Can LPG solve Zimbabwe’s Fuel problem?

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As the power situation in the country worsened, LPG use increased in kitchen’s across the country. With the end of fuel crisis seemingly nowhere in sight; one company believes LPG can step in to alleviate the problem. Intergas set social media ablaze with a short video of their LPG converted Honda Fit. We sat down with their Marketing & Brand manager Ms Ivy Chibanda to find out more.

LPG Use as a Fuel

LPG has been in use a fuel in many countries such as Australia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. It is the third most popular automotive fuel in use today. Manufacturers such as Toyota also used to produce engines in the 1970’s specifically for LPG use. Although their use is in decline now, Australian Ford & Holden factories also used to produce LPG only, and bi-fuel vehicles. Depending on the particular taxing regimes of the country, LPG could be up to half as expensive as the equivalent amount of petrol offering great savings.

LPG as a fuel burns cleaner than petrol, producing about 15% less CO2 emissions than petrol. Depending on the exact composition of the LPG, it can have an octane rating of between 90-100 RON; which is comparable to our petrol (93 for pure unleaded & 94+ RON for ethanol blended fuel).

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Factory like installation of the LPG system

Converting to LPG

Converting to LPG is a fairly straightforward process. The standard engine and fuel system remain in place allowing you to use both petrol and LPG. Intergas’ LPG system actually requires you to maintain a small amount of fuel to start the engine but once running the computer will switch over to LPG. The complete conversion process should take about 2 days to fit components & configure the electronics. The LPG conversion components include:

  • Gas tank
  • Gas Lines that run under the vehicle.
  • Regulator & Vaporiser
  • Injectors
  • Control Unit
Cylindrical Gas Tank
The newly raised boot floor with the cylindrical tank

Gas Tank

The gas tanks come in two different types: cylindrical and toroidal. The cylindrical tank looks much like the type of tanks we are used to seeing in domestic applications. However, automotive LPG tanks have much thicker 6mm walls to protect against impacts during a crash. These tanks will obviously take up valuable luggage space in a passenger vehicle, which may not be such an issue on a larger commercial vehicle or bakkie.

Toroidal Gas Tank

The solution to this problem is the toroidal tank. This donut shaped tank will sit in the spare wheel well, maximising the boot space for luggage. With the obvious drawback of losing space for the spare wheel.There will be three tank sizes available to suit each application: 40, 60 and 80 litres.

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Vaporiser

Regulator & Vaporiser

These units sit in the engine bay to control the flow of gas to the engine. The regulator reduces the gas pressure and the vaporiser used the heat from the engine’s cooling system to change the LPG from liquid to gas before it gets to the injectors.

Gas Injectors on the intake manifold

Injectors

One of the more noticeable additions to the engine bay. These injectors spray the vaporised LPG into the intake manifold, much like the regular injectors would with petrol. These will require some modifications to the standard intake manifold but after fitting they look as if they were installed at the factory.

LPG Control unit

Control Unit

This is the brain of the entire system ensuring that the air-fuel ratios are correct to keep the car running normally and allowing you to switch from petrol to LPG and vice versa with the flick of the cabin mounted switch. The control unit ensures that performance remains constant regardless of what fuel is being used. It also controls valves to shut off the gas flow in the case of anything going wrong such as in an accident.

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The Realities of Converting to LPG

Intergas expects to launch their conversion kits in March of this year with a retail value of between USD700 to USD1300 for petrol vehicles. A variety of vehicles have already been converted including: Honda Fit, Toyota Vitz, Cherry, Honda CRV and a Mitsubishi commercial vehicle. Although LPG is readily available at most service stations and kiosks, only one service station in Aspindale is able to refill the automotive LPG tanks. However Intergas is already looking into an expanded distribution network to make filling up more convenient.

The economics of converting to LPG

LPG is usually quantified in kilograms for domestic use; but for automotive use we can multiply the weight by 1.96 to convert to litres. At current prices LPG costs $33/kg or roughly $16.50/L compared to a pump price of $18.28 for petrol. Unfortunately, its not a straightforward $1.78/L saving. As we saw in our article of ethanol blended fuel, LPG also has a lower energy density than petrol. This means that more LPG is required to produce the same power as petrol.

Australian company ELGAS provides a online calculator that estimates your annual fuel saving based on a full-size Ford Falcon sedan vs it’s LPG model. Over an annual 12 000km, you would pay an extra ZWL$2600 for LPG. The exact fuel economy you will get will largely depend on your particular vehicle. Long story short for a given distance, you will need more LPG than petrol.

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In cabin Switch and gas level meter

The real benefit of converting to LPG in Zimbabwe

That however isn’t the end of the story either. I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: driving past a service station only to see that they are only serving diesel vehicles. And filling LPG tanks. In a situation where auto LPG filling is widespread, you can essentially double your fuel capacity. This means less time spent in fuel queues and more time going about you business. The slightly more expensive fuel economy will be worth the time saved not waiting in fuel queues. With a real fuel saver this could be the difference between queuing once every 4 weeks rather than every 2 weeks.

We look forward to seeing the launch of this project and what it could mean for our fuel woes. For more information on the LPG conversion you can contact Intergas on Facebook and their website here.

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