Natural Gas to Power Russian Buses
Published: May 22, 2013 (Issue # 1760)
ST. PETERSBURG (SPB) — Among talk of the problem of unpaid gas bills and the possibility of opening a St. Petersburg Gas Museum, participants at last week’s St. Petersburg International Gas Forum broached an issue of rare environmental significance — the use of natural gas to power Russia’s buses, instead of gasoline.
Sponsored by Gazprom, the event, held, according to its website, with the goal of “supporting Russia’s status as a leading player in the gas industry and a reliable partner,” served as a platform where energy-related issues could be discussed, new industry-related technologies exhibited, and strategic plans presented.
On Monday May 13, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev signed a resolution stating that 50 percent of Russia’s public buses will be fueled by natural gas. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is widely considered a more environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to gasoline or diesel.
Currently, there are 300,000 to 350,000 registered buses and vans operating on a regular basis in Russia, and only 86,000 of these are CNG-fueled, Kommersant reports. China, by comparison, has nearly 1.5 million vehicles using natural gas for fuel. Russia’s number would have to double for Medvedev’s resolution to be fulfilled.
President Putin supported the resolution at a meeting, stating, “[natural] gas is cheaper than gasoline or diesel; Besides, it reduces emissions.” Putin added that switching to natural gas would cut greenhouse gases two to three times, and that Russia’s position as the world’s most natural gas-endowed country provides a clear competitive advantage.
The resolution also came as a welcome development for the Russian gas giant Gazprom, because it assures the company a new, albeit small, market for its gas. According to Kommersant, if the CNG-fueled bus fleet were doubled, then an estimated additional 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year would be supplied to the domestic market. This number is, however, relatively insignificant when compared to the roughly 460 billion cubic meters of gas annually consumed in Russia.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller spoke about the implications of the initiative for St. Petersburg. “The environmental situation in the city will improve and additional funds will be freed up for other needs.”
The lack of adequate infrastructure, seen as the main hindrance to the government’s 50 percent goal, was also discussed at the forum. Spokesperson for Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Germania, Alexander Lukin, informed participants that while Germany has about 900 CNG fueling depots, Russia houses only around 250, about 200 of which are owned by Gazprom.
Miller called St. Petersburg a strategic center for the gas industry due to its proximity to the Nord Stream Pipeline and to the route of the proposed Yamal-Europe 2 Pipeline.
The idea of increasing the use of natural gas as a motor fuel is not new and has been gaining momentum in Russia in recent times. On December 24 of last year, Miller was present at the opening of St. Petersburg’s first multi-fuel filling station, on Pulkovskoye Shosse near Pulkovo airport. Plans are underway to construct six more such depots along the M-10 route between St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Lack of infrastructure is not the resolution’s only obstacle: Safety is also a concern. On Victory Day in Moscow, an empty CNG-powered bus blew up following the explosion of one of its cylinders. Russia has no regulatory framework for its CNG-fueled vehicles, according to Energy Minister Alexander Novak.