A Case for Low Carbon Fuels
Published on : Wednesday 06-01-2021
Until a full-fledged EV ecosystem takes off, Auto LPG must drive the governments mobility policy forward, asserts Suyash Gupta.
As America battled the worst wildfires in history, Africa witnessed torrential rains, and cyclones of unprecedented strengths battered India’s coastlines this year, there is clear evidence that climate change induced extreme weather events have become a reality. The global average temperatures have already risen 1 degree Celsius above pre industrialisation levels and climate scientists warn that weather extremes are set to get only worse. A recent Greenpeace report on Africa concluded that heatwaves and floods are increasing in intensity, frequency and severity across the continent. Even as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc India’s northern cities are engulfed in choking air pollution. Evidently, if there has to be a decisive policy action to contain greenhouse gas emissions, it has to happen now!
Unfortunately, the exigency underlined by climate scientists is not reflected adequately in government policies across the world, including India. India has launched a welcome thrust on renewable energy in recent years, setting a target of increasing its share of RE capacity to 500 gig watts by 2030 target. It is also banking heavily on transitioning to Electric Vehicles to reduce its carbon footprint from the transportation sector. However, these are long term goals whose benefits will accrue only a long way into the future. At a time when we are staring at a climate emergency, setting only long-term goals without looking for low hanging fruits does not align with the government's stated clean air goals.
Need for immediate climate action: Transitioning to low carbon fuels
UN Secretary General António Guterres recently urged the Indian government to shift away from coal and other fossil fuel-based economic growth and embrace renewable energy. While it might not be possible to immediately stop using fossil fuels altogether, a transition to low-carbon fuels must begin right away.
Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning have over the past century been the main driver of global warming. At present, transportation accounts for some 17% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Tailpipe emissions resulting from fuel combustion in a vehicle's engine include oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as particulate matter. Petrol and diesel, the two most commonly used transport fuels are also among the highest emitters of CO2. While diesel emits an estimated 2.6 kg carbon dioxide per litre, petrol emits around 2.3 kg of CO2 per litre. Phasing out petrol and diesel and replacing them with cleaner fossil fuels such as Auto LPG and CNG must therefore be the first line of action for the transport sector globally. Unfortunately, India has so far been able to do little to reduce the number of petrol/diesel vehicles on roads in the immediate future but has focused all its energy on ushering in an Electric Vehicle future which inarguably, is distant.
Transitioning to gaseous fuels like Auto LPG can be an immediate remedy
In the US, many local governments have shown interest in converting their school bus fleets to Auto LPG in recent years. A study by West Virginia University found that air pollution emissions from LPG-driven school buses were significantly lower than those from diesel buses. Emissions of NOx from LPG buses were found to be 34 times lower while carbon emissions were 13% lower than for diesel buses on the stop-and-go routes.
More efficient combustion for LPG implies a much lower amount of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons as compared to petrol or diesel. With much lower emissions of not only carbon but also nitrogen oxides and particulate matters, Auto LPG is a readily available cleaner alternative to petrol and diesel. When used as a transport fuel, LPG emits much less CO2 than other hydrocarbon fuels. Driving on Auto LPG is estimated to lead to a reduction of 10-12% in CO2 emissions. This is better than even ethanol blended petrol and diesel. Additionally, two of the most damaging agents impacting human health – NOx and PM – have near-zero emissions from Auto LPG. A research analysis on potential environmental benefits of Auto LPG concluded that if the world could double its Autogas fleet by 2040, it would be able to save 130 million tonnes on well-to-wheel emissions of CO2. In fact, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assigned a global warming potential (GWP) factor of zero to LPG, implying that it is not a greenhouse gas.
At a time when petrol and diesel prices are skyrocketing, promoting Auto LPG as a transport fuel will also turn out to be easy on the consumer pocket. In fact, until a full-fledged EV ecosystem takes off, Auto LPG must drive the government’s mobility policy forward. This must be done through a series of supportive policy measures including GST reduction on LPG/CNG conversion kits (currently 28%) as well as reform of India’s archaic Type Approval norms governing retro-fitment kits.
Suyash Gupta has been at the forefront of promoting clean auto fuel in India for the past 17 years, both as Director General of the industry body, Indian Auto LPG Coalition, and Managing Director of CleanFUEL India. A Bachelor of Business Administration from Thames Valley University, London, Mr Gupta is a member of the Global Steering Committee of ‘Cooking for Life’ initiative promoting use of cleaner fuels and represents India on the Core GAIN Group of World LP Gas Association at Paris.
A former consultant to National Energy Technology Laboratory, US Department of Energy, Mr Gupta is also a member of apex committees of Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India, being a member of Standing Committee on Emission Legislation (SCoE) & Central Motor Vehicle Rules (Technical Standing Committee) (CMVR-TSC).
In this role, he has authored several articles, chaired key sessions, traveling extensively to present papers on Indian LPG Scenario across several cities in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Poland, Japan and many other countries.