Towards greener cities

An important milestone in automobile racing history passed by unnoticed two months ago. On June 17, hybrid cars finished first and second in the 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a gruelling endurance race. Out of the 56 cars that participated in the race, 52 cars competed with conventional (internal combustion) engines and four cars utilised hybrid technologies. Four out of the top five fastest lap times during the qualifying session were set by hybrid cars, with the winning hybrid car clinching the pole position.

Hybrid technologies enable energy (which would normally be lost) to be captured and reused to propel the vehicle. Ferdinand Porsche, most famously associated with the sports car that bears his name, developed a hybrid car, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid in 1901. Thereafter, hybrid technology progressed slowly and almost 100 years later, the Toyota Motor Corporation launched the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the minibus Toyota Coaster in 1997. World over, the hybrid growth story has been buoyed by incentives and subsidies. In India, a scheme which subsidised electric vehicles ended on March 31 this year, resulting in weak sales of electric vehicles thereafter.

Reports suggest that a National Mission for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (NMHEV) document is being drafted, with an investment of Rs 13,000 crore over eight years.

Though the Department of Heavy Industries is preparing this document in consultation with stakeholders of the automobile industry, the process is not transparent. The minutes of all meetings held in regard to the preparation of the draft and the draft itself have not been made public. While initiatives that promote hybrid and electric vehicles are absolutely essential, it remains to be seen as to who the actual beneficiaries will be. One reported initiative of suggesting that public sector banks offer loans to enable individuals to purchase electric vehicles will result in an increase in the number of private vehicles, adding to urban commuter’s woes.

Hybrid technologies have been successfully adopted in buses and trucks worldwide, but there are very few hybrid buses in India. In New York, hybrid buses have been in operation since 1998. Over 1,600 buses are currently operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York. Inclusion of hybrid buses in public bus service fleets across India will reduce consumption of diesel, which is heavily subsidised by the government. Consequently, diesel engine emissions, which can potentially cause cancer, will also decline. It is time now for a second Green Revolution to make our cities green and clean by using hybrid vehicles.

Chaitanya Krishna

A reef’s growth story

So far, scientists believed that sediment-rich marine environments are detrimental to the growth of coral reefs. According to a new study, the muddy, sediment-filled Middle Reef, part of the vast Great Barrier Reef in Australia, has grown more rapidly than other segments. Chris Perry, a marine geoscientist at the University of Exeter, England and his team published their findings in journal Geology. Overfishing, pollution, increasing sea surface temperatures, disease and terrestrial sediment runoff all contribute to the decline of overall reef growth.

Sindya N Bhanoo ,New York Times News Service 

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