Natural Gas Vehicles Shouldn’t be the Route Tanzania Takes

Natural Gas Vehicles
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Tanzania has Africa’s sixth largest natural gas (NG) reserves, with the recoverable reserves being more than 57.5 trillion cubic feet. Annually Tanzania produces 110 billion cubic feet. East Africa sits on significant natural gas with proven reserves in Mozambique, Sudan and South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, DRC, and Somalia. Although in the region, only Mozambique and Tanzania are the NG-only producers.

Like the rest of the world, Tanzania is experiencing increased demand for compressed gas for vehicles (CNG ). This is due to its low cost in comparison to petrol and diesel. Fuel prices keep rising annually due to changes in fuel prices in the global market and the value of our local currency. But the cost of CNG has not hiked for the past 11 years, thus being seen as an economical substitute. More and more drivers are opting to convert their vehicles for NG operation.

As reported by All Africa the Dar es Salaam Institute of Transport (DIT) CNG Manager, Dr Esebi Nyari said there was an increase in the installation of CNG systems in the cars. “Before we were installing one car per day but now we are installing an average of three per day.”

CNG is not the only one currently attracting media attention in Tanzania. Liquified natural gas is attracting media attention. According to Felchesmi Mramba, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Tanzania signing a $42 billion host government deal for an onshore LNG plant is underway. The agreement is between Tanzania and energy companies Equinor, Shell, and ExxonMobil. The export project also includes a law specifically for the project prepared by the government and an exceptional office.

As reported by Energy Capital Power, the host government agreement will outline the rights and obligations of the government and national oil companies as well as the conditions under which the project will be developed and operated. The specific law for the project is expected to speed up the implementation of the project. This project has been long overdue, with negotiations having begun in 2019 and concluded in May 2023. The construction of the plant is expected to take five years. The structure and operation of the plant will improve livelihoods through job opportunities and LNG exportation.

One of the challenges the CNG market is facing is service shortage. This is due to few available filling stations. And this is proving to be a difficulty for the consumers. Suppliers know the need and plan to increase filling stations in the country.

According to Mercy Chilumba, the Technology Marketing Director at Anric Gas, the number of vehicles coming to their filling station increased by between 200 and 250 per day from merely 70 last year, as reported by All Africa. With available filling stations to meet demand and domestic production of LNG, we can expect to see an already growing number of natural gas vehicles (NGVs)  will double, if not triple.

According to International Gas Energy, the demand for NG could rise by half by 2020. The abundance of NG has the potential to strengthen economic growth in Tanzania. By relying on it rather than other fuels to generate electricity and as a source of industrial production, it helps the government save money. Helping save funds boosts industrial growth. It is also putting us as a global energy supplier, and with the worldwide energy crisis, there is excellent NG potential for increasing our GDP through export. In the long run, it improves Tanzania’s trade and industrial competitiveness in the global economy.

Why are NGVs, not a Route Tanzania Should Take?

CNG has been credited as a sustainable substitute for liquid fuels and a clean fuel for urban transportation. It produces fewer emissions in comparison to its counterparts, contributing to lower emissions of nearly all air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), and carbon monoxide (CO).

NG compressed/liquid or not is not clean/green energy. It is considered eco-friendly because it is more hygienic than other fossil fuels. It is still a fossil fuel. It is composed of many compounds, but the predominant one is methane. Even if emissions of CO2 are relatively low, it still emits a fair considerable amount of carbon, and traces of nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and helium can be found in NG.

Methane is the second most significant greenhouse gas contributor to global warming after CO2. And even though CO2 lasts for centuries in the atmosphere while methane just for 12 years, methane is more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.

The extraction of NG has negative impacts on the local ecosystem. It can cause plenty of methane to be released into the atmosphere, thus further contributing to global warming. Drilling for gas produces large amounts of wastewater and, without proper management, can pollute the environment. It also disturbs vegetation, affecting the area’s communities and wildlife. It can cause habitat destruction and reduce food availability for wildlife.

Hydraulic fracturing, a new drilling technique, has potential adverse effects. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA), the method requires large amounts of water, which may affect aquatic habitats and water availability for other uses. Without proper management, fracking fluids spills and leaks pollute the surrounding areas.

An excerpt from Natural Gas Explained

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, hydraulic fracturing “…causes small earthquakes, but they are almost always too small to be a safety concern. In addition to natural gas, fracking fluids, and formation waters are returned to the surface. These wastewaters are frequently disposed of by injection into deep wells. The injection of wastewater into the subsurface can cause earthquakes that are large enough to be felt and may cause damage.”

Usually, agriculture, forestry, and fishing account for most methane emissions. But with a growing demand for NG across the globe, methane emissions are sure to increase.NG is non-renewable and cannot be used sustainably. Thus increasing our reliance and ensuring maximum utilization of NG is taking a step back from the circular economy. And this begs the question, is Tanzania’s future circular or non-circular? We must ask ourselves, are we exacerbating global warming and climate change? As citizens are educated on the advantages of NG, we should also educate them on how it is worse than fossil fuels that produce carbon.

A writer and a champion of change and sustainable development. She writes on climate change, gender justice and equality, human rights, education, Tanzania and the wider region of Eastern Africa.

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