A city firm has a solution for private hire drivers having to buy a new car because of the Clean Air Zone  - convert to LPG.

Birmingham Autogas says the trade has been left concerned and confused by the city council's forthcoming £8 daily charge for high-polluting vehicles travelling inside A4540 ring road from January 2020.

But director Umair Hussain wants to make drivers aware that instead of buying a brand new car they could simply purchase an older petrol model, providing it is Euro 4 or better, and convert to LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).

"It won't break the bank," he said.

Umair Hussain, director at Birmingham Autogas. LDRS.
Umair Hussain, director at Birmingham Autogas. LDRS.
 

In fact it would cost between £800 to £950 for the conversion which takes the company a single day to install the 'off-the-shelf' system - typically the one from Italian company BRC.

While that is not an insignificant amount of money Mr Hussain said drivers would immediately slash their fuel bills by 50 per cent or more, with British Autogas selling LPG at 54p a litre - less than half the typical price for unleaded petrol in Birmingham.

The business, located opposite Star City, was launched 15 years ago by Mr Hussain's father who himself was a taxi driver for 25 years.

It has converted more than 3,000 vehicles since then, the majority of which are used for private hire.

The company has also set up a number of refuelling stations in Birmingham while half of their business now is in gas distribution.

Birmingham Autogas, near Star City, has been going 15 years. LDRS.
Birmingham Autogas, near Star City, has been going 15 years. LDRS.
 

Mr Hussain said: "Birmingham is a very successful case for LPG.

"The infrastructure is there, we've built it. It's taken us a decade and a half but we've set up the infrastructure .

"There is a good ten-plus independent LPG refuelling stations, most of which we've set up.

"We don't operate them all but we distribute and supply fuel to them.

"There is no other city in the UK like Birmingham for LPG."

Birmingham Autogas has set up a number of LPG refuelling stations in the city. LDRS.
Birmingham Autogas has set up a number of LPG refuelling stations in the city. LDRS.
 

Unfortunately, Birmingham Autogas cannot help everyone combat the CAZ.

They only convert petrol engines at the moment rather than diesel, which largely accounts for the under-threat black cab drivers whose vehicle will have to meet the much newer Euro 6 (2015) benchmark.

That process is far more costly and intensive, involving replacement of the entire engine, but the major problem is that conversions have to be approved by the Government's Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS) to be compliant with the CAZ .

Mr Hussain says the criteria is understandably rigorous but it is unfeasible for his company because it would take years worth of testing costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, although the company's conversions are still registered with UKLPG - the trade association for the LPG industry in the UK.

For the same reason, any petrol cars older than Euro 4 converted by Birmingham Autogas will still be charged by the CAZ even though they will likely be as clean if not cleaner than new vehicles, he said.

The liquid is stored in a tank in the rear of car before being converted into a gas and injected into the engine. LDRS.
The liquid is stored in a tank in the rear of car before being converted into a gas and injected into the engine. LDRS.

Nevertheless Mr Hussain believes they can help a lot of drivers cut costs in the face of the charge.

The 31-year-old graduated from Aston University with a chemical engineering degree, has a doctorate in fuel combustion and has worked around the world setting up renewable energy plants. 

But despite his level of expertise in the field his attempts to have a 'dialogue' with Birmingham City Council have seemingly been ignored.

Mr Hussain said: "I know the importance of the Clean Air Zone and fully support it.

"Personally I'm a real advocate for clean air and green energy.

"Because we have done so much work in this space it was a bit of a shame, we felt we should have had more dialogue with the council.

"But we are supportive of their plans. We are not asking for any funding or anything like that, we just thought as an expert in the field it would be good for us to give our input into things, especially considering private hire and black cab drivers."

He has also called on the council to provide more clarity around how long private hire drivers' cars can be licensed if they are gas-converted.

Response from Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council House
 

In response the council confirmed that mitigation packages worth up to £1,000 were being provided to private hire drivers to purchase a CAZ-compliant vehicle, whilst the licences for private hire vehicles were being extended from eight-year-old to 12-year-old cars.

Regarding LPG conversions a spokesman said: "For CAZ compliance, any retrofit solution must first be approved through the Government’s CVRAS scheme.

"The council is not procuring retrofit providers or any service as part of the supply chain to provide LPG or other any other retrofit – CVRAS is a Government scheme that approves retrofit providers and the retrofit technology solution.

"Therefore these suppliers are authorised by the Government and not Birmingham City Council.

"The Euro 4 level for petrol vehicles means that cars as old as 12 years can still be operating on the road.

"It is appreciated in terms of affordability, there will be members of the public who have no choice but to operate an older vehicle, but the Government’s message is clear – any retrofits to enable older vehicles to be compliant, have to be carried out by a CVRAS compliant provider and CVRAS compliant retrofit technology.

"There is nothing to stop private owners paying for the retrofitting of their petrol vehicle with an LPG solution.

"For the vehicle to be compliant within the CAZ the retrofit solution and provider need to be CVRAS approved, if the petrol vehicle is less than a Euro 4 vehicle."