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Adopting pragmatic fueling

Growing air contamination demands alternate fuels to mitigate vehicular pollution.

Adopting pragmatic fueling

It has been almost two decades since Delhi's public transport system made the sweeping shift from Diesel to CNG. While the environmental gains were significant in the beginning, the same has been almost undone over the years due to a major rise in the number of private vehicles dotting the roads. As per estimates, over 50,000 new vehicles hit the Indian streets every day. With a bulk of these vehicles running on conventional auto fuels, almost none of our key cities offer breathable air. According to a Green Peace report in 2012, 1.2 million lives are lost every year in India due to air pollution. The financial health burden of air pollution in India is estimated to be around 3 per cent of our GDP. In fact, a recent report quotes this figure at 25 lakh lives lost in India 2015 on account of pollution.

There are no two opinions about the need to aggressively turn to cleaner fuels. Fortunately, this is a key priority for the policymakers. Measures have been initiated to engineer the shift by way of a major thrust on electric vehicles. Ministries are gearing up to use electric vehicles, and a tender for 10,000 electric vehicles has already been awarded to Tata Motors and Mahindra. A small section of the vehicular fuel market has also been taken by a relatively cleaner fuel, CNG. However, for our air quality to become breathable again, much more needs to be done on the alternative fuel front. Notably, a more pragmatic mix of alternative fuels needs to be encouraged to yield quicker and more effective results.
Any tangible and more importantly sustainable result can only be achieved by way of adopting a multi-pronged approach which includes opting for multiple alternative fuel options. While almost all alternate fuels have a role to play in providing our cities with cleaner air, yet the same needs to be viewed through the prism of viability, ease of implementation and of course, well to wheel emissions. More importantly, we need to invest in alternative fuels that can support two-wheelers as well. There are many low-hanging fruits that can help achieve better air quality (case in point, auto LPG). It has been tried and tested on global and Indian roads and has the potential of sending ripples almost immediately.
E-vehicles: Infrastructural upgradation
While laying emphasis on electric vehicles is a welcome step, it needs a long-term strategy to overhaul and install infrastructure that would support its run. Significant efforts will surely have to be put in place before EVs can be successfully adopted across India. These include investing significantly in electric cars as well as installing charging points at public places and parking lots. At the same time, it is important to consider whether they are as clean as they appear.
It is important to underline here that if all vehicles go electric, then India may well be emitting more CO2 as 68 per cent of power generated in India still comes by burning fossil fuels. Just the coal-fired power plants account for around 195 GW of the 330 GW of installed power capacity in India and then we have the gas-based plants. Even as we work towards promoting electric vehicles, we need to invest simultaneously in other fuels that deliver results in the short-term.
CNG: High infrastructural costs
While CNG has emerged as a viable alternative fuel in recent years, it is not feasible to expect a large chunk of vehicles to turn to this fuel. Some detriments include the high costs of installation of a CNG station, huge costs of providing pipeline infrastructure and high filling times for CNG. At the same time, studies have indicated that NOx emissions are extremely high for CNG vehicles. Notable to mention here, NOx automotive emissions are majorly responsible for the lung ailments we see in our urban centres.
Promote auto LPG
Auto LPG is a very viable solution which can make an impact on air quality, almost immediately. NOx emissions from Auto LPG are 90 per cent lower than that of diesel, 60 per cent lesser than petrol and about half of that of CNG. The HC emission from an auto LPG vehicle is also significantly lesser than CNG. In fact, many developed nations have started using LPG and about 26 million vehicles are running on this alternative fuel globally. Seven of the 10 largest car manufacturers in the world are already producing LPG cars. Another reason why LPG has been favoured by customers in the past was that it just takes as much time for refill at a filling station as for a customer of petrol or diesel vehicle.
Notably, auto LPG can also be successfully used in two-wheelers in India. No other existing alternative fuel is viable for use in two-wheelers. This category of vehicles contributes to about 32 per cent of all vehicular pollution in Delhi, according to a recent study. The LPG kits are smaller than CNG kits and offer reasonable and cost-effective solutions to a bike owner.
Thus, as we embark on the path of an alternative fuel future, it is important to include all viable and useful options in our kitty. One size does not fit all. Adopting a multi-pronged approach and having a more varied alternate auto fuel mix, is most certainly, the need of the hour.
(The author is Director General, Indian Auto LPG Coalition. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Suyash Gupta

Suyash Gupta

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