The environmental assessment of various vehicle fuels goes beyond operating efficiency and emissions, especially when a technology is widely used. A vehicle’s life cycle evaluation includes production and post-use concerns. Emphasis on a particular issue, such as the kind of fuel, is less important than a cradle-to-cradle design. Natural gas vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) comprise a mix of alternative power train technologies that will need to coexist to cater to the wide variety of vehicle segments based on their specific needs and use cases.
Alternative fuel adoption scenarios in India
Electric appears to be the future of two-wheelers, a vehicle segment that could drive EV adoption in India owing to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and easier adoption. Electric two-wheelers have a lower TCO than ethanol- and petrol-based vehicles because cheaper ethanol is offset by its lower calorific value. EVs have a 50 per cent reduced cost of ownership.
Two-wheelers use a 2 kW battery and have a range of 85-90 km, which is suitable for the everyday needs of most users. Furthermore, charging at home is simple in urban areas, and battery swapping versions are accessible in rural areas, thus reducing reliance on charging infrastructure. In India, the major two-wheeler original equipment manufacturers have formed a defined strategy for electric solutions, with an emphasis on generating more powerful and cost-effective offerings. In addition, technology has advanced significantly in recent years. EVs have a promising future for two-wheelers across all cities owing to less dependence on charging infrastructure.
Alternative fuels for three-wheelers in metropolitan cities and Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are expected to differ, with electric three-wheelers better suited for metro cities and CNG vehicles more suited for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Among the several development drivers for electric three-wheelers, an open permit for e-autos has been recommended, which will significantly cut the cost of ownership of the vehicle because permits cost Rs 300,000-Rs 400,000 owing to enforced constraints. Even after accounting for greater acquisition costs, the e-auto model now offers a 24 per cent higher profit than the CNG option.
In India, CNG penetration is increasing. The ninth CGD bidding round will be finished by 2024, and the tenth round will be completed by 2029, with 301 districts covered by a CNG network. Since CNG has superior operational economics to diesel, it is likely to become more popular. In Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, there is currently no EV charging road map in place. CNG stations are also being built.
CNG and EVs will coexist for four-wheelers, catering to distinct vehicle and customer niches. Large fleet operators will drive EV adoption. Only 62 cities have suggested a CNG infrastructure, whereas 301 districts have offered an electric infrastructure. In the luxury class, EVs have a lower TCO, but in the private segment, CNG has a lower TCO. Converting current fleets to CNG is easier. However, the initial market for EV adoption is restricted as only major fleet operators can replace and convert their fleets. There is a strategy in place for CNG vehicles since station penetration will boost uptake in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. A total of 10,000 additional CNG stations are in the works. EV adoption will be boosted by 2,636 new charging stations in 62 cities.
Intra-city buses are anticipated to be early adopters of EVs, particularly in big cities where pollution is a problem along with other obstacles. In intra-city buses, electric buses have a 45 per cent lower operational cost than diesel buses. Government ownership of these buses by central transmission utilities and state transmission utilities allows for demand aggregation. EV charging takes place in designated parking locations and during periods of inactivity during the night. It is easier to build charging infrastructure for buses with fixed routes. A facility in Tamil Nadu has received a Rs 2.8 billion investment to raise capacity to 5,000 e-buses. In India, it has already sold more than 200 e-buses. Olectra, located in Hyderabad, has entered into a partnership to open a second facility in India. In the next three to four years, Build Your Dreams aims to sell 5,000 e-buses in India.
The lower TCO of CNG buses makes it an appealing option for private and intercity buses, as well as smaller communities, which will benefit from the city’s planned gas distribution infrastructure. CNG buses are 37 per cent more cost effective than diesel buses and 56 per cent more cost effective than electric buses. Where EV charging is not available, a government push could drive the replacement of the present fleet with CNG. Given the reduced cost of procurement, a growing number of private institutions and universities will choose CNG buses. Increased urbanisation will increase the demand for medium and large commercial vehicles in both intercity and intra-city transportation.
For trucks, the economic viability of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and infrastructure preparedness in India for the next five years support improved range. Vehicles that run on LNG are safer than those that run on diesel or CNG. When there is a leak, the flammability rating of 5-15 per cent dissipates in the atmosphere, minimising the danger of fire. It is a more peaceful and environmentally friendly mode of transportation. The emission factor of LNG is 25 per cent lower than that of diesel, and engine running is quieter than CNG and diesel. India has enough natural gas reserves to meet the rising demand for natural gas automobiles. As compared to diesel (10,900 kCal per kg), LNG has a higher calorific value (129,505 kCal per kg). It is a less expensive fuel than diesel, and because it is cleaner, it reduces the cost of lubricants and engine oil. It can be deemed theft-proof because it is a cryogenic liquid with a temperature of -162 ºC.
Although technologies such as FCEVs, solid-state batteries and synthetic fuels may become practical in the near future, a thorough assessment of their viability in the Indian market is necessary. In India, both public and private players must keep a close watch on emerging technologies and their fast changing environment. To assess the applicability of these technologies for the local market, feasibility studies focusing on the Indian market are necessary. To be deemed acceptable in the Indian ecosystem, more investment in domestic production and infrastructure is required.
Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) provide the options of hydrogen and fuel cell automobiles. The development of NGVs and accompanying infrastructure has the potential to make the transition to hydrogen fuel cars easier. Natural gas and hydrogen have a lot in common. Natural gas is an important source of hydrogen. Existing tank technology NGVs can be used as basis technologies for hydrogen storage in prototype hydrogen cars. Hydrogen cars are benefiting from onboard safety technologies developed for NGVs. Owing to the commonalities in systems in both gaseous and liquid form, natural gas dispensers serve as a bridge to hydrogen dispensers. Hydrogen will be formed in modest quantities at the local station using piped natural gas, necessitating the use of a CNG network. A number of market entry barriers are shared by hydrogen and natural gas. The hydrogen age is being ushered in through a network of CNG stations and natural gas pipelines.
For the success of alternative fuels in India, early adopters must be identified, risks must be controlled, and future global advances must be embraced. Encouraging the use of alternative fuels is a cost-effective and realistic choice. The use of alternative fuels creates a number of opportunities such as infrastructure development and employment generation, while ensuring land and water security.