'LNG brings a compelling cost proposition and, initially, the biggest benefits will accrue to the Indian states which are on the coast.’

Dr Ajit Jindal, Head, Engineering, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, speaks on how the new LNG-fuelled bus was developed, LNG vs CNG and how an LNG network can be developed.

Kiran Bajad By Kiran Bajad calendar 15 Nov 2016 Views icon7936 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'LNG brings a compelling cost proposition and, initially, the biggest benefits will accrue to the Indian states which are on the coast.’

Tata Motors recently showcased an eco-friendly bus that runs on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has a 600km range. Dr Ajit Jindal, Head, Engineering, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, speaks to Kiran Bajad on how the new bus was developed, LNG vs CNG and how an LNG network can be developed.

What is the strategy behind Tata Motors introducing an LNG bus?

At present, with CNG fuel there are limitations as regards the vehicle range, and the amount of gas in terms of cylinder you can carry on board. Except NCR, the proliferation of CNG fuel usage has not been much in India.  

At present, globally there is big move towards LNG because of its inherent advantages. The assumption is that by 2020 almost 10% automotive fuel will be in the form of LNG. Although China started with CNG, it has now shifted to LNG in a big way. Today nearly 100,000 vehicles are running on LNG in China. The USA is also working on LNG but the growth there is not as good as in China. Similarly, Europe is also looking at LNG as a future automotive fuel. 

Also, the availability of gas globally is more as compared to diesel. Overall, there is a positive trend towards gas and LNG is gaining more prominence as compared to CNG.

How you see the availability of LNG in India?

Four big LNG terminals have come up on India’s west coast and India has got long-term gas supply agreements with various countries for LNG. Oil companies have already set up their terminals and are looking at providing LNG as an automotive fuel.

There are several operational advantages of LNG compared to CNG. With CNG, you cannot go beyond 300km range else the vehicle has to carry a number of cylinders which in turn affects the vehicle’s kerb weight and payload advsersely. With LNG, you can get a range of up to 600-700km. Lastly, according to the oil marketing companies, LNG is cheaper by almost 20-25 percent as compared to diesel. So, there is a possibility of even converting diesel vehicles to LNG.

Can you detail the LNG bus revealed last week in Kerala?

This is our existing CNG-powered public transport bus which has been already plying on Indian roads in various cities and a very standard bus for public transport. We have converted it from CNG to LNG. This 11-metre-long bus has a seating capacity of 40 passengers;  we can offer this bus with various configurations as per customer needs. At present, most CNG bus buyers purchase the 11-metre variant with a seating capacity of over 40 passengers but we can go up to 50 seats with 3x2 configuration. We have a 9-metre-long bus in the pipeline.

How long did it take to get the LNG bus on the road?

While converting a bus either from diesel to CNG or CNG to LPG, we have to do everything to make it smooth. When we had developed an LNG Prima truck, we spent a lot of time with special approval from the government of India as to the specifications and to test it in our own test track and outside too.

To conduct trial runs, we worked with the government and ARAI to come up with the  regulations for LNG it has not been declared as an automotive fuel. Over the past four years, we have done lot of background work which has now resulted in the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Ministry of Transport to come out with draft regulations for LNG. At the same time, background work with the requisite agencies to certify the cylinder and define the specific standards for setting up LNG stations has also been going on, especially in the past year. We expect the regulations for LNG fuel are going to be notified in the next one month, after which homologation will happen. At Tata Motors, we have done a lot of testing, validations and development for LNG buses.      

What range does the LNG bus have? And big is the LNG network in Kerala?

What we have launched is a city bus which has a nearly 600km range. It is the same b us as those running in cities like Pune and Delhi but the only difference is that it has been converted to LNG.

We chose Kerala to launch this bus because Petronet already has a terminal for LNG there and plans to set up more. It is working with the authorities to get approval and land from the Kerala government. The company expects this to be ready by April 2017, by which time Tata Motors will also be ready with its LNG buses.

How many LNG buses is the Kerala government looking to have in its fleet?

At the initial stage, they are buying nearly 100 LNG buses. Since Tata Motors is the only one to have developed these buses in India, we will supply all of them.

How you see this acceptance of LNG as an automotive fuel in India?

The international experience suggests that LNG is the future as an automotive fuel and in India, Petronet and IndianOil Corporation are to make this fuel available in a big way in difference cities. The only challenge will be how soon they can set up the supply network.

Setting up the network on coastal areas is relatively easy. From the shore to in-land is easy to do but even deeper in-land up to 500km is not a big challenge because the cost of transportation in in-land is relatively low and can still maintain the advantage of LNG. However, if the LNG network has to be taken longer, then the equations start diminishing slightly against diesel.

There is a compelling proposition as far as cost is concerned and initially, the biggest benefits will be the states which are on the coast. The West coast already has it and East coast is in the process of setting it up. Initially, there are lots of advantages in having an LNG network in cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, part of Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka

Is Tata Motors is talking to State governments or STUs for its LNG buses?

Yes, we will soon start talking to all the state governments and STUs. Presently, we are working on getting in place the regulatory framework. Once this is done, then we will be ready with the product. The regulations will come in by end-November, after which there is a three-month leeway for other things; the oil marketing companies have to come up with the infrastructure. So all this will take six months before LNG buses start plying on the road.

With its LNG-fuelled bus, Tata Motors has an edge against the CV competition. Do you see other OEMs entering the LNG market?

Other OEMs will have to work on this given the future of LNG, but they have to go through all the necessary process and face their learnings that we have already done in the past few years.

I must say that Tata Motors’ has been a pioneering effort in this direction not only from the company’s point of view but for the whole country. This is a very important step for India and a commitment towards cleaner transportation.

If all industry stakeholders work towards bringing LNG in India, how many vehicles do you think will be LPG fueled in the next 2-3 years?

My personal view is that nearly 10 percent of the total commercial vehicle population can convert to LNG by the year 2020.  

What future do you foresee for CNG in India?

CNG will continue to be a popular fuel, specifically in the central part of the country. However, where there is LNG the price advantage in the coastal areas may come down. From an operational and environmental perspective, it will be better than CNG. In the long run, LNG has the potential to take over CNG.

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