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Opinions of Sunday, 22 February 2009

Columnist: Abdulai, Kodam

Conversion From Petrol To Gas Is Dangerous


We have read a letter by one Henry Egyei-Mensah of St. Augustine’s College Cape Coast, titled “Conversion From Petrol To Gas Is Dangerous”, which was published in the January 12, 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic and we wish to set the record straight.

But for its ignorant persuasiveness, Henry’s letter, headed with an authoritative caption, would have passed without a single comment from the Association of LPGas and CNG Safety Association of Ghana as the writer’s wish was only “to raise some grave concerns over the rate at which vehicle owners are converting their engine from petrol to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Ghana”. Yet the letter which sounded like a school boy’s attempt at making his or her voice heard, also went ahead to make some infantile conclusions that “such vehicles were manufactured originally to run on petrol or gasoline and therefore, any conversion in this regard is a complete mechanical alteration”

First of all, it is the legitimate right of everybody to be concerned about anything he or she does not fully understand, but by default, has to patronise in one way or the order like boarding of a vehicle which runs on LPG.

Vividly I remember, when I was young, my mother used to terrified us about the use of Gas stoves, though at the time two things were clear: one, the possibility of us coming close to such stoves in our village was rare, and two, she had never seen one herself let alone use it. Her only justification for her fears was the numerous stories of houses that were gutted by fire from the domestic use of LPG. These fires literally caused unimaginable losses of lives and properties worth millions of cedis. And indeed, in Ghana today, from time to time, one hears stories of fires continuing to devoir markets and shopping malls allegedly due to one inflammable material or fuel being used or being present in the scene of incident.

So in the middle of these happenings, we would not fault anyone for being oblivious to the fact that vehicles converted to gas are hardly among the statistics of spontaneous explosions on our roads. It is however true that since the use of LPG on cars came to vogue, some re-fuelling stations exploded and in other developments some cylinders too, and by extension LPG on cars could also be incriminated. What we forget is that if the safety rules and regulations in handling gasoline or petrol are ignored or taken for granted, this product of the crude family also become very deadly if not deadlier.

Now to the substantive issue; it is never true that only vehicles originally manufactured to run on LPG are safe. However, there is no gainsaying that only qualified technicians must be allowed to do retrofitting on vehicles whilst the bad nuts are barred or wiped out of the trade for obvious reasons. Autogas is the term generally used for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) when it is used for the propulsion of road vehicles. Again, for vehicles to be able to run on LPG, their engines need to be converted by qualified technicians. But this does not mean that there is a modification in the vehicles systems. Instead, some accessories such as a vapouriser unit, copper pipes and a fuel tank are installed or retrofitted onto the engine. This is all that there is to be done and this is all what is referred to as conversion. Once completed, these vehicles which are provided with a switch can run on either gasoline or LPG. In order words the vehicles become bi-fuel.

Maybe a little further into the operations of automobile engines would allay the residual fears Henry Egyei-Mensah’s letter and similar ones in the past might have caused to readers and other observers. Most cars run on internal combustion engines and almost all cars currently use what is called a four-stroke combustion cycle to convert fuel into motion. Either a fuel injection system or a carburettor discharges the correct mixture of fuel and air into the cylinders during the intake stroke. Then the compression, combustion and exhaust strokes follow in that succession. This core principles of internal combustion engine never changes irrespective of which fuel is being used and by extension, there should not be the slightest mechanical alteration to the engine or to any other part during retrofitting. All what is needed is a tube from the LPG tank through the vapouriser to the injection system or the carburettor. This comes with valves and a switch which allows for alternating use of these two sources of fuel. However, suitable positions must be located for these additional components and they must be secured, hence the need to employ a qualified technician.

At this juncture, if one sees LPG simply as the gaseous form of petrol which has been compressed, one would not be far from concluding that in the case of propelling cars not much difference exists between the two fuel kinds except that the former flows faster than the latter and has therefore been more feared traditionally. And more so, because due to its odourless nature, LPG had raked a lot of havoc in the past as it leaked into close environment without warning before a naked fire caused it to explode. Subsequently, it has intentionally been provided with foul smell as a warning property.

Nonetheless, the use of autogas has a number of benefits. And for vehicles, Autogas is cleaner than conventional fuels. Compared with gasoline fuelled vehicles, LPG typically has around 20% less ozone forming potential (a measure of it’s tendency to generate photochemical smog, which causes cancer and respiratory problems), at least 15% lower green house gas emissions, and up to 80% less toxic emissions. (Source

The combustion of Autogas is smoother as a result of the higher octane content. Unlike other fuels, no addictives are required to guarantee high quality. It is better than petrol because it reaches the engine in pure gas form with improved combustion resulting in fewer knocking. Due to the absence of acids and carbon deposits, the life of engine is extended. One can state for a fact that engines that run on LPG last almost twice those on petrol/gasoline. Again, less carbon means less fouling of spark plugs and points i.e. less wear and tear.

It is in view of the above and other advantages that Countries like Italy, Netherland, Mexico, Australia and Japan have for many years embarked on the conversion of vehicles to run on LPG. This does not necessarily mean manufacturing cars originally to run on LPG, but as a post manufacturing work.

Italy for instance has over a million vehicles that run on LPG. By far the biggest consumer of autogas is Japan. Japan uses over 1,800,000 tones a year. In Vienna, where severe pollution problems started many years ago, the authorities started converting buses to Autogas to overcome the threat. This proved so successful in reducing pollution that the number of buses running on Autogas has been increased over the years to about 400 today.

Another point worth noting is that Autogas undertaken by qualified technicians have excellent safety record throughout the world. That is why insurance premiums for Autogas vehicles are the same as petrol vehicles.

About Henry’s fears concerning the “how” of conversion, the Association of LPGas and CNG Safety Association of Ghana has identified some unqualified technicians in the system who are doing shoddy conversions which tends to create problems for vehicle users. So, the Association is working hard to bring under it’s umbrella all stake holders in the LPGas industry to ensure conformity and compliance with international regulations and safety standards.

Kodam Abdulai

( For and on behalf of LPGas & CNG Safety Association Of Ghana