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India needs sustainable fuels for transport sector

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Dr R K Pachauri, Director General, TERI said road transport growth in India and largescale use of internal combustion engines in emerging economies moves the discussion to sustainable fuels to be used in transport sector. Air pollution in India warrants detailed assessment of current situation and and choices to set the tone for future decisions.

Sustainable fuels with Scania ethanol bus India
Sustainable fuels: Public transport via ethanol fuelled buses

Nitin Gadkari, Union Cabinet Minister of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping says pollution is problem for all Indian cities. Spending is huge for import of petroleum products, coal and gas. Indian government is assessing biofuels and other sustainable fuels. The first succesful run of a bus (Scania) using ethanol has been undertaken by Nagpur Municipal Corporation for over three months now. The government is experimenting with biodiesel and bio-CNG to emphasise alternative and sustainable fuels. Make in India will work to check how home-grown technical knowhow can be leveraged to meet demands.

GHG equivalent levels need to be limited to below 450 ppm to avoid global temperatures to rise above 20C. Higher levels make way for higher temperatures, and the consequences can be catastrophic. To keep a check on things, anticipated overall GHG levels will need to be reduced by 80 pct by 2050.

Shirish Garud, Associate Director, Energy Environment Technology Development, TERI says environmentally benign and locally available fuels should be considered so India can fuel sustainable economic growth. TERI’s research on biofuels using pyrolysis and catalytic technology and renewable energy applications are on the verge of commercialisation. Need for fuel in India warrants focus on multiple alternatives for which research fraternity, industry and policymakers must work together.

Dr Gopichand Katragadda, Group Chief Technology Officer, Tata Sons says India is at an inflection point robust development. Growth is expected in power, automotive, aerospace and locomotive sectors, which are energy intensive. India will add close to 250 GW during the next 10 years in power generation. Petrol and diesel demand is slated to double. Traditional fuels supply won’t be able to keep up, so, the country need to rely on environmentally conscious ways to meet development demand, and set the context for sustainable fuels.

Conventional transportation tech mostly depends on fossil fuels for mobility. Fuel price hikes have generated awareness and interest in alternative transport tech. Automobile companies too are developing sustainable vehicles to arrest fuel costs and reduce negative environmental effects of petroleum.

Dr Tim Leverton, President and Head, Advanced and Product Engineering, Tata Motors says, by 2040, India’s CO2 emissions is expected to be 60 pct of USA. The global perspective on climate-related risk needs to be worked on. Tata Motors and TERI have taken a step in this direction. The main challenge is to find fuel (or fuels) that can be produced sustainably at a viable cost to meet volumes required to replace hydrocarbon fuels. Together, they need to be compatible for use in conventional IC Engines with minimal modification while meeting emissions requirements.

General outcome looks to reach a lower limit of around above 80g CO2/km. New available tech involves hybrids, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and efficient tech for gasoline and diesel vehicles. Renewable fuels (ethanol and biodiesel), and other fossil fuels (coal, shale oil, tar sands, and natural gas) are alternatives.

Despite attempts to offset climate change, annual GHG emissions have grown at double the rate from 2000–2010 over 1970 and 2000. Between 2000–2010, transport sector contributed 14 pct to total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Transport sector also accounted for 27 pct energy use. Baseline CO2 emissions are projected to double by 2050 (IPCC Report, 2014). NDA government plans policies to introduce clean fuels (biodiesel, bioethanol and electricity) for public transport vehicles and school buses in big cities. Electric cars can prove effective to combat air pollution if powered by renewable energy.