The longest Blue Corridor is a great success

November 3, 2011

The idea of using motor rallies to promote gas as a motor fuel is not new. Such motor rallies were held in the Soviet times; they are regularly held abroad as well.

The key feature of Blue Corridors – the motor rallies of natural gas vehicles (NGV) organized by Gazprom since 2008 – is that only factory-made NGVs participate in it unlike in the Soviet times, when converted vehicles were primarily involved. The idea to hold motor rallies is simple and effective. According to Gazprom, NGV fuel sales in the cities and regions, which were covered by Blue Corridor in the past years, grew by up to 17 per cent.

Blue Corridor 2011 passed through 11 cities: Yekaterinburg – Chelyabinsk – Ufa – Orenburg – Samara – Saratov – Volgograd – Voronezh – Tambov – Tula – Moscow. It lasted for more than 2 weeks from October 19 through November 2. Its length was about 3,600 kilometers. To date, it is the longest motor rally ever held by Gazprom.

Blue Corridor 2011 motor rally logo

Motor rally as means of transport

The success of such a complex event like motor rally in over 11 Russian regions depends first of all on its thorough organization and smooth performance. This is not just a motorcade moving from town to town. People need meals, accommodation, and sometimes medical care. Vehicles need at least washing and refilling. No matter how thoroughly such event is organized, additional issues arising in the course of it are inevitable. And what is more they occur round-the-clock.

Ceremonial motor rally start in Yekaterinburg

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the organizers did an excellent job. There were no accidents during the rally. The only thing that somewhat depressed everyone during the 15-day trip was October's cold weather. There are problems indeed which cannot be avoided even when using the “blue fuel” ...

All vehicles participating in the rally were equipped with radio stations, which were necessary for coordination of actions. Maneuvers on the way are agreed upon beforehand and radio stations must be always on. Truck drivers used the same wave. They took an active interest in the goals and features of such a large motorcade. Our drivers provided detailed explanations. The routine was the same at each section of the route. Another form of NGVs promotion, not stipulated by the plan, was thus born.

It's easy to get used to good things. After a few days of the motor rally, many winced at passing diesel trucks. Gas engines exhaust fumes comply with Euro 4 standards (and are just a bit under Euro 5, Russian car makers still have things to improve), while diesel engines do not...

Main idea

A question instantly arose: why did only factory-made vehicles participate in the motor rally? What was the reason for the attention of Gazprom to factory-made modifications? After all, most Russian NGVs are converted vehicles.

According to organizers, conversion of gasoline vehicles to natural gas is certainly good as well, but properly speaking, this is history. Firstly, their engines are designed for gasoline or diesel fuel. Conversion of such a vehicle to natural gas brings a perceivable economic and environmental effect, but it is less than that of factory-made vehicles. Secondly, service. Purchase of a factory-made NGV comes with service maintenance, both under warranty and post-warranty. All the more so, leading international and domestic car makers offer gas-powered modifications of the most popular models. And those, that don't, are designing them.

Small-size gas-powered KAMAZ dump truck

We spoke with one of the motor rally participants – Rafael Batyrshin, Director General of RARITEK (authorized distributor of KAMAZ):

Seven gas-powered KAMAZ trucks of different modifications participate in our motor rally; they proved themselves well on the road; no failures. And what if something happened? What if this vehicle wasn't a motor rally participant, but made all this way on its own?

In each of the eleven cities we visited, there's at least one KAMAZ service center. Specialists of this center would have taken care of the repair. We are not just selling gas-powered vehicles; we guarantee the service. So that neither you, nor any other owner have problems.

Rafael Batyrshin tells Tambov Oblast Governor Oleg Betin about NGV advantages

Service is a serious matter indeed. By the way, what is the difference between service and repair of a gas-powered vehicle and those of a conventional vehicle?

Eduard Gaidt, Head of Uralavtogaz, Gazprom Transgaz Yekaterinburg:

The thing is that about 1,000 passenger and commercial vehicles operated by Gazprom transgaz Yekaterinburg are running on natural gas. The company has been operating methane-powered vehicles since the mid-1980s, so its experts have good experience. Operation and repair of gas-powered vehicles are similar to those of conventional ones. They have similar undercarriage, body, etc. And the difference in the engine design is not so great, either; the main difference is in the fuel injection system. Except for the fact that the NGV engine normally has a longer service life and oil can be replaced less frequently.

Evgeny Pronin and Eduard Gaidt

Rafael Batyrshin:

Yes, indeed. The thing is in the physical and chemical properties of gas. Its octane number is nearly 100; it gets completely burned in the engine chambers. And in general, it behaves better as a fuel. Reliability and resistance to wear and tear of a gas engine are therefore higher. For example, the service life of a KAMAZ dump truck's diesel engine is 700 thousand kilometers, while that of a gas engine is 1 million kilometers! Another example: it is usually required to replace or make major repairs the piston block of a city bus after 100,000 kilometers. If a bus has a gas engine, there's nothing to repair even after 350,000 kilometers – we could see it for ourselves with our NEFAZ buses.

As for oil changes, diesel fuel or gasoline wash it off from the internal cylinder walls during injection, and on top of it, with incomplete combustion, they leave a sludge in chambers that is harmful to the engine. After 10,000 kilometers, oil in a dump truck engine must be replaced. This is for diesels engines. After a gas-powered dump truck drove 10,000 kilometers; we drained oil and it was like new. We handed it over to a laboratory, and they confirmed that the oil retained its service properties. Now, we replace oil in our gas-powered KAMAZ trucks every 30 thousand kilometers. But not because we have to do so, just in case.

Gas-powered NEFAZ buses on road

Oncoming traffic

Round table discussions with representatives of regional governments and municipal administrations were held in all towns of the motor rally.

Round table discussion in Orenburg

“We are well aware of the advantages of NGVs,” that's how representatives of the regional authorities usually began the dialogue. “If we had more gas stations, we would convert vehicles to gas.”

“How come there will be more of them,” Gazprom representatives replied, “if the existing ones are not working at full capacity?”

Round table discussion participants in Volgograd

This key contradiction of the current Russian NGV market was resolved during the Blue Corridor 2011 motor rally for the first time over many years of discussions in Russia. Mutually beneficial agreements between Gazprom and local executive authorities were achieved. Representatives of regional and municipal authorities expressed readiness to gasify municipal motor transport, while Gazprom undertook, in parallel with converting transport to gas, to build additional CNG filling stations at specified locations. It is clear that all this work shall be done in coordination and according to a plan. To do so, Protocols of Intent were signed with heads of regional executive authorities.

CNG filling station

We convinced ourselves again during the motor rally that the Russian CNG filling station system should be expanded. Yes, vehicles covered the entire distance refilling only at stationary CNG filling stations. But still, there were two episodes when some certain passenger cars with a small fuel tank) had to be refilled using a mobile gas filler. This happened for the first time during the longest Volgograd – Voronezh section (580 kilometers) and for the second time in the Tambov Oblast. The Tambov Oblast turned out to be the only region with no gas filling stations.

Gas-powered bus at filling station

At the same time, according to Oleg Betin, Head of Tambov Oblast Administration, the region annually receives multi-million government subsidies for fuelling agricultural equipment. Add delivery expenses, because all oil refining products are brought here from other regions. With stagewise conversion of agricultural vehicles to gas, these costs (covered by taxpayers) will be reduced by many times: gas is cheaper and doesn't need to be delivered to the region. Besides, the construction of stationary CNG filling stations is not needed at early stages, since agricultural vehicles can be refilled in the field using mobile gas filling stations. Gazprom has all these technologies up and running for a long time now.

So it is not accidental that Oleg Betin signed the Protocol of Intent with Gazprom and publicly declared that the Tambov Oblast was ready to gasify motor transport.

Talking with journalists in Tambov. From left to right: Evgeny Pronin, Oleg Betin and Leonid Chernoshchyokov, Director General of Gazprom transgaz Saratov

For cleanliness of the flag

Vehicles participating in the motor rally became items of an NGV exhibition in each of the 11 cities. Furthermore, an unscheduled exhibition took place in the city of Borisoglebsk (second largest city in the Voronezh Oblast). Having learnt about the motor rally, locals persuaded the organizers of Blue Corridor 2011 to stop in their city just for an hour and show gas-powered vehicles.

Andre Schumann and Alexey Kabargin, Acting Head of Borisoglebsk Administration near gas-powered Volkswagen

Visitors of the exhibitions were shown an experiment demonstrating ecological advantages of natural gas.

Organizers took the snow-white flag of the motor rally and fearlessly covered the exhaust pipe of a running gas-powered KAMAZ with it. After a while, everyone could see that there was not a single spot on the flag.

Gas engine exhaust gases cause no harm to motor rally flag

By the way, many noticed that the gas-powered KAMAZ engine is running much quieter than a conventional diesel engine. This is another essential factor in favor of using this vehicle for instance in the municipal mass transit system.

But economic benefits are no less important. According to the data of KAMAZ (and this is Russia's largest manufacturer of NGVs), the owner saves RUB 144 million over 10 years of operation of 10 gas-powered NEFAZ city buses due to the price difference between conventional and gas fuel. Ten municipal dump trucks will save RUB 61 million over the same period.

Let's not forget about the clean flag, since the bulk of air pollution in large cities comes from motor transport.

Direct speech

Fidan Sadykov is participating in the Blue Corridor motor rally for the first time. He drives a cargo and passenger gas-powered KAMAZ designed for repair operations. This vehicle is equipped with a cabin for the repair crew, a body for spare parts, and a mini-crane. This KAMAZ covers 710 kilometers on one fuel tank. Fidan works as a test driver with the KAMAZ research and engineering center, where he tests the latest vehicles, both diesel- and gas-powered. So, he knows the difference between them.

“Of course, the engine on the gas-powered modification of KAMAZ is running smoother; it's also more powerful due to an increase in the gas octane number,” he says. “At the same time, comfort is not of the least importance to me as a professional driver. There's no smell of diesel fuel in the cabin, and, if you noticed, we can talk at a normal level and still hear each other with no problems. If it was a diesel, it would be much more difficult for us. And the overalls are clean, too...”

Sergey Myasnyankin (Gazprom VNIIGAZ) is participating in this motor rally for the second time. He is driving an absolutely different kind of vehicle. His Mercedes E200 can run both on natural gas and gasoline. And this is not a “converted” car, but a factory modification. He can run up to 360 kilometers on one fuel tank. Sergey's driving experience is over 30 years.

According to him, “Now Gazprom VNIIGAZ has 10 passenger cars, including this one, running on natural gas: six Mercedes cars and four Volkswagen Caddy cars. You could see for yourself that the engine of the gas-powered Mercedes runs smoothly. It has two operating modes – economy and sport, but normally the economy mode is quite sufficient. We have no problems with maintenance, and the gas station is near our Institute. Of course, we'd like to have more stations like that. Or even like those in Europe: most stations are multi-fuel – gasoline, natural gas... You always have a choice.”

Andre Schumann (EON Ruhrgas, Germany) has a double mission in the motor rally – he represents his company at exhibitions and round table discussions of Blue Corridor and he is also one of the drivers of a gas-powered Volkswagen Passat. This car travels about 500 kilometers on one fuel tank. This is Andre's third time in the Blue Corridor motor rally.

“In order to participate in Blue Corridor along the Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod route last year, our Volkswagen had to cover about 8,000 kilometers, because we were driving it from Germany. And it did the job well. And we drove ourselves from Saint-Petersburg for this rally. We ran about 2,500 kilometers and spent a bit more than 2,000 rubles on fuel. It's not difficult to calculate – this is less than one rouble per kilometer! We used the services of Russian CNG filling stations, but of course in Germany it is easier to fuel the car with natural gas: 900 filing stations in a relatively small area (for comparison, there are now 249 of them in Russia). Ecological and economic advantages of NGVs make us consider wider use of them in Russia as in one of the high-priority areas of cooperation with our Russian partners. In return, we are ready to provide technologies, equipment and financing. The NGV market is rapidly growing all over the world, and Russia will sooner or later join this trend,” Andre said.

Are there people who participated in all Blue Corridor motor rallies? Understandably, they shall be looked for among organizers.

Evgeny Pronin, Head of the Division for Natural Gas Use as Motor Fuel, Deputy Head of the Gasification and Gas Utilization Directorate under the Gas Transportation, Underground Storage and Utilization Department, Gazprom:

“The importance of motor rallies for expanding the NGV market is still very high. No matter how many figures or data we give, a man needs to touch and to see everything for himself, talk with those who have already used it.

This motor rally convinced us again that local authorities, even those, who initially were rather skeptical about our undertaking, began thinking and talking in a completely different way after they had visited round table discussions and checked out the vehicles. Instead of ‘we are not ready yet’ they were saying: ‘what needs to be done to implement it here as well?’ Attitude towards NGVs in Russia is gradually changing. What we saw in Borisoglebsk confirms this idea: they were asking us to show the vehicles, tell them how to organize conversion of the municipal vehicle fleet to gas.”

Motorcade en route

Developing this activity, we are working not even for ourselves, but first of all for those, who we lead by the hand and carry in strollers. Future generations need clean air in towns and reliable motor transport. That's why Gazprom will do everything possible to expand the use of natural gas as a motor fuel.

The next Blue Corridor motor rally along the Moscow – Brussels – Kassel route is planned for 2012.

From successful start to good finish

In strict accordance with the schedule, all vehicles participating in Blue Corridor 2011 enter the gate of the Gazprom headquarters in Moscow. And here, joy is not formal anymore. Hugs and laughs. Drivers and organizers congratulate each other.

Thousands of kilometers of tough roads are behind. A team of like-minded and dedicated people was formed, the team of those who believe that their work is very important.

Motor rally participants at stela dedicated to 65th anniversary of Saratov – Moscow gas pipeline

Blue Corridor 2011 is over. It helped thousands of people in large cities and small towns learn more about NGVs, find out how to make your life more comfortable and the economy more effective. It served as a beginning for many regional projects, which would be real steps in this area.

In fact, we would like such events to become unnecessary... And they will be unnecessary when methane becomes a commonly used motor fuel. After all, nobody holds motor rallies to promote, say, gasoline.

But so far... we are getting ready for future rallies!

Thousands of kilometers of tough roads behind

Gazprom website Editorial Board