municipality, and federal government to develop a realistic operating schedule to expand the fuelling infrastructure. Additionally, a strong marketing program to encourage the use of NGVs will be critical to the overall success of the NGV efforts.
  • Technology & Operational-Related Capacity-building. Knowledge about CNG technologies and expertise initially will have to come from external sources since there is little indigenous technical capacity. There is an immediate need for training of drivers, mechanics and vehicle inspectors. Beyond that, training and certification will be needed for conversion and vehicle workshops as well as government enforcement for safety compliance for vehicles, fuelling stations and trained personnel. There is willing and able internal capacity (education institutions and NGOs) to be trained and then train-the-trainers to instill a level of safety for the overall NGV program. It will be important to identify a specific government department or private entity or institution ready to financially support these much-needed services and education. Creating internal capacity-building will be important to the overall success and sustainability of the Kazakhstan NGV program.

This article was written by Dr. Jeffrey M. Seisler, CEO of Clean Fuels Consulting.  It was adapted from the final report provided to U.S. DOE.

Editor Note: Almaty’s first CNG fuelling station was opened mid-2010, marking the beginning point of the Kazakhstan NGV project entitled “Concept on Expansion of CNG as a motor fuel for 2010-2015″. The project will work toward converting Kazakhstan’s entire vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas.

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