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A pragmatic way is alternative fuel

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Even as we work towards cleaner vehicle technology to prevent air pollution, we must invest in other fuels that deliver results in short-term simultaneously

It's been almost two decades since Delhi's public transport system made the sweeping shift from diesel to Compressed Natural Gas (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 vehicles on roads. As per estimates, over 50,000 new vehicles hit 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. Financial health burden of air pollution in India is estimated to be around three per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In fact, according to a recent report, pollution killed 25 lakh people in India in 2015.

There can be no two opinions about the need to aggressively turn to cleaner fuels. Fortunately, this is the key priority for our policy-makers. Measures have been initiated to engineer the shift by way of a major thrust to 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 be achieved only 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 a cleaner air, yet the same needs to be viewed from 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, a case in point is auto LPG. It has been tried and tested on global and Indian roads and has the potential of having an effect almost immediately.

Significant infrastructural upgrade needed for E-vehicles: While providing thrust to electric vehicles is a welcome step, it needs a long-term strategy to overhaul and install infrastructure to support their run. Significant efforts will surely have to be put in place before e-vehicles can be successfully adopted in 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 Carbon dioxide as 68 per cent of power generated in India still comes by burning fossil fuels. Just 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, it is required to invest simultaneously in other fuels that deliver results in the short-term.

CNG requires 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 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 nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are extremely high for CNG vehicles. Notable to mention here is that NOx automotive emissions are majorly responsible for the lung ailments we see in our urban centres.

Auto LPG needs to be promoted: Auto Liquid Petroleum Gas (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. In fact, the hydrocarbon 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 favored 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. LPG kits are smaller than CNG kits and offer reasonable and cost-effective solution to a bike owner.

So, 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, need of the hour.

(The writer is Director General, Indian Auto LPG Coalition)




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