Cut off from world energy markets, Armenia is making a virtue of adversity and may be leading the world in using cleaner car fuel, officials say. While the EU is looking at 2020 before 10% of vehicles there will use alternative fuel, in Armenia up to 30% of cars already run on clean compressed gas. This statistic includes about 45,000 private cars and 90% of public transport.
Such high levels of clean fuel use are due "to the fact that Armenia, which has no energy resources of its own, is trying to use the most affordable alternative fuel," said Pavel Siradegian, a transport ministry official.
Around the world some five million vehicles are run on compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas, according to the U.S. energy department. Natural gas vehicles are just as safe as conventional petrol and diesel-fuelled ones and produce lower harmful emissions, the department says.
In Armenia, the switch has its origins in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Before then, Armenia got gasoline from neighbor Azerbaijan, but after the two countries plunged into a war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, Armenia cut ties with both Azerbaijan and Turkey. Armenia buys its gas from Russia for $110 per 1,000 cubic meters, with 84% of the population having access to gas at home.
The gas used for cars is three or four times cheaper than gasoline and half the price of diesel fuel "and so people convert to gas of their own accord," Siradegian said. The gas containers are usually imported from Russia or Italy and are installed in the car's trunk at licensed centers -- an operation that costs the equivalent of $700 to $1,000.
Armenia currently has 140 filling stations equipped with gas compressing equipment.
"Switching to gas has been a real salvation for... Armenia, whose forests suffered very much during the energy crisis," said environment official Martin Tsarukian. "Gas-using cars emit half the amount of nitric oxide than petrol-driven cars," he said. "Conversion to gas was an economic necessity, but there have been ecological benefits as a result."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006