Egypt is moving to increase the number of cars that run on natural gas in a bid to alleviate domestic demand for diesel fuel and petrol and to reduce high rates of pollution in cities, particularly Cairo.
The government's move towards promoting the use of natural gas-powered cars began in the mid-1990s, said Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources advisor Radwan Fathallah.
Since then, the government has encouraged major establishments and companies to market natural gas-powered cars and invest in the natural gas fuel sector, he told Al-Shorfa.
"Increasing the number of natural gas-powered cars must be accompanied by a studied distribution of fuel stations that provide natural gas," he said. "There are currently 164 natural gas fuel stations owned by six companies, spread across 20 provinces, and work is on-going with various companies to open them in all provinces."
Currently, there are around 185,000 natural gas-powered vehicles registered with the government, about 75% of them taxis, he said.
All estimates point to the number of natural gas-powered cars surpassing 200,000 by the end of 2014, he said.
The ministry, in partnership with the Social Fund for Development, has allocated five million pounds ($714,000) to convert cars to natural gas usage, he said.
The government also offers a five-year tax exemption to companies that provide compressed natural gas for cars, as well as tariff reductions of up to 90% for imported equipment used for conversions, Fathallah said.
"Additionally, the fees imposed on converted cars are nominal, and very low-interest loans are extended to whoever wants to convert his car to natural gas usage, while imported cars manufactured as natural gas vehicles receive a 55% reduction on their tariff charges," he said.
Fathallah said increased natural gas usage would save the government money on petrol subsidies as well as ease the pressure on citizens, as the price of natural gas is about 25% lower than that of petrol.
At the governmental level, 200 public transport vehicles and 2,000 government cars have been converted to natural gas usage, and 50 passenger transport vehicles have been manufactured to use the fuel, he said.
The shortage in petrol and diesel on the market in past months spurred a number of people to convert their cars to natural gas usage, including Tamer Moneim, a bank employee in Cairo.
Moneim told Al-Shorfa he decided to convert his car at a time when petrol stations were constantly congested due to a shortage on the market and he began using taxis for transport instead.
"I noticed that many taxis run on natural gas in conjunction with petrol, and there was hardly any congestion at natural gas fuel stations compared to petrol stations," he said.
The conversion by a local company cost Moneim around 6,000 pounds ($857), and he later learned that he was entitled to recover part of the amount of the tariff he paid for the car.
He said now he saves almost 70% of what he used to pay for petrol for his car every month.
Maged Boulos, an environmental pollution inspector at the Ministry of Environment, told Al-Shorfa that the use of natural gas in cars is one of the best ways to reduce damage to the environment caused by other fuels.
Natural gas is more environmentally-friendly than other fossil fuels, he said, and conversion to natural gas consumption would lower the pollution rate in Cairo in particular, which hosts 25% of the population who use 60% of all registered cars.