CNG, the answer to rising air pollution

CNG, the answer to rising air pollution

With growing human casualties due to increasing air pollution this year, the country has surpassed Beijing’s dangerous pollution levels. Several deaths due to pollution have taken place in the National Capital Region, Delhi. It remains the worst affected by rising pollution levels, and has 12 times higher pollution levels compared to the guidelines prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A recent study by Greenpeace has highlighted that in Delhi, 95% of the day’s pollution levels exceed the national standards. Urban centres like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad too are struggling with poor air quality with most days in a year – 72, 33, 57 and 45% respectively – pollution levels rising above permissible limits.

As per international guidelines, it is alarming that even smaller cities like Lucknow, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, and Varanasi have pollution levels at least 10 times higher than the permissible limits. Tier II cities like Patna, Raipur, Agra and Varanasi show alarming results in terms of air quality. And so do Jaipur and Muzzafarpur.

This has invariably prompted the government to take action. The first step was setting up the National Air Quality Index with the objective of reporting standards for air pollution.

The Central government, the state governments and the Supreme Court are now working on measures to improve the situation. However, as a country we have taken the environment for granted and the present situation calls for some extreme measures.

This urgency is reflected in a recent order by the Supreme Court. With the objective of controlling pollutant levels, the court has ordered the Delhi government to pull 30,000 cabs off the roads as they run on diesel or petrol and not the environment friendly compressed natural gas (CNG). The idea is to take off road all diesel and petrol operated public vehicles.

What is CNG? CNG is considered to be the cleanest of all fossil fuels that are available to us. Burning of CNG produces carbon dioxide and water as it is composed of methane. These happen to be the same products that we exhale while we breathe. Compared to petroleum, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, which produce higher carbon emissions, CNG is less harmful.

Further, combustion of fuel oil also results in greater release of ash particulates that worsen pollution level, but combustion of CNG releases miniscule amount of these products. Emission of carbon monoxide is reduced by approximately 80% in CNG powered vehicles. CNG also produces 45% less hydrocarbons as compared to gasoline.

CNG is not just a cleaner fuel; but also a safer one. It is a non-toxic fuel that does not pose any danger of contamination to ground water.

Acute shortage

If India is to be a natural gas powered country, the onus now lies on industry and its regulators to increase availability and accessibility of CNG to its consumers. For instance, in the highly congested national capital, Indraprastha Gas Ltd (IGL) is the sole retailer of CNG to all automobiles in Delhi, thus, increasing the pressure on the company and also affecting its productivity.

The number of CNG refilling stations as of now don’t meet the rising demand for the fuel, thus making it a challenge for the end consumers to obtain the fuel.

By 2020, it is expected that the demand for CNG in the country will be at 16.3 million metric standard cubic metre per day and the capital expenditure required to support this demand is estimated to be Rs 8.150 crore.

Thus, it is advisable that the CNG business in the transport sector is backed by a business model that aims to create a market for other sectors such as industry and power as well, and a government framework that enables its functioning.

Some suggestions that have been raised are the establishment of mother/daughter booster stations for transportable storage. In such a model, fuel produced at one source is transported and distributed at another.

Given India’s position on reducing dependence on fossil fuels in several climate change conferences across the world,  these recommendations must be translated into action towards creating a clean environment in the country.

(The writer is a PhD fellow at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali)

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