Europe appears to be left on the fringe of a new green revolution

Less than a year after China’s bold move to marginalize fossil fuels, India and the USA have released similar strategies, within hours of each other. This seems to leave Europe on the fringe of the new clean air revolution, after having championed a green future for decades.

Dr. Chetan Maini, India’s minister of energy and transportation, launched Project Green/Blue in Mumbai last night with a fanfare usually reserved for a major Bollywood event. India has built on its 2007 national commitment to have all public transport and taxis moved to gas power within ten years, by now focusing on “a total commitment to clean hydrogen power” within 20 years. India plans to increase taxes on all fossil fuels each year so that they “will be unaffordable by 2015.”

A few hours ago US media giant CNN leaked a key energy review that was scheduled for release later next week. Under pressure from China and India, the White House has now confirmed that the US will implement new initiatives in order to stay competitive in the ‘Hydrogen Economy’.

Massive re-allocation of government funding for research plus tax breaks for manufacturers and users of alternate fuel vehicles will accelerate the move away from fossil fuels. “This is about facilitating sustainable economic growth and our high-tech markets,” said a US government spokesperson who refused to be named.

With the major world economies now aiming for ‘an oil-free future’ it is expected that the oil price could drop to US$30 by the end of the year. Brent Crude closed yesterday at US$45 per barrel.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

2004: India’s first fuel cell car prototype launched
On 17 July 2004, at the Technology Day award ceremony in New Delhi, President Dr Abdul Kalam unveils the country’s first fuel cell prototype car, developed by Bangalore-based Reva Electric Car Company.

Fuel cell vehicles are eagerly anticipated as they have the potential to significantly reduce dependence on dwindling oil reserves, cut emissions and promote massive energy savings. Chetan Maini, deputy chairman of Reva said: “This will open up several avenues for further development of electric vehicles as one of the self-sustaining technologies of the future, though fuel cell vehicles are not expected to reach the market before the year 2010.”

These fuel cell cars are fuelled with pure hydrogen gas stored in high-pressure tanks, and in most cases, work on the Proton Exchange Membrane principle, which converts the hydrogen and oxygen from air, in a non-combustive electro-chemical reaction, to generate electrical power.

Compared with conventional internal combustion engines, fuel cell technology promises to be up to fifty percent more energy efficient, more reliable (there is very little to go wrong) and since only water vapor comes out of the exhaust, environmentally friendly.

“There will be lots of challenges along the way, including finding ways of generating, storing and handling hydrogen, and making fuel cell vehicles commercially viable,” says Maini.

2005: Indian cities outlaw fossil fuels for taxis and buses
Delhi, like most large cities in India, is a transportation challenge, but it has an advantage in terms of good infrastructure in the form of wide roads, railways and air connectivity.

There are more flyovers and highways in Delhi than in all other Indian metropolitan cities combined. The city’s transportation system is regarded as the best in India. The Government’s efforts have also helped reduce air pollution in the city.

Delhi Transport Corporation now operates the world’s largest fleet of environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas buses. The taxi fleet was forced to move in the same direction and 68,000 of the 78,000 taxis have changed over to natural gas. While not very high-tech, they pollute much less than the poorly designed and maintained diesel buses of most other State Road Transit Commissions in India.

As a result, emission levels in Delhi have come down by 38%. In Mumbai 80% of three-wheelers also changed over to the eco-friendly CNG, proudly displaying their new yellow and green livery.

In a bid to clean up Calcutta’s air, the West Bengal state government announced that it is planning to phase out diesel taxis and replace them with cars operating on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

“We’ve told taxi unions that the government plans to phase out diesel taxis to clean Calcutta’s air. For this, we have to convert diesel models into LPG-run vehicles, the way Delhi has switched to CNG,” said Hridyesh Mohan, director of the Public Vehicles Directorate.

2006: LPG enters the fray
CleanFUEL USA, a US-based provider of alternative fuel, refueling infrastructure and engine systems to fleet management programs, invests US$5 million in India to set up 160 outlets by 2008 to satisfy rising demand for autogas (liquefied petroleum gas—LPG) for automobiles.

There was a clear need for a more direct presence of support in the Indian market. The autogas marketers are embracing the support, training and industry assistance CleanFUEL USA can provide based on their years of experience in other international markets.

