Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, September 4, 2003






By Ehsanur Raza Ronny and Ziad Bin Hyder

NOW, our country has a lot of hot gases around what with people mouthing off all the time. They mainly talk, talk and talk among some other gaseous activities but mainly they talk. While someone is expelling such profound knowledge you might catch the whiff of some catchphrases like CNG and how it is all good or all bad. It is a matter of great debate whether compressed natural gas should be sold to neighboring countries or not. But what about the users in the home country and how can they benefit? So what is all this talk of CNG being the new wonder fuel?

The best use for CNG is in automobiles. It is a green fuel meaning that it is environment friendly. In Bangladesh the biggest concern regarding gas revolves around saving money. It is the headache of the general consumers after complimentary price hikes following every government change. Riding about in personal cars can be costly. Buses are not viable for going about everywhere so that leaves the three wheeler scooters. Step out onto the roads and you will see a green three wheeler scooting about. Using gas to move you along has its pros and cons.

We have a black 20 year old car that belches smoke like a chain smoker after a three day break. The engine is on its last legs and so is the young Michael Schumacher aspiring driver. Just imagine being overtaken by a CNG powered scooter. The ignominy of the fact is enough to make the young guy driving the vehicle lie down on the road. What disgrace! Might as well greet Death in the form of the scooters narrow wheel prints across the chest.

On its good days the car gulps fuel like Jughead drinks soda. With a good imagination you can actually see the needle for the fuel gauge sink. At 35 taka per liter of octane the wallet suffers from friction burns as the notes fly out. Hence the driver is on his last legs. Sure, with a new engine the car will run with better mileage but it is still expensive. So this is where the question of CNG pops up.

Petrol driven cars can be converted to run on dual fuel. But this does have its drawbacks. First of all the conversion is quite costly. It falls in the range of 10 to 20 thousand takas. All this is worth it though in the long run especially if you drive around a lot. Equivalent level of CNG costs about one third that of petrol. The cost savings are negated by the queues at the filling stations though. You often have to wait hours to fill up the tank. It is okay when you have a chauffeur who has nothing to do except chew and spit out paan.

There are some myths regarding CNG converted cars. One is that when run on gas you suffer a loss of power. In Bangladesh most cars are low powered in the range of 1300-1600 cubic centimeters. Such small engines can only give out so much power. Yes, yes you do see a lot of funky looking spoliered cars with loud exhausts but they are all the same wheezy units under the fancy bodywork. Gas burns less powerfully and thus it produces less power than the usual low amount. Avoiding technical mumbo jumbo this means that when you need juice you will not have it. It is a drawback when you need that sudden spurt of power from a fully laden car to prevent that rickshaw from getting in front. An automatic transmission robs further power so if you want to be a boy racer better spend your money on more petrol and fancy body kit.

Another myth is that gas powered cars suffer engine damage. This is a gray area where a lot can be argued. Basically an engine is a mechanical device so everything has to fall in the right places. Proper installation is the key to avoiding embarrassing situations such as stalling your shiny new gas powered car in front of the girls' college. There have been reports about the valves wearing out faster but opinions differ from garage to garage. In most cases engine wear is attributed to buffoonery driving rather than gas properties. Go to a specialist who has been converting for a long time.

Another myth or rather fear is that gas cars are explosive. The gas cylinder is stored in the back and it is under pretty high pressure. That's how they killed the shark in the first Jaws movie. But don't worry that you will also become at one with the shark. There have been reports of taxi cabs blowing up but that is because the tanks are filled beyond their capacity. It is like a balloon blown out of proportion. As for being hit in the back avoid buffoonery driving.

So that pretty much sums up the CNG factor. It does pay off in the long run but you have to be careful what you do. But if you do not have the patience to wait in the long lines then its better to have your engine tuned every six months.

What happens when you don't have cars? The next best thing is to use a CNG scooter. One benefit is that compared to black and yellow cabs these are driven with considerably more finesse. Just look at the different taxis. The green scooters are almost devoid of major dents or scratches. Most commuters favor scooters because the drivers are actually quite civilized. Besides you could always jump out. What happens afterward is a different matter.

Admittedly the black car mentioned earlier is in extremely bad shape to be beaten by a scooter. But the fact remains that these new green painted scooters proclaiming green fuel are quite fast or rather they are zippy. The engines have a nice muffled rattle as opposed to the noisy old rackety black scooters they replaced. These things are smooth, quiet and don't make you smell like you have applied cologne made from the essence of engine smoke. They are one of the new wave of environment friendly vehicles run on gas.

So far everything sounds good. The complaint is that drivers often ask for an extra 10 taka. Their argument is that they have to use petrol as waiting for CNG pumps takes up too much time. It takes about 2-4 hours to wait for the queue to move. Most drivers complete lunch while waiting. Also even though the government has regulated a fixed rent of 300 taka some owners charge 450-500 taka. At the end of the day the drivers are left with a paltry 150-200 taka.

A myth regarding CNG scooters is that these break down. Owners and garage workers defer in this regard. Spare parts are quite readily available and the engines themselves are reliable. Often they break down in rainy conditions but that is mainly due to water logged areas that eventually flood the low mounted engine.

Using a non polluting fuel gives you the peace of mind that somewhere some rare bird is twittering in delight at the clean air. But more importantly in these materialistic times CNG is saving you money. Converting you present car is costly and not such a good idea if it one of those new cars with computer controlled engine management systems. These are already very fuel efficient and are purpose built for driving with petrol. CNG scooters on the other hand are cheap to run, easy to maintain and are built with gas on the mind. Of course, if you are buying one of these you have to do without the air con and the sound system despite costing about 80000 taka. A better way is to think that you are communing with nature without the Goo Goo Dolls twanging away in your ears. Go green!




home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2003 The Daily Star