Resurrecting the Afghanistan Economy: the Case for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

 

By Sayed Aziz Azimi

January 13, 2016

 

In March 2015 Sayed “Aziz” Azimi published a paper entitled “Saving Afghanistan: 20 Transformational Initiatives to Create One Million Jobs" (available here.) This essay is the next in a series of additional job-creation initiatives that Mr. Azimi will be releasing in the months ahead.


Recent geological studies have shown an abundance of natural gas deposits in northern Afghanistan and the likelihood of additional deposits elsewhere in the country. Natural gas is the cleanest form of all fossil fuels and has been used as fuel and feedstock for hundreds of years. These deposits can be and must become a cornerstone of the new Afghan economy in the upcoming years. The use of natural gas in Afghanistan has the potential to replace a major share of gasoline as a transportation fuel, and to replace liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and wood as cooking and heating fuels. It also can quickly become an economical and clean source for generating electricity throughout the country, which would help reduce air pollution in Afghan cities. 

In the world today, natural gas is transported three ways: by pipeline, liquefied, and compressed. Pipelines are expensive and require long-term commitments. Transporting liquefied natural gas is also not cost-effective for landlocked countries like Afghanistan. The most practical and economical option for Afghanistan is to ship compressed natural gas by trucks. Traditionally, a significant majority of Afghan goods are transported by trucks. The trucking industry is well developed and efficient in carrying all types of loads all over Afghanistan in all kinds of weather, security conditions, or types of administrative powers in Kabul. 

A recent USAID pilot project in Sheberghan successfully proved the use of CNG as a fuel for taxis. This experiment should be expanded to other uses such as the replacement of LPG, which Afghanistan currently must purchase with foreign currency. The Afghan government could partner with a number of LPG importers and small truck operators to transport Afghan-owned CNG to other areas near the sources, and later to deliver the product to more distant locations. There is a little difference in the transportation of LPG and CNG, with the exception that CNG requires stronger tanks. Transport of the fuel itself is still carried out by tanker trucks. 

To make CNG use a reality, the President Ghani Administration must create an independent entity to manage CNG production, transportation, and marketing. This entity must be given all the necessary authority to make CNG a fuel of choice throughout Afghanistan in less than one year. Given such a tight schedule, the President needs to be involved personally and needs to monitor the implementation progress by granting the entity leadership unabated access to visit him to discuss any problems they might encounter during this period. 

CNG technology is well proven and has been used by many countries, including Afghanistan’s neighbors Iran and Pakistan. There is no better time than now for the Afghan government—in collaboration with donor countries—to launch a pilot project based on a public/private partnership to begin using this important source of energy to help resurrect the Afghanistan economy.

 

Sayed “Aziz” Azimi is founder and chief executive officer of Technologists, Inc. (Ti), an international engineering and management consulting firm that works primarily in developing countries to build infrastructure, improve governance, and increase human capacity.