Dr APJ Abdul Kalam – "I am an anti-fossil fuel person."

by Sumantra B Barooah , 28 Jul 2015

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam delivering a speech at the inauguration of Mahindra Research Valley on April 11, 2012.

In April 2012, Mahindra & Mahindra formally inaugurated the Mahindra Research Valley (MRV) in Chennai, which it calls a 'temple of creativity and innovation'. If that is so, then it was only apt that the 'temple' be inaugurated at the hands of someone like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. That was my first, and only, opportunity to see and hear the much-revered man, in person. Dr Kalam (84) passed away in Shillong yesterday. 

"I am an anti-fossil fuel person," said Dr Kalam at the beginning of his speech. Perhaps not the most politically correct statement to make in the R&D hub of a company that produces diesel, and some petrol-engined, vehicles. Perhaps Dr Kalam's intention was to remind and sensitise the audience about the limited reserves of fossil fuel as well as encourage Mahindra & Mahindra to get more active on developing alternate propulsion technologies. "Advanced technologies are required," he said, highlighting that the resources for fossil fuel are estimated to get exhausted in 50-100 years. Dr Kalam was someone who didn't like to only warn of a problem. As a solution, he suggested if a hybrid system of "40 percent water and 60 percent diesel or petrol" could be developed.

The booming telecom industry is also responsible for the reduction of fossil fuel reserves, not to mention the environmental impact it has with the transmission towers. In his speech, Dr Kalam mentioned that 300,000 telecom towers consumed 2 billion litres of diesel costing Rs 7,000 crore! The solution to this challenge could be solar power, he shared. It is to be noted that as part of the current government's push to promote renewable energy, contracts for 15,000 MW are expected to be awarded this year. MRV should use emulsified fuel for such application, felt Dr Kalam.

The scientist and former president of India said that MRV should also concentrate on development of ethanol and hydrogen fuel technologies. Going by the vision he shared for India, one can be quite sure that his message was for the industry as a whole too.

Dr Kalam was not an automotive engineer but he knew very well that research in advanced material is key for the automotive industry. He wanted to see more usage of composite structure in automotive design. "The auto industry should find design methods to make it a material of choice," he said.

Many may say that science and philosophy do not mix. But Dr Kalam lived practicing a fine blend of both. It will be surprising if every person who was present in the function hall at MRV on April 11, 2012 is not remembering that day today. Anand Mahindra, chairman, Mahindra & Mahindra, recounts that day in his tweets today, about how Dr Kalam asked him to "take" the hill which lies in the boundary of MRV. After some reflection on the piece of advice, Mr Mahindra realised that Dr Kalam was advising 'to always look higher and beyond our original ideas'.

Scores of people around the world would be recounting similar experiences today, and in the future.