Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sasol pushes LPG, "green" taxis

JOHANNESBURG — In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the Gauteng provincial government and the South African National Taxi Association Council (Santaco) have embarked on a partnership to convert minibus taxis in the province to dually operate on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as well as petrol.

Changing from petrol to gas and vice versa is manually done by the driver.

On the Gerotek high-speed oval, I could discern no visible power difference in performance as a passenger. Tests have shown a minimal difference in power output.

The R3m pilot project which was facilitated by one of Blue IQ’s automotive subsidiaries, the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC), has converted 70 taxis operating in northern Pretoria and Tembisa.

Each conversion costs about R20000, paid for by the Gauteng provincial government. Each conversion takes about 24 hours and the driver/owner was compensated for loss of income for this period.

It was not revealed what this figure is.

Strategic relationships were established with Santaco and the South African National Energy Research Institute (Saneri).

In addition, Sasol was brought on board due to their intensive LPG programme in SA.

After a robust vehicle selection process, seventy mini-bus taxis were converted to operate dually on petrol as well as LPG over a 3 month period.

An LPG vehicle conversion specialist was appointed to conduct the conversion process, using the latest generation conversion kits, which were imported from Germany. The vehicle of choice was the Toyota Quantum. Only one type of vehicle was chosen to keep the conversions constant. It was decided to place the donut-shaped gas tank in the spare wheel well.

The project findings show an 11% reduction on the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels when switching the vehicles to LPG.

Carbon monoxide can be deadly.

Technical tests on a prototype mini-bus — sponsored by Sasol — were conducted to precisely assess the effect on carbon emissions as well as its fuel efficiency. The AIDC commissioned these tests at both the Gerotek Test Facilities in Pretoria and the SABS Laboratories in East London. The tests, the first of their kind in SA, showed that although the overall fuel consumption is higher on LPG, the lower cost of LPG balances out the effect of fuel costs for the minibus taxi driver. The cost benefits also include improved longevity of the engine and a reduction of overall maintenance costs over the lifespan of the vehicle. It is estimated that more than 100000km, which taxis can do in a 12-month period, the savings to the driver/owner would be in the region of R20 000.

Sasol erected a temporary refuelling point at Gerotek for the tests, with more permanent ones at Kruisfontein and Spartan. There is a further temporary one at Rosslyn.

The AIDC plans to roll out a second wave of 150 converted minibus taxis during the next 12 months. In light of this target, we can easily expect the sprouting of additional LPG refueling stations across Gauteng to support this growing fleet of "green" minibus taxis.