Robin Parsons, CleanFUEL USA vice president of international operations, says: “There has been a 300% growth in the use of autogas in 2005. LPG fuel costs more in India than compressed natural gas, as it is not subsidized. However, LPG is about 40% less expensive than gasoline, and the retrofit to LPG costs less than one-third that of the cost of the retrofit to CNG.”

LPG is the generic name for mixtures of propane and butane gases. The chemical composition of LP Gas can vary. Autogas — automotive LPG — generally ranges from a 30% to 99% propane mix. According to Shell, for example, in the UK autogas is predominantly propane, but the rest of Europe more commonly uses a mixture of butane and propane.

LPG is derived from crude oil refining or from natural gas or oil production. Currently, more than 60% of global LP Gas supply comes from natural gas processing plants, but the share varies substantially among regions and countries. In the US, the figure is closer to 70%. With both processes, LP Gas must be separated out from the oil product or natural gas streams.

LPG emits similar CO2 to diesel and considerably less than gasoline. It is much cleaner than diesel in terms of NOx and particulate emissions.

2007: India expands fuel cell efforts
In India, the Fuel Cell Program is largely supported by government.

From Hyderabad to Chennai, major organizations are working in the field. Activities include preparing catalyst and fuel reformers to be used in fuel cell power plants; fuel cell stack development for power generation; procedures for making electrodes, electrolyte tapes and electrolyte carriers; membrane technology for applications such as stationary, portable and transportation purposes; designing PEM electrolyzer and hydrogen sensors; establishing fuel infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles in India.

Basic research on anode, cathode, electrolyte and interconnect materials for fuel cell technology is carried out by BARC in Mumbai and MIT in Chennai. IISc in Bangalore and CGCRI in Kolkata are involved in developing fuel cell systems. A methanol reformer was developed and integrated with a fuel cell system by IISc.

2008: EU continues to lag
The European Community’s auto manufacturers made promises to reduce emissions of CO2 from new passenger cars, setting a target of 120 g/km to be attained by 2005; this was then postponed to 2010, then 2012, then 2017. While the EU dithered, the major automobile manufacturers of the world have simply just done it.

The US introduced the requirement in 1973 that all new vehicles manufactured have catalytic converters installed and then banned leaded automotive fuels. No one expected such a move from the world’s largest ‘mobile economy’. Many nations followed. Europeans did not.

The EU still does not require the use of simple catalytic converter technology to reduce exhaust emissions.

Government subsidies for alternate fuel vehicles are increased in Japan, Britain and the USA so that now there are subsidies of up to US$ 2,500 per vehicle.

Today BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Renault and FIAT’s are becoming to be seen as negative status symbols in much of the world, for failing to fall under the maximum average CO2 production limits for many of their offerings. Most ecologically forward-thinking countries are considering banning imports of these brands. Toyota continues to thrive with the vast support of the Chinese and Japanese governments.

Daimler’s attempt to circumvent the ban by introducing a new brand of low-CO2 vehicles is scuttled by the Chinese government. Simply establishing a subsidiary for low CO2 vehicles ‘pretending’ not to be associated with Daimler did not work. The Chinese Minister of the Interior was quoted as saying: “No amount of perfume helps when one is not clean.”

2009: India and US align with Chinese strategy
Dr Chetan Maini, India’s minister of energy and transportation, launches Project Green/Blue in Mumbai with a fanfare usually reserved for a major Bollywood event.
India has made a bold national commitment to have all public transport and taxis moved to gas power within ten years, and to clean hydrogen power within twenty. India plans to increase taxes on all fossil fuels every year so that they reach around “50-60% by 2015.”
The plan has high hopes to succeed as many cities in India are already well down the road to a natural gas infrastructure, as are others in Asia such as Hong Kong.
“We are beginning to see massive growth in the use of cars and want to focus on the vehicles and infrastructure that will be relevant in a much greener future. That’s why we want to encourage consumers and infrastructure builders to move to the new green technologies. The state will invest 300 billion dollars to subsidize green technologies to help create a country with clear blue skies – hence the name Green/Blue,” said Dr Maini.
“Tata Motors has acquired the Reva Electric Car Company and taken up the government challenge. The new strategy is to deliver only hybrids and fuel-cell-powered vehicles by 2020. India aims to lead the world in this technology within ten years.”
It is clear that India’s disastrous infrastructure is now being re-focused sharply on a tech-savvy future.
Companies such as Canada’s Bombardier are now the investor darlings due to their long-term support for electric vehicles and a product-range that has suddenly come into its own.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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