How India can move towards sustainability with biofuels and electric vehicles

terça-feira, janeiro 12, 2021

New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic is causing many countries around the world to rethink their economic models, at least partly if not fully. This might be the best opportunity to ingrain sustainability into all efforts aimed at doing so, because we cannot let the current crisis distract us from addressing an equally serious issue that has been brewing steadily over the decades – the deterioration of air quality in many of the leading economies. Pollution caused by the tailpipe exhaust from vehicles is a big part of the problem, as it contains greenhouse gases and noxious gases. Of all the possible solutions to reduce vehicular pollution, two have gained worldwide importance.

The first involves using biofuels to power vehicles that run on internal combustion engines (ICE). The other solution is to have an increasingly larger percentage of electric vehicles (EVs) in the transportation mix. Biofuels will address the world’s present challenges, while EVs will address its future needs. Both have potential to yield significant economic and environmental benefits but will need concerted efforts to succeed. It is possible that we may have a future where ICE vehicles and EVs coexist. It makes sense therefore, to think about both biofuels and EVs from a long-term perspective.

Biofuels are not only environment-friendly but economy-friendly too

Biofuels can be produced from a wide range of biomass such as wood, bamboo, crops, agricultural “waste”, and more. Because all this biomass can be grown and regrown as needed, the sourcing of biofuels is completely sustainable. Furthermore, when biofuels are blended with conventional fossil-based fuels such as petrol or diesel, they make the process of internal combustion extremely efficient, which results in significantly less vehicular emissions. Even better, using such blended fuel doesn’t require any design modifications to the existing engines. Ethanol and biodiesel are the two most common types of biofuels in use today. Ethanol is meant to be blended with petrol, and biodiesel with diesel.

Biofuels hold yet another great benefit for countries like India – that of reducing dependence on crude oil imports. India’s growing fuel consumption and limited crude oil production had forced it to import almost 82 percent of its crude oil requirement in recent years, leaving the economy vulnerable to shocks in the global oil market and foreign exchange rates. This, among other reasons, led the government to announce a National Policy on Biofuels in June 2018, which included financial assistance for establishing biofuel plants; better pricing for biofuels; and a guaranteed offtake agreement. It also set a target of 20 percent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 percent blending of biodiesel in diesel by the year 2030.

Brazil, a developing nation like ours, shows just how beneficial biofuels can be. Brazil had started ethanol blending almost 40 years ago, and the result is that air pollution levels in São Paulo have halved in the past couple of decades despite an 80 percent increase in the number of cars. Meanwhile, Brazil substituted almost half its oil requirements with ethanol in 2019. The numbers speak for themselves, and India would do well to take a leaf from Brazil’s book. Government intervention can help in incentivizing biofuel production and blending at an industry level and in establishing the necessary logistics setup. It would be good, too, to have different taxes for fossil fuels and biofuels.

Biofuels apart, the other aspect of addressing the need for sustainability in transportation is the adoption of EVs.

EVs will take off once charging infrastructure is in place

Electricity is considered a cheaper and more environmentally friendly energy source than gasoline. The Government of India has stated its intention of going for full electrification of transportation sooner than later and has taken certain steps in this direction. These include measures such as 5% GST on EVs; demand incentive through the FAME-II scheme; declaring EV charging a service; allowing a ubiquitous network of chargers; providing exemption in income tax on buying EVs, and more. There is no doubt that EVs will constitute a sizeable percentage of India’s vehicular mix in the future. EV battery costs have been reducing in recent years, making electric cars steadily more affordable. Moreover, almost all major automobile players have new EV models in the pipeline.

EVs will likely be an urban phenomenon and will necessitate a large number of public charging points across the city, complemented by workspace and residential chargers. Government support will be needed to provide the parking space that will be required for charging. Private participation will be equally important. A McKinsey report in 2018 estimated that India will need about five million public charging points, which will entail an investment of almost $6 billion. Most, or all, of this investment will need to come from private companies.

In an EV ecosystem, communication between the battery and the charger, and between the charger and the grid, is essential for safety and reliability of both the vehicle and the grid. We will therefore need smart charging infrastructure as well as adequate electricity infrastructure to supply power at the required rate. The future of e-mobility in India lies at the convergence of robust charging infrastructure, policy intervention, increased participation by the private sector, and successful consumer use cases.

Meanwhile, as India progresses towards its solar energy targets, EVs can help in balancing the power grid by drawing power from the grid during peak generation hours, storing it in their battery when not running, and transferring it back to the grid when needed. As the power grid becomes “greener”, and battery technology evolves, EVs will help India move towards a sustainable future for both mobility and power.

India has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 33-35 percent by 2030 from the 2005 levels, as part of its NDCs under the Paris Agreement. A report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago earlier this year suggested that India is the second most polluted country in the world, and that most of its population lives in areas where the annual average particulate level exceeds World Health Organization guidelines. We don’t need any more reasons to start cleaning up our act, do we? We have two solutions in sight; let’s make them happen.

Source: The Economic Times

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