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June 5, 2015
Atlas Copco is participating in the task of rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan, supplying equipment, knowledge and its network of contacts to the effort.
Not every company has the resources, know-how or guts to take on a project in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, when the U.S. Department of Defense decided to build a compressed natural gas (CNG) station in Sheberghan – a city of 150 000 located in northern Afghanistan along the Silk Road – Atlas Copco took up the challenge.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, this one was about 20 in difficulty,” says Alec Shapiro, an independent energy consultant to the U.S. Defense Department, who helped coordinate the project. “We had major snowstorms, rain, cold so severe that our hands would freeze if we touched metal, and then our team had to be evacuated to a military base because of anti-American demonstrations. We thought we’d be done in 19 days. It took us 36.”
If you ask the people of Sheberghan, they’ll tell you it was worth the effort. Following difficult construction and conversion operations, the ‘mother station’ now supplies locally produced CNG to a hundred taxis, the only transportation available to most citizens. “People cried when we fueled the first car,” says Shapiro. “One business leader said this was the first time in 15 years that anybody brought a penny into this town, and actually created jobs.”
The project was the product of Kris Haag’s vision. Haag heads energy projects for the U.S. Defense Department’s Task Force for Business & Sustainability Operations, a group that aims to stimulate the private-sector economy in Afghanistan. The country remains dependent on foreign oil, keeping gas prices high. But Afghanistan does produce its own natural gas, which is far cheaper.
Initially, Atlas Copco took the Defense Department team on a trip to Malaysia to show how CNG equipment works in a developing country. The company also consulted with Wahidullah Shahrani, the Afghan Minister of Mines, who was very enthusiastic.
Nonetheless, getting the project off the ground involved a number of complexities. “First of all, it’s very hard to get people into the country,” Shapiro says. “We had suppliers who wouldn’t make the trip. One guy wrote us a letter saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a coward. I don’t want to come.’”
Atlas Copco not only supplied equipment, but also helped source additional material from other companies critical to the project. “The way Atlas Copco pooled its resources to accomplish this project in such a short time was incredible,” says Shapiro. “People came up from Atlas Copco in Pakistan and stayed through all the delays.They showed amazing commitment to a customer relationship.”
“For the CNG station project, there were many challenging dynamics involved including package design, equipment sourcing, installation in harsh weather conditions and the development of local competency levels.”
Haag says the completed station could be anywhere in Europe or the U.S., given its high quality. Looking at the complex, you’d never know it stood in the middle of Afghanistan, a desolate and war-torn country where success stories of any kind are few and far between.
Written by Nancy Pick