Tuesday, September 05, 2006

India's Short Menu Of Alternative Fuels

Depleting petroleum resources, skyrocketing prices and alarming auto-emitted air pollution have thrown the greatest challenge to man's ingenuity to look for alternative fuels since the 'oil shock' of 1973. Previously the auto makers left no stones unturned for attracting customers for their ever-changing models in size, elegance and comfort. Little attention was paid towards their fuel efficiency so much so that quite a few were just oil-guzzlers. The 'oil-shock' drove home the hard reality that petrol and diesel consumption in cars needs to be curtailed. Success was at hand sooner than expected.
The world found that the future of auto industry need not be fully dependent upon the traditional fuel i.e. petrol and diesel. A few alternative fuels were tested and commercially evaluated. But as price rise of petroleum products got reversed, those fuels were not promoted anymore by any marketing and advertising blitz or incentive packages that could have weaned away customers from the traditional fuels.A brief list of technically feasible and commercially tested alternative fuels is mentioned below.
1. Biofuels: Ethanol in varying levels with petrol or diesel2. Biodiesel:Processed fuel derived from biological sources - can be used in diesel engines.3. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)4. Hybrid fuels: Using petrol in internal combustion engines and electrically charged batteries as in Toyota Prius.5. Battery-Electric: As in GM EV16. Flexi-fuel or Duel fuel: The vehicle typically alternate between two types of fuels. A common example is a vehicle that can accept petrol with varying levels of ethanol.
In India, alternative fuels with the best techno-economic parameters in Indian conditions should be rigorously put to commercial use as the prohibitive cost of petrol as well as diesel is casting a long shadow on the growth of the auto industry. Bulk of the customers for cars belong to the middle class who can afford prices ranging from $4000 to $8000. For them, petrol selling at $1.1 per litre which can at the most give 18-20 kilometres is pinching their pockets. The most promising alternative fuel is bio-diesel using jatropha, karanj and similar species. The hybrid fuels and flexi-fuels can be run with varying amount of blended ethanol. Locally, the plant cultivation can be promoted provided incentives are made attractive. The auto industry, the government and the political class as a whole have to put their heads together to make this happen. It seems a long way to go.Nevertheless, it should be given a try.
Don't you agree?

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