Air pollution: auto LPG is the way out

The alarmingly high and harmful levels of air pollution in the cities have been a subject of intense discussion in the media and elsewhere for quite some time now.

The Supreme Court has been trying to impress upon the central and state governments to find immediate solution to the killer air pollution.

“This pollution problem is very serious. If you talk for years for a solution, then it is a problem,” a bench of Justices M B Lokur and P C Pant observed during a court hearing on January 16, 2017.

A recent Greenpeace report said 1.2 million deaths take place every year in India due to air pollution. It claimed none of the 168 cities it assessed complied with air quality standards prescribed by the WHO.

While Delhi tops the list of the most polluted cities, even smaller cities such as Patna, Kanpur and Allahabad have air pollution far beyond the healthy levels. The health cost of air pollution in India has been assessed at 3% of its GDP. It is also well established now that much of air pollution is due to vehicular emissions.

Presently, India has an estimated 222 million vehicles, 80% being two-wheelers, 14% passenger vehicles, 3% commercial and remaining 3% three-wheelers.

Preventive measures
Over the past several years, various measures have been discussed to tackle air pollution, often only under pressure from the apex court.

These include, enforcement of odd/ even rule, banning registration of luxury SUVs and diesel cars above 2000cc in the national capital, green cess on commercial vehicles entering Delhi, ban on burning of waste and crop residue, and fine on emission of construction dust etc.

However, none of these measures seem to provide an immediate and effective solution that the worsening situation demands. Conversion of petrol and diesel vehicles to gas-fuelled ones could be one such solution, and in that, conversion to auto LPG, rather than, not as viable, CNG.

Auto LPG is a low hanging fruit and government must make use of this to make a tangible effect on air quality almost immediately. Most other cleaner fuels are still at a drawing board stage.

A recent study conducted by Marketing and Development Research Associates (MDRA) says auto LPG can cheaply and quickly replace diesel and petrol in transport across the country as the fuel can be transported by tankers and sold through existing filling stations, unlike CNG that requires the laying of pipelines, which takes several years and much more investment.

Moreover, auto LPG fuel tanks are compact and lighter than CNG and can be easily integrated in a vehicle without much loss of trunk space. Also, refuelling time for auto LPG is much less compared to the CNG. Economic considerations also tilt the balance in favour of Auto LPG. It is 50% cheaper than petrol.

Cost-effective solution
Auto LPG’s operating expenses are up to 50% lower than petrol, and the cost of an LPG vehicle — whether factory fitted (Original Equipment Manufacturer – OEM) or retro-fit — is also lower than that of CNG.

Retrofitting an LPG car wo­uld cost just about Rs 20,000 compared to Rs 30,000 for a CNG car, and an LPG kit for a bike would come for Rs 7,000 while it would be about Rs 13,000 for a CNG bike.

The MDRA study says that the most significant contribution of auto LPG is improving air quality — it has 22% lower CO2 than petrol, 96% lesser NOx than diesel & 68% lesser than petrol, and 120 times lower PM emission than diesel.

There are 1,100 auto LPG filling outlets in 500 cities across India, and more than 50% of these are owned by the public sector companies Indian Oil, HPCL and BPCL while the rest are operated by private players.

The MDRA study says that one can be assured of continuous availability of auto LPG for the subcontinent at very low, compelling prices in the foreseeable future as global LPG production is growing faster than demand (10 mMT in excess in 2015).
With effects of global warming so apparent now, moving to cleaner fuels is not a choice anymore. Auto LPG is clean, efficient, easy to handle and offers significant economic benefits as well. Most importantly, it can make a real difference to air quality levels, today.

(The writer is Director General of Indian Auto LPG Coalition, the nodal body for promotion of auto LPG in India)

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