Alongside the ongoing rollout of Gazprom's regional gasification program that intends to extend the coverage of the national gas-energy transmission system (GTS) for the company's residential, municipal, and commercial/industrial customers, the Russian government has also launched parallel programs for expanding the country's natural gas vehicle-refueling infrastructure and for reviving the domestic market for natural-gas (powered) vehicles or NGVs.
Directors and senior regional officials of the state-run utility company and its subsidiaries, along with executives of various concerned Russian ministries and a number of oil companies and manufacturers of vehicles and industrial machinery, met early this month to work out the preliminary organizational, financial, and technical specifics for expanding the NGV-fuel market in Russia.
With a bounty of natural gas (Russia's proved gas reserves is the largest in the world and amounts to about 44.6 trillion cubic meters – 1575 trillion cubic feet – as of the end of 2011), the Russian leadership has decided to adopt a two-pronged strategy of simultaneously developing the country's domestic gas-distribution system as well as constructing additional gas-export facilities. This strategy, combined with the application of “intelligent” gas-distribution and facility-management technologies, could allow Gazprom to more efficiently utilize the country's natural-gas resources in providing for basic energy needs (heating, cooking, and transport fuel) and in generating higher gas-sales revenues. The increased use of compressed and liquefied natural gas as vehicular fuel is also intended to significantly reduce pollution emissions from internal-combustion-powered vehicles and power plants. This strategy would also allow Gazprom to exercise finer control over Russia's gas resources and thus enhance the company's ability to incorporate and position this strategic asset into the country's wider national energy plan. One of the priorities of the program is to expand the market share of natural-gas fuels (CNG and LNG) in all of Russia.
There are currently about 14.8 million gas-powered vehicles worldwide that run on either compressed or liquefied natural gas (CNG and LNG, respectively), or on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Natural gas is mostly methane (plus maybe some ethane), while petroleum gas consists mostly of propane and/or butane. Russia currently has only about 86,000 CNG-type NGVs. In comparison, the US has a total of about 264,476 gas-powered vehicles consisting of about 114,270 CNG-powered vehicles (mostly transit buses), as well as 147,030 LPG-powered vehicles, and 3176 LNG-powered vehicles. The US therefore has about 117,446 NGVs. (Note that LPG-powered vehicles are not NGVs.)
Ranked in terms of numbers of NGVs, the world's top ten countries that utilize natural gas as road transport fuels include Iran (2,859,386 vehicles), Pakistan (2,850,500 vehicles), Argentina (2,077,581 vehicles), Brazil (1,702,790 vehicles), India (1,100,376 vehicles), Italy (779,090 vehicles), China (611,900 vehicles), Colombia (365,168 vehicles), Uzbekistan (310,000 vehicles), and Thailand (305,290 vehicles).
At current prices, one cubic meter (1000 liters) of natural gas sells for about $0.12 in the US. In Russia, a cubic meter of natural gas sells (at subsidized local prices) for about 9 RUB ($0.27). In the export markets, Russia sells its natural gas for around $0.45. Judging solely from the price differentials, it is readily obvious that considerable cost savings can be obtained by increasing CNG/LNG penetration of the American vehicular-fuels market. Another option for the US would be to export its natural gas. At present, US households and the commerce/industrial/energy sectors are the main beneficiaries of cheap locally sourced natural gas. Canada, on the other hand, seems to have sufficient natural gas for all three options: export, domestic energy use (including industry) and use as NGV fuel.