Over two decades have passed since Delhi’s transport system made a transition from diesel to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). While the benefits were visible in the beginning, the positive impact has been diluted over the years, especially due to exponential rise of fossil fuel powered vehicles in India.
Over 50,000 vehicles hit Indian streets every single day, worsening the already stressed air over Indian cities. According to a Greenpeace report, 1.2 million lives are lost every year in India due to air pollution.
The government, in the last few years, has stepped up its efforts to make a shift towards cleaner fuels. While it is bullish on electric mobility, it is also working towards adopting alternative fuels to make India carbon-neutral and energy secure in the coming years.
Currently, there are 30 lakh CNG vehicles plying on Indian roads and these vehicles are able to substitute 3 percent of the total oil imports. According to SIAM, the government will deploy 6,000 CNG stations by 2025 and 10,000 stations by 2030 for catering to 20 million CNG vehicles.
While CNG has been successfully adopted as an alternative fuel for over a decade and more, it isn’t the best idea for a large chunk of vehicles to turn to this fuel. Some of the reasons include the high cost of creating the infrastructure and long filling times.
Besides, the NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions are on the higher side for CNG vehicles, according to research. And this doesn’t spell great news, since these emissions are largely responsible for lung ailments.
Adoption of Auto LPG
According to research, NOX emissions from Auto LPG are 90 percent lower than diesel, 60 percent lesser than petrol, and half of CNG. That’s not all – the hydrocarbon emission from an AUTO LPG vehicle is also much lower than CNG.
If numbers are to go by, several developed nations have started using LPG and about 26 million vehicles are running on this alternative fuel.
Auto LPG is being used by customers, also because it takes as much time to refill, as it would for petrol or diesel.
Auto LPG is an alternative fuel that can be successfully used in two-wheelers in India; no other alternative fuel is viable. This category of vehicles contributes about 32 percent of all vehicular pollution in Delhi, according to a recent study. The LPG kits are smaller than CNG kits and offer a reasonable and cost-effective solution to a bike owner.
The union government has already been urging vehicle manufacturers to produce vehicles that run on LNG and CNG and has also said it will also help in setting up 10,000 CNG stations in the next ten years.
An alternative to petrol and diesel, biodiesel is an advanced form of biofuel that is produced from an animal or vegetable fat-renewable fuel. For example, used cooking oil can also be used to produce biofuel and can be easily used in diesel vehicles. This is a great step for countries all over the world to minimise dependence on diesel.
With the problem of rising pollution, there are several reasons why biofuel is the right alternative fuel. For starters, it is biodegradable, non-toxic and does not produce too many pollutants, when burnt completely. It can either be used in its pure form or used with petroleum diesel.
Most of the common blend includes B2 (2% biodiesel, 98% diesel), B5 (5% biodiesel, 95% petrodiesel) or B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% petrodiesel).
It is also safer to handle than petroleum, and is high on quality. Besides, it is the only alternate fuel, which has been approved by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). It does not produce sulphur or any other harmful chemicals, and at the same time, there is no unpleasant smell associated with it.
It is also way more economical than petrol and diesel, since it uses recycling materials such as vegetable oil or animal faeces.
The government of India launched the National Policy of Biofuels 2018 to enable the availability of biofuels in the market, thereby increasing its blending percentage.
Currently, the biodiesel blending percentage in diesel is less than 0.1%. As an indicative target, the government has approved 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel is proposed by 2030.
Enhancing the use of Ethanol
Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from the sugars found in grains such as corn, sorghum, and barley. Other sources of sugars to produce ethanol include sugarcane, potato skin, rice, and tree bark.
India has a surplus of almost 60 lakh tonnes of sugar and this figure is subject to rise even further. Hence, the government intends to concentrate more on processing sugar molasses to produce ethanol.
According to the Biofuel Policy 2018, the government has fixed a target of achieving 20 percent ethanol blending with petrol by 2030. The first milestone of 10 percent ethanol blending with petrol is slated for 2022.
This policy also permits the use of materials other than molasses to manufacture ethanol in the country. Sugarcane juice, damaged foodgrains, and corn are some of the substances that can be used.
Ethanol is rich in oxygen, and is believed to be the best oxygenate in the world. The extra oxygen helps to balance the petrol to burn more efficiently within the vehicle engine, thereby helping to reduce environmental pollution and improving air quality.
In February 2020, TATA Projects received an order from Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited for its second-generation bioethanol project in Bargarhm, Odisha. According to reports, proposed production capacity for the ethanol plant is 100,000 litres per day.
If there’s one alternative fuel that has been given a nod by experts – it is hydrogen. Indian Oil’s R&D Centre is the nodal agency of the hydrocarbon sector that is responsible for widespread use of hydrogen energy in the country.
As part of its hydrogen energy roadmap, Indian Oil has set up India’s first hydrogen-CNG fuel dispensing station at its R&D Centre at Faridabad. The pilot station provides a hands-on experience with on-site hydrogen production, storage, distribution and supply.
Some of the other projects identified include development of hydrogen-powered three-wheeler and bus engines in association with SIAM (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers), conversion of CNG three-wheelers and buses to H-CNG mixture and development of Hydrogen conversion kits for portable gensets.
Hydrogen-powered cars can be used to cover long distances, and only take a few minutes to refuel at a retail site.
In certain ways, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are similar to battery-electric vehicles, and produce no CO2 or other harmful emissions from their tailpipe. These hydrogen fuel-cells convert compressed hydrogen from their fuel tanks into electricity that powers the electric motor in the vehicle.
India’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki, plans to roll out one million ‘green vehicles’ on Indian roads in the next two years. Mahindra & Mahindra announced the country’s most affordable electric vehicle in February. MG Motor, Hyundai Motors and Tata have already launched battery-powered vehicles in the country, and it is most likely that luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz will follow suit.
As the name suggests, electric vehicles operate on an electric motor, unlike the usual internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that burn petrol or diesel. Because of their low carbon footprint and environmental impact, EVs are being aggresively promoted by the government.
That said affordability is one of the biggest impediments for electric vehicles. As per studies, electric vehicles are expensive because they are powered by lithium-ion batteries. The cost of a battery amounts to 40 percent of the total vehicle cost. Lithium-ion batteries offer high energy density, relatively low self-discharge, and low maintenance but they have a limited life.
Also, today’s EVs have a shorter driving range, as compared to conventional vehicles. Sometimes, extreme temperatures outside tend to reduce range, because more energy must be used to heat or cool the cabin. In fact, high driving speeds are said to reduce range because of the energy required.
Collaboration of Solar energy and EVs
The adoption of solar energy for charging EVs has emerged as the cleanest energy option having zero carbon footprint. Solar energy has gained worldwide acceptance due to its feasibility – it is easy to install and reliable.
Experts feel that EVs must be powered by renewables like solar energy to accelerate the demand for cleaner energy, thereby making private vehicles more affordable. In this way, the operating cost of EV will be much lower, and will create more demand for such vehicles.
That said, though electrification of transportation and the use of solar-powered charging stations as an electricity source will ultimately improve people’s quality of life, its penetration in India is likely to remain low due to the challenges like charging infrastructure and battery technologies.
While India tries and adopts different types of alternative fuels, what’s clear is that the future will see the emergence of greener technologies to accelerate mobility. And affordability, availability and consumer acceptance will be the three-point agenda, for them to prove a challenge to the current demand for fossil fuels.