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Blue Corridor 2013 Hansa - merchants' trail
The Blue Corridor has its tradition. It may not be particularly long, but it wasn't invented yesterday, either. This year's edition was the seventh overall and the third to run through several countries (the remaining four were all inside Russia, as the Blue Corridor venture is a 100% Russian initiative). Since the rally's inception, its participants have covered over 20 thousand km, which equals to approximately half the equator. For the 2013 international edition, a route along the old Hansa merchant trail from Hamburg to Sankt Petersburg was chosen, naturally including Poland on the way. And so there was an opportunity for CNG/LNG-related and interested companies and individual professionals to meet and talk about how to improve the situation of methane fuels in the country. Things have been improving quite sluggishly and yet there are events and initiatives directly related to promoting natural gas as petrol and diesel substitutes. One of them is the annual Poleko fair, including a methane expo. It was from Poleko that Polish participants of the 2013 Blue Corridor joined the rally convoy.
As for the rally itself, its Polish leg led, among others, through Słupsk, where a visit to STAKO's composite CNG tank manufacturing plant had been planned, and Świnoujście, where an LNG sea terminal is being constructed. The prospect of its completion gives us hope for some kind of diversification, at least in terms of delivery methods. Even though LNG will be imported from Russia, as is natural gas coming by means of pipelines today, but at least the terminal will not be operated by PGNiG, Poland's major player in the natural gas market. This in turn allows us to believe CNG/LNG refueling infrastructure will begin to flourish after years of stagnation and hollow promises on PGNiG's part. Regardless of what the future holds, Polish bus manufacturer Solbus teamed up with Gazprom Germania to do a Solcity LNG promotional roadshow, demonstrating the advantages of liquefied methane propulsion. Lack of LNG stations is no obstacle here, since the Solcity LNG – as part of the deal between Solbus and Gazprom Germania – uses fuel delivered by mobile tankers and can perform its duties as city bus without problems. And in fact it does – it has been carrying passengers in Olsztyn since not long ago, it may also come to Warsaw soon.
In Gdynia, not far away from where the Polish leg's Blue Corridor conference was held, methane buses have been successfully used for years, saving its operator, the PKM, some truly tangible amounts of cash (approx. 1 million euros within five years, between 2007 and 2012). PKM's president, Kazimierz Gałkiewicz, who spoke during the conference of his company's experience with CNG, failed to mentioned the projected impact of excise tax (to be imposed on November 1, 2013) on future savings, but apparently they're not threatened, since PKM plans to introduce more methane-powered buses, including CNG-electric hybrids. Apart from that, some of the diesel buses used may be converted to partially run on the gaseous fuel. A test conversion will be carried out soon, with the assistance and hardware from Elpigaz of Gdansk. If the vehicle proves efficient enough, more will follow suit.
PKM is lucky (or rather enterprising) enough to have a CNG station on their own turf, without the need to drive to a distant location everyday. The station is open to the public, although it stands within PKM's grounds. However, it's soon to be made accessible directly from the street. Why are we mentioning this anyway? Well, it's because once the conference was over, guests and participants drove (or rode on a PKM-provided bus) to the station to refuel their vehicles before traveling on and to witness bus refueling. Interestingly, the NGV cavalcade was joined in Gdynia by a particularly curious vehicle – a Russian-made Kamaz garbage collection truck, a treat to the eye rarely seen outside Russia. In fact, Kamaz offers a broad range of CNG-powered vehicles, but they usually only participate in the local legs of the Blue Corridor rally, so seeing one in Poland was quite a surprise. Incidentally, garbage collection truck is one of the best applications for CNG, since methane-powered vehicles emit virtually no smoke at all and much less noise than their diesel counterparts. Anyone ever woken up early on a Saturday morning by a working garbage collection truck is bound to appreciate the change of fuel.
We're glad to see the Blue Corridor rally pass through Poland, because the event raises some much needed CNG awareness in a country where methane motor fuels are almost universally ignored. Methane has splendid properties as motor fuel and it's decision makers' fault it hasn't spread its wings properly for so long. And now that excise tax is about to be impremented, spreading wings will be more difficult still. Well, maybe it's not CNG/LNG's fate to be widely adopted in Poland, but at least we hope it can find broader use in city buses, garbage collection trucks and the like, thus reducing noise and air pollution levels in our cities. Bidding the participants of the 2013 Blue Corridor farewell we wish they could see a different state of affairs when they return for the 2014 edition.
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