Despite the potential security risk posed to buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), this alternative fuel can provide Israel with a more environmentally and economically friendly alternative to gasoline in public transportation, experts said on Sunday.

CNG – gas compacted to less than 1 percent of the space it inhabits during standard atmospheric pressure – offers a fueling alternative that would be cleaner and cheaper than traditional diesel in commercial buses and trucks, explained Dr. Bracha Halaf, at the “Electric Buses and Natural Gas-Based Transportation” seminar in Holon that day.

A CNG engine operates quite similarly in many ways to a traditional fuel engine, since the natural gas, compressed inside a cylinder, interacts with the air to ignite the engine.

After performing intense analyses of the different CNG fueling options, the Energy and Water Ministry determined that the most optimal cost-saving fueling option is a slow fueling station that feeds from the country’s distribution grids, according to Halaf, who is the senior manager of oil replacements in the ministry.

As for the vehicles themselves, commercial buses and trucks that drive across long distances would financially benefit most from using CNG, she said.

“The most significant improvement compared to conventional fuels, is due to minimal land use, the lack of a production plant and the redundancy of fuel transportation, as well as improvement in vehicle emissions, but it is mainly for inter-city drives and heavy vehicles – not for private vehicles,” Halaf added.

Korea has already replaced 93% of its public buses with models running on CNG, as part of the country’s green growth policy that kicked off in 2008, explained Kyung Ryul An, Korean Ambassador for Green Growth.

While there has been proven international experience as well as great environmental and cost benefits of feeding commercial vehicles with CNG, there are also potential weaknesses, Halaf said. There is the “chicken and egg” problem of deploying infrastructure – what comes first, the fueling stations or the vehicles.

“It’s not the chicken or the egg,” said Sim Herring of Florida-based PowerFuel CNG, whose father built the state’s first CNG station in 2009. “It’s both – the chicken and the egg at the same time – and the government has a role to support that.”

The government, he stressed, must encourage new technology growth and establish standards for CNG, as well as provide incentives for vehicle purchase. Moreover, it might be beneficial to push for the purchase of entire fleets, rather than individual vehicles, he added.

Perhaps most frightening, however, is the security issue posed by CNG specifically to Israel.

“There is the issue of safety – and I do not mean accidental damage, but I mean what we look at here in Israel as intentional damage that can be caused to buses driven on CNG,” Halaf said.

“This is another issue that we in the government are dealing with.”

Herring, however, saw this security threat as a challenge.

“You can’t just say it’s taken care of like elsewhere,” he said. “I think it’s a chance for Israeli innovation to find the opportunities.”

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