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EghtesadOnline: Demand for auto fuel system conversions to LPG and CNG hybrids has been growing in Iran ever since November 2019, when the government rationed and tripled the price of fuel overnight.

Not surprisingly, the number of illegal conversion centers has soared in major Iranian cities, ISNA reported.

The National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company recently issued a statement to warn over the potential danger of people having their vehicles equipped with LPG or CNG combustion system in uncertified centers, according to Financial Tribune.

The company emphasized the importance of going using the authorized process of fuel system conversion by visiting the website and called it the only safe way the public should resort to. 

"Do not undermine your safety for an insignificant service discount offered by these illegal centers, if any at all," the company said.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), more commonly known as autogas, is a mixture of flammable propane and butane. 

Elaborating on the potential dangers of the gas, NIOPDC said LPG in liquid form can cause severe cold burns to the skin owing to its rapid vaporization. 

It forms a flammable mixture with air in concentrations of 2-10%. It can, therefore, be a fire and explosion hazard if stored or used incorrectly.

Air mixtures arising from leakages may be ignited some distance from the point of escape and the flame can travel back to the source of the leak.

An LPG vessel could be nominally empty but may still contain LPG vapor and be potentially dangerous. Therefore, people need to treat all LPG vessels as if they are full.

Compressed natural gas (CNG), on the other hand, is a potential bomb if not installed and used with proper care. CNG is made by compressing natural methane gas to less than 1% of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure. 

CNG tank explosions are almost always unexpected and disastrous. Therefore, converting a fuel burning vehicle to a CNG-hybrid must be carried out by licensed specialists. 

Older tanks on dilapidated vehicles should be replaced as quickly as possible. CNG tanks on vehicles that already ride low to the ground–or on vehicles with worn-out shock absorbers–are extremely dangerous. 

Anyone who owns a CNG-powered vehicle or who manages a fleet of such vehicles must inspect the tanks regularly and have them replaced as scheduled by auto specialists. 

Negligence regarding outdated or defective CNG tanks can lead to powerful explosions, serious injuries and in the worst-case scenario, an avoidable fatality. 



Demand for CNG Hybrids

Following the government's decision to hike fuel prices, compressed natural gas consumption has risen by 2 million cubic meters per day since Nov. 15, 2019, the head of CNG Department at the state-run NIOPDC said.

“CNG consumption is growing rapidly. It surpassed 21 mcm/d, up 11% in late November 2019. The figure is expected to exceed 24 mcm/d by the end of the current Iranian year [March 19] ,” Hamid Qasemi added.

In the last two months, close to 30,000 car owners have applied to convert their vehicles to CNG hybrids at authorized centers.

“Due to the large number of applicants, the authorized centers [supervised by NIOPDC and the Industries Ministry] will follow the policy of first come, first served,” Ali Mahmoudian, the head of Alternative Fuels Union, said.

“Much-needed parts and equipment to convert cars to CNG hybrids have been indigenized and centers will be working round the clock to meet rising demand.”

According to NIOPDC, of the 19 million vehicles in Iran, over 5 million have hybrid CNG engines. The number of active conversion centers in the country has reached 250 and could rise to 380 on demand.



Free Conversion Soon

Depending on the type of car and size of CNG tank, owners are charged between $300-400. 

However, the government is working on a plan to offer free conversion services to the public. 

According to Qasemi, negotiations with seven companies are underway. 

"As soon as an agreement is reached between the sides, the free conversion scheme will commence," he added. 

Motivating people to switch to natural gas has been on the Iranian government’s agenda for long. However, these efforts have mostly been limited to major cities like Tehran.

Long before the free services became the topic of debates, NIOPDC started to offer low-interest loans to owners of all commercial and passenger vehicles running on gasoline and diesel to convert them to CNG hybrids



Long-Term Plan

With the introduction of various incentives, CNG consumption in the country has reached 21 million cubic meters per day, but the government aims to further increase the use of this clean fuel. 

Its endeavors have been aimed at curbing fossil fuel consumption and reducing toxic emissions released into the air by diesel engines that are considered heavy polluters.

However, according to the latest report, CNG consumption can increase to over 40 million cubic meters per day.

The NIOPDC reports that in the last Iranian year ending in March 2019, gasoline consumption was 90 million liters per day. This is while gasoline in Iran is costlier than CNG.

One cubic meter of CNG costs 4,140 rials (3 cents), while a liter of gasoline is sold at 30,000 rials (22 cents).

CNG is projected to comprise 35% of Iran's total fuel consumption by the end of the Sixth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2017-22). To achieve this goal, the government recently launched an initiative to motivate more drivers to convert their gas-burning vehicles to CNG hybrids.


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