An alternative energy option for motorists – does converting your vehicle to gas make sense?

Gas has been used for generations to run stoves, furnaces, water heaters and other appliances and with a vast supply of global resource and a 25% proven reduction in greenhouse gases compared with even the cleanest petrol engines, it makes sense for motorist to consider converting to gas.

You’re probably wondering where the catch is.  But, according to Attie Serfontein, national director: Automotive Remanufacturers’ Association (ARA), the amalgamation of three Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) sister associations: ERA, SADFIA and ACRA, there are actually very few technological barriers to overcome. 

Serfontein says gas conversions is a technology ARA has sourced information on and pursued over time, given the critical importance to stay current in new technologies.  He says Autogas is a great alternative energy option for the immediate future.

Autogas conversions are both relatively simple to effect and the skills set is ready and available in the country’s auto workshops. Further, the payback time on conversions is modest, depending almost entirely on mileage.

Serfontein describes autogas as the conversion of a vehicle’s running fuel – whether petrol or diesel – to LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). It is simple to effect, he says, because “the addition of a gas tank does not eliminate the current fuel in use and doesn’t entail any alteration in the engine’s performance.”

 “LPG runs cleaner than carbon-emissions fuel and is 40% to 50% cheaper than petroleum. In addition, the world’s reserves of LPG and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) exceed those of oil.”

“The vehicle’s conversion is relatively simple, particularly petrol, as opposed to diesel vehicles. The conversion results in a car that runs on both petrol and autogas (LPG). Everything else about the vehicle remains the same, with an additional separate fueling system with its own tank, piping, ECU and injectors. 

Serfontein says the good news for motorists is that South Africa already has the necessary skills set “in terms of work readiness to perform such a conversion. 

“The foundational skill-set is in place and a training course would suffice to empower a typical skilled worker to perform the conversion. A new qualification – the Engine and Fuels Systems Management Mechanic – has been developed and registered to facilate this.”  Serfontein says a number of ARA members are already prepared for the technology, while others are undergoing the transition.

For the consumer, Mr Frank Mac NICOL: Chairperson of ARA says that because LPG is a much cleaner fuel there is less wear and tear and therefore engine life is prolonged. The benefits of replacing conventional fuel with gas include:

  • A saving of up to 50% in the case of petrol and almost 30% for diesel
  • A reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and nitrogen oxides
  • Lower particle emissions
  • Perfect engine combustion with no fuel residues left after each ignition
  • Longer life expectancy of the engine as a result of the purity of the fuel
  • A reduction in servicing costs
  • A doubling of the autonomy of the vehicle as a result of having two fuel types
  • In-cabin fuel management

Mac NICOL says that current research by gas conversion engineering company, Ergon Equipment, estimates that conversion of state vehicles would immediately produce savings of over 60% – a higher figure than in the private sector due to the factor that gas cannot be stolen, unlike petrol. It further estimates a break-even time period for a conversion at six to 12 months, depending on daily mileage.

While there is still some distrust of gas on safety grounds in South Africa, Mac NICOL reassures consumers that driving on LPG is safe. “It is stored in a strong steel tank with a number of safety valves. It is less likely to catch fire than other fuels,” he concludes.