Driving towards more sustainable mobility

by Sumana Sarkar & Sricharan R 02 Jul 2020


Sustainability remains at the heart of transportation the world over and mobility alternatives, environment-friendly vehicles and technologies continue to engage automotive engineers and captains of the industry.

As the Indian auto industry fights the dual challenge of reviving demand in a market badly impacted by the Covid-19-induced lockdown along with one of the longest slowdown spells, the scourge of pollution is also lurking somewhere in the background.

As the recent countrywide lockdown reiterated the importance of lower emission levels, the Center For Auto Policy & Research hosted an interactive session on the topic of ‘Sustainable Transportation: 2025’ for which Autocar Professional was the media partner. The panellists included eminent experts in the area of traffic management, renewable fuels, oil and gas and academia, detailed as under:

- Dr Rohit Baluja, President - Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE)
- Niranjan Raje, Former Director, Indian Oil R&D Centre
- Jai Uppal, former Director General of Indian Federation of Green Energy
- Dr L M Das, retired Professor from IIT Delhi

The interactive session was moderated by Hormazd Sorabjee, Editor, Autocar India and touched upon the various aspects of emission, alternative fuel and some of the severe impact of the unbridled rise in the number of vehicle ownerships across India.

Dr Rohit Baluja: “Road accidents are a man-created epidemic.”
India is at an interesting cross-road today. While the thought of losing lives to the dreaded pandemic, Covid-19 has compelled everyone to adapt to a new normal of social distancing and need-based travel, injuries and deaths occurring due to road traffic crashes are hardly talked about.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 820 persons were being killed each day in India (until the lockdown was imitated on 22 March 2020). Dr Rohit Baluja, President, Institute Of Road Traffic Education says it is “a man-created epidemic, without any parallel in the area of unnatural deaths.”

He kicked off the discussion on sustainable transportation highlighting some key aspects. He pointed out how India accounts for “23 percent of global fatalities due to road accidents.” Though there has a sudden drop after lockdown, we cannot deny that till then, “57 percent of people who were dying were less than 35 years old.” Not just it is a very tender age to lose life but it also highlights that, “traffic management is a key concern area across India,” said Baluja.

Baluja pointed out that, “250 million vehicles registered in India. Seventy-four percent of these are two-wheelers but buses are a mere 0.8 percent of the total. Thirteen percent account for cars and four-wheelers.” According to him, “Traffic jams are the result and consequence of this mismatch. We need comprehensive planning for pedestrians. We have not planned for traffic management transportation.”

He went on to outline the key requisites for effectiv “transportation planning” and felt the current lack of coordination between the transportation authorities, municipalities and the Police in handling the situation. He charted out a roadmap and felt that it needs to include- “effective traffic engineering and add capacity building abilities of road agencies.”

Baluja signed off saying that, “The solution lies in a comprehensive effort by the government and non-government stakeholders with one aim in mind, to build our own capacity to mitigate the occurrence of road crashes leading to death and serious injuries.”

Niranjan Raje: "With BS VI emission norms, diesel vehicles have seen a reduction of 50-80% in particulate matter.”  
Niranjan Raje, former Director, Indian Oil R&D Centre, addressed the concern about air pollution in Indian cities, especially Delhi. He said: “There are 12 different parameters that can cause pollution. But the most important parameter is the particulate matter that has been mostly caused by pollution from diesel and petrol engines. The main concern – 2.5 micron particulates – are more dangerous and can cause respiratory disorders. "

He referred to an IIT Kanpur study that found that around 30 percent of pollution of 2.5 micron particles are caused by diesel and petrol vehicles. According to that study, in 2016, around 114,000 premature deaths were due to heart and respiratory diseases. Delhi has been a pollution capital. The air quality index in Delhi touched 1,000 points in 2018 and 2019, this when anything above 400 is supposed to be hazardous. The study highlighted that vehicular emissions, agricultural activities, and exhaust from industries are some of the key factors contributing to pollution.

Raje pointed out that, "With the recent BS VI emission norms, diesel vehicles have seen a reduction of 50-80% in particulate matter." He said that a study conducted in the US, China and Japan revealed that on-road emissions from Euro 6 trucks and diesel trucks with diesel particulate filters (DPF) have lesser particulate matter than natural gas or petrol engines. He added, “This is a new concern. There are a lot of studies that show petrol and CNG emits fine particulate matter."

He signed off saying that, "There is a need to control the emission from petrol vehicles and CNG also. And, there is a need to further tighten the emission norms or in BS VI in the couple of years. Due to the recent rise in the price of diesel, it is likely that petrol and petrol and CNG will see strong demand and there needs to be strict norms for these too. "

Jai Uppal: "Increased blending of 25 percent ethanol in petrol essential by 2025 to reduce India’s dependence on import of crude oil."
Jai Uppal, former Director General of Indian Federation of Green Energy, highlighted the benefit of ethanol blending in the search for sustainable fuel. He said, "An increase in the share of green and renewable energy is essential for achieving a cleaner environment in our cities and for sustainability of the transport sector in India and worldwide."

Focussing on alternate energy and renewable fuel that are possible now, he said, "The viable contribution is given by convenience and cost, minimising pollution and greenhouse gases and energy conservation and energy efficiency. In biofuels, we will be focusing on ethanol and biodiesel. Now, we have renewable Profin fuels coming up but they have not seen demand due to their cost. CBG biofuels contribute a lot to society and encourage the rural economy, while also mitigating greenhouse gases. "

Uppal said the USA is amongst the largest consumers of biofuel and consumes 60 billion litres of ethanol each year. This is around 25 times of the current consumption of India. Brazil consumes 30 billion litres. In India, the demand is for about 2.4 billion litres, which is 6% of petrol mixed with ethanol. 

Explaining the issue, he said: "The main and the only constraint is the availability of stock and the pricing of the ethanol.  This has increased with the government has permitted the use of other things which include heavy molasses, biomass. The total additional capacity will become 2.4 billion litter. The supply is about 2.4 billion but to be 10% we require around 4 billion litres. If we do things right, we will be able to reach 10 % with a total additional supply of 4 billion litres. This is possible to do and can reach up to 6.5 billion litres by 2025. the dehydration capacity has to be achieved to reach this," he said.

According to Uppal, "To improve the efficiency of this process and to reach the target, ethanol manufacturers should be encouraged to be partners of farmers, that the large places of land can be mechanised and intensive farming can take place. The sugarcane yield can increase substantially. "

But EVs and hydrogen fuel are also in the running and how can they affect the market dynamics? Can it change the entire internal combustion engine vehicle programme? According to Uppal, "With biodiesel, there is a problem of getting used cooked oil. It is estimated now that 3 million tonnes per annum to get biodiesel. Biodiesel will slightly take off then." 

The first compressed bio-CNG first plant, which used cattle dung, was set up with a 50% grant of MNRE. Oil marketing companies and the government of India decided on a price of Rs.48.30 per kg, which meant it is not viable for the private sector to go in for this. With more plants coming in, the price can come down. The government has a huge target of setting up 5,000 plants , with an investment of Rs 1 lakh crore and more. Around 300 MoUs have been signed to buy this gas. There are new plants coming up based on agri residues. However, this has been delayed due to the pandemic, said Uppal. He concluded by saying that “Increased blending of 25 percent ethanol in petrol is essential by 2025 to reduce India’s dependence on import of petroleum crude."

Dr LM Das: “Optimal integration of government, industry and academia is essential to develop infrastructure for hydrogen fuel.”
Dr LM Das, Retired Professor - IIT, Delhi was the final speaker but addressed the key issue of alternatives for sustainable transportation going forward. According to him, “Optimal integration of government, automobile and oil (energy) industries, academic /research Institutes is essential to develop appropriate infrastructure and speed up the administrative procedure such that hydrogen is used as a regular fuel across the country by 2025.”

According to Dr Das, “A sustainable mobility  system is one that allows the basic access needs of individuals and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them and  minimises consumption of non-renewable resources. It also limits consumption of renewable resources to the sustainable yield level.”

In the search for potential alternatives, he felt that, “Hydrogen comes across as a viable option as there are infinite sources to derive it from infinite source potential, ability to produce it  from a host of renewable sources and has almost  zero emission characteristics.”

He highlighted that, “India has demonstrated use of hydrogen as an automotive fuel in three-wheelers and HCNG buses, which have been developed and moderately field tested and can be operated within a period.”
This is because he explained that, “Hydrogen has the unique potential of providing ultimate freedom from conventional fuel starvation and environmental degradation due to vehicular pollution.”

He added that, “Most of the alternative fuels used in auto vehicles now (except electric vehicles) upon combustion throw noxious pollutants into the atmosphere. NOx is the only pollutant of concern in hydrogen vehicles, which could be drastically reduced by several operating techniques.”

KK Gandhi of the Center For Auto Policy & Research, who hosted this interactive session, delivered the vote of thanks and reiterated the key talking points on the topic of sustainable mobility. 

However, the economic viability of setting up a hydrogen plant is a matter of concern and the cost can pose a huge challenge and deterrent. Das felt that, “Deriving hydrogen from waste matter could make it cheaper. If tech could be adapted to local specifications, it is possible to make it an economical and sustainable alternate fuel.”

It is expected that the air quality will continue to improve with cars with better emission standards coming out. At the end of the hourr-long interactive session on ‘Sustainable Transportation: 2025’, the panellists were of the consensus that there is no quick-fix formuia for pollution and hope is that industry and countries continue to adopt more sustainable options. India Auto Inc taking to BS VI, in a remarkably short span of time, is one of them. 

 


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