Vehicles powered by compressed natural gas, methanol mixes and other fuel alternatives will be crucial elements in reducing Israel’s dependence on oil in the not-so-distant future, according to a proposal approved at this Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

The plan mandates that 2013 to 2025 become a transition period for Israel’s transportation sector to non-petroleum alternative energy sources, pursuant to two prior decisions in 2010 and 2011.

In February of 2010, the cabinet first decided to establish a team led by National Economic Council chairman Prof. Eugene Kandel, which would formulate a national policy on reducing petroleum dependence.

Less than a year later, in January 2011, the cabinet approved this national policy, which called for Israelis to develop technologies to reduce global oil dependence in transportation alongside a NIS 1.5 billion government investment over the next decade.

Sunday’s proposal, which was headed by Eyal Rosner of the Alternative Fuels Administration at the Prime Minister’s Office, aims to reduce petroleum’s weight as an energy source for Israel’s transportation by 30 percent in 2020 and by 60% in 2025, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Parallel to reducing the domination of petroleum as a transportation fuel source, will be lowering of the cost of living in general via the reduction of fuel prices, according to the proposal. Also critical to reducing the petroleum presence is encouraging economic growth – including green growth – and simplifying bureaucratic and regulatory processes that will promote technological developments as well as infrastructure growth for alternative transportation.

In addition to decreasing the burden of petroleum on the transportation fuel market, the proposal also stipulates that the government must establish a comprehensive action plan for alternative fuel integration going forward. Under this action plan, the director-general of the Transportation Ministry will be responsible for characterizing the safety requirements for compressed natural gas (CNG) buses within 180 days.

Also in that same time frame, the director-general will need to formulate regulations for vehicles powered by alternative energy sources, such as those operating with multiple fuel options (Flex Fuel Vehicles), as well as those running on biofuels, methanol, ethanol and various other systems, the proposal said. The director-general will also be responsible for completing regulations, including those involving repair garages, for electric and hybrid-powered vehicles.

The Transportation Ministry director-general will also need to formulate cooperation plans with automakers on fuel mix integration, as well as regulations and policy for the new types of transportation in conjunction with the Finance Ministry and Tax Authority, the document said. Such policies will ideally bring about the reduced use of private transportation, as well as introduce methods and models for car sharing, “personal mobility” on two-wheeled vehicles and “personal rapid transit” – individual pod-car public transportation networks.

Meanwhile, the director-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry will be tasked under the action plan with examining the barriers to basing industrial production on natural gas and alternative fuels. In addition, this director-general will be responsible for creating measures that would promote and create competition for these oil substitutes, in collaboration with various government offices.

Among the other stipulations of the action plan will be the formulation of a taxation plan for the new fuel sources by an inter-ministerial committee, including an examination of green taxation policies by the Tax Authority, the proposal said. Meanwhile, the director-general of the Energy and Water Ministry will need to oversee further field tests and demonstration projects to prove the operational feasibility of the various fuel alternatives.

The director-generals of the Transportation and Energy and Water ministries, together with the standards commissioner of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, will also need to examine the regulatory processes that allow for mixtures of traditional gasoline and methanol such as M15 (15% methanol), M30 (30% methanol) and M85 (85% methanol).

The action plan will also require the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry to perform a techno-economic analysis on the use of organic wastes to produce alternative fuels, the document continued.

In addition, a new inter-ministerial team headed by the national planning director for fuel alternatives at the Prime Minister’s Office will formulate a comprehensive plan for encouraging the introduction of non-petroleum-based fuels into cities. That same director for oil substitutes will need to present the progress of the entire action plan to the government every six months.

Finally, as part of the government’s green policies, the Finance Ministry accountant-general will need to review and formulate a policy to increase the use of alternative fuel vehicles in the government fleet of cars, the proposal said.

Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau praised the government’s approval of the proposal, calling natural gas “the country’s biggest growth engine” and a mechanism for reducing Israel’s dependence on oil.

“Research and development in this area could lead to a breakthrough that will contribute to reducing global dependence on oil,” Landau said. “To this effect, it is important to find a way in which we can most vigorously combine international political activity that summons Jewish people toward advancing the development and implementation of oil alternatives in transportation.”

While experts praised the government’s decision to approve the proposal, they also stressed that portions of the document were left a bit too vague.

“I think this is a huge advancement,” Dror Strum, president of The Israeli Institute for Economic Planning, told The Jerusalem Post during an interview at the group’s Herzliya office on Sunday.

The biggest problem that Strum had with the proposal, however, was that the availability of natural gas quantities was not defined in its pages. For example, he said, the annex pages of the document suggest that in the year 2025, the country will require about 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas for public transportation, while the Zemach Committee report issued by the Energy and Water Ministry in September only estimated about 1.49 billion cubic meters.

In response, the Energy and Water Ministry assured the Post that there was no contradiction because the Zemach Committee report also included an index with the 5-billion cubic meters estimate.

Regardless of what the exact number is, Strum stressed that in order to advance its action plan regarding petroleum alternatives for fuel, it must first ensure that the country maintains enough of its natural gas supply at home – at least 85% for the year 2015, a percentage that would gradually decrease year-by-year.

“The government should have taken another step and said we want to secure and decide very clearly that in using natural gas, we are making the use of natural gas in domestic markets a priority,” Strum said. “We are living in a world of interpretations, not of certainty.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger