Russia’s Sakhalin region is preparing to convert much of its vehicle parc to run on compressed natural gas, a zero-emission alternative fuel, an industry event heard recently. Engines powered by natural gas or liquid propane require specially formulated engine oils.
Around the world, small numbers of cars, buses and trucks run on CNG. The engines in such vehicles tend to operate at higher temperatures than those powered by gasoline or diesel, so lubricant marketers supply engine oils formulated to provide extra resistance to oxidation and nitration.
Sakhalin Island is a remote part of Russia’s Far East, located off the nation’s Pacific coast and north of Japan’s Hokkaido island. Motor fuel prices are high there and in the neighboring regions of Kamchatka and Vladisvostok – high enough to thwart economic development – and that, more than any desire to reduce vehicular emissions, is spurring the push there to convert to CNG.
CNG consists primarily of methane gas, which is abundant in the gas fields off the coast of Sakhalin. As a clean alternative to liquid fuels, methane is used in many countries around the world, primarily to power bus or commercial vehicle fleets in big cities. These are vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines that have been modified or vehicles specifically manufactured for CNG use, either alone or in duel fuel designs with parallel gasoline or diesel systems to extend the range.
Authorities in the Sakhalin region plan to convert at least 50 percent of the region’s vehicle fleet, including passenger cars, to run on CNG by 2024. Sakhalin has a population of half a million, and the total number of on-road vehicles on the island is 200,000. Of these, 71 percent operate in the capital of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, in the southern end of the island. Currently, only 1,000 vehicles run on CNG.
Vladmir Sidorenko, vice prime minister of Sakhalin oblast, revealed financial and tax incentives to encourage conversion of 100,000 vehicles.
“First of all, we want to open a total of 19 natural gas refueling locations in the island by 2023, of which eight will be mobile. Soon we will start to offer financial incentives for private motorists by covering 100 percent of the cost for modification of their cars,” Sidornko told the conference, part of Russia’s Sixth East Economic Forum. The forum was held in March in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
For the companies the government will cover up to 70 percent of the cost for new CNG busses or trucks or for modifying existing vehicles to run on CNG. In industries such as agriculture and food, the subsidies can cover up to 90 percent.
“Obviously, large investments are needed to achieve this in a massive scale, and the big question is if it can be economically viable,” Oleg Tsvetkov, chief specialist at the Topchiev Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis of the Russian Academy of Science, told Lube Report.
If the project for wide gasification of the transport looks viable for Sakhalin, it does not yet seem possible for inland Russia, where the number of natural gas refueling stations is very low. Gazprom has dozens of locations in big cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg or Ekaterinburg, serving primarily buses or local utility vehicles. Meanwhile, Russian original equipment manufacturers in the automotive sector are starting to announce modest projects in the natural gas fueled transportation.
Alexander Lyvov, deputy head of the Department for Automotive and Rail Industry in the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, told the conference that some of the leading Russian automakers and engine manufacturers such as Gaz, Uaz, Kamaz, Lada and Yamz recently revealed projects or pilot equipment and vehicles that run on natural gas.
“Buses, light and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as passenger cars that run on natural gas, are made by our automakers. In the last six years, the state subsidized the purchase of over 17,000 buses, passenger cars and commercial vehicles,” Lyvov said. Lyvov added that in 2020, the state assigned almost 5 billion rubles (U.S. $71 million) in subsidies for the producers of natural gas vehicles, equipment and locomotives. In the past six years these financial incentives amounted to 22 billion rubles, he said.