Tighter oil supplies and escalating global crude prices don’t quite augur well for a country like ours, which is in any case burdened by a burgeoning energy deficit. Close to three-fourth of our energy generation capacity is from fossil fuels, with crude alone accounting for 24 % of India’s total energy consumption.
So, what does a nation, whose dependence on energy imports is estimated to exceed over half of the country’s total energy consumption by 2030, do? The effort for long has been to find viable alternative fuel options, while large investments are also being made to improve the quality and performance of internal combustion engines to increase efficiency