quote]MOSCOW — Igor A. Samarsky of the southern Russian city of Krasnodar gets fuel economy on his 1998 Lada sedan that would make a Prius owner green with environmental envy.For all of 120 rubles — about $3.80, or a little more than a gallon of regular unleaded fuel in the United States — he can drive 140 miles. The Toyota hybrid would need three gallons of gas to drive that distance.
Economically, it’s no contest at the pump compared with gasoline because natural gas, whose main component is methane, is so abundant and cheap in Russia. It costs about $2 a gallon less than gasoline. (For such comparisons, compressed gas is measured by its cost for a volume containing the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline.)
Lax regulations in Russia have already provided a foothold for natural gas for cars. Even before the auto industry officially joined in, do-it-yourself kits were readily available. Unlike the hybrids and plug-ins produced by brand-name automobile companies, many of the natural gas cars in Russia are aftermarket conversions. In Russia, a complete system can be bought for less than $1,000 at a roadside repair shop in parts of the country where natural gas is commonly used, like the region around Krasnodar.
The biggest issue in Russia, as it will be in any country that tries a conversion, is where drivers can refuel.
In both the United States and Russian conversions, a dashboard switch allows a driver to choose the fuel type, and most drivers keep their gasoline tanks filled as a reserve.
The United States has about 170,000 gasoline stations but only 1,200 filling stations where methane is sold. The Department of Energy estimates 112,000 vehicles in the country run on natural gas.
Russia, with a population just less than half that of the United States, has only 267 natural gas filling stations and an estimated 86,000 natural gas vehicles, according to a fact sheet prepared by Gazprom.