The bus is currently on its way to Lagos, ”said Johann Rieger at the beginning of January, pulled out his cell phone and showed film footage of a brand-new city bus with a leaf design that technicians are working on - probably for the last check before loading the vehicle onto the ship.
Rieger is an entrepreneur from Styria. In the early 1990s, he opened a textile company in Hungary and was also involved in technology transfer in countries such as Pakistan and India. Finally, he acquired the manufacturer's license for a gas engine from the Hungarian company Raba and founded the in 2013 ETEFA (European Technologies for Africa), a start-up that brings European technology to developing countries. The focus is on frugal innovation, i.e. on technology that works solidly and is also durable, easy to repair and affordable.
Target market Nigeria
Rieger's main project is currently the Raba gas engine - a "workhorse", as he says - that he had upgraded in Austria. Gas-rich Nigeria seemed to be the first target market to be well suited: Firstly, because the natural gas that escapes from oil production is still largely flared up in Nigeria today - a practice that would be unthinkable in Europe. Secondly, because the West African country imports as much diesel and gasoline as it burns natural gas. "Our reasoning was therefore: Why not use the associated petroleum gas to operate buses and trucks and thus improve Nigeria's ecological footprint?" Explains Rieger.
The project coincides with the policies of the Nigerian government: gas flaring has been banned in Nigeria since 1984, in 2016 the country joined the World Bank's “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative. Nevertheless, there are still declarations of intent to this day, which is hardly surprising to Rieger: "The gas is flared until there is a market for it." And he is working on it.
In Powergas Nigeria, the local market leader in natural gas, Rieger found a strong partner for the processing of associated gas. At a much-noticed joint press conference at the beginning of 2019, Sumeet Singh, General Manager of the gas company, confirmed the huge potential: With the natural gas obtained from oil production, 200.000 city buses or as many trucks could be operated annually and their energy costs could be reduced by a third.
Rieger's task was to show a practical way of changing the system in the transport sector. He received the necessary financial backing for this from autumn 2017 onwards Economic Partnerships with the Austrian Development Agency ADA. Gunter Schall, head of the ADA business and development department, justified the funding primarily with the expected great ecological and economic benefits - better air and cost savings - by switching from imported diesel and gasoline to domestic natural gas.
With ADA in the background, he said, the doors opened for Rieger. With government agencies and transport companies in the cities of Lagos and Abuja, he discussed in detail the switch to gas-powered vehicles for public transport. The reservation of individual routes for gas-powered buses was discussed as a realistic entry option.
Rieger's original plan to convert existing bus and truck fleets from diesel to gas operation turned out to be unprofitable. To this end, he gained industrial partners for the development of a prototype of a gas-powered city bus tailored to market requirements. “Our Eco Green Bus combines sophisticated European technology and innovation,” explains Rieger. The heart of the vehicle is the gas engine, which does not meet the current EU emissions standard Euro 6, but does very well with Euro 5 in Africa. In addition, it has sophisticated telematics with features such as driver recognition, alcohol test or feedback on the condition of the car and driving behavior - drivers should be able to gain bonus points through a prudent driving style. A new air purification system is also installed.
The demo bus is to be presented to the partners in Nigeria in April and then ready for test drives. Due to the low acquisition and lower fuel costs, Rieger also considers the offer to be financially attractive. He hopes to soon be selling 300 buses a year through the local sales force. At the same time, an own company for services and driving technology will set up a network of workshops, train mechanics and offer driving safety training courses across the country. And that's not all. Rieger also wants to campaign for a reduction in bus ticket prices and produce bus components on site in the medium term. “Ultimately, the turnaround should enable tangible social progress,” is his vision.
European technology for Africa
The ETEFA GmbH - European technologies for Africa was founded in 2013 by Johann Rieger in Vienna to deliver frugal technology to Africa. The first product is the Eco Green Bus, a natural gas-powered city bus that will be launched in Nigeria in several sizes this year. PowerGas Nigeria is the largest producer and distributor of compressed (CNG) and liquefied (LNG) natural gas in Nigeria with four of its own plants. In cooperation with ETEFA, the multi-award-winning company plans to process petroleum gas, also known as flare gas, into fuel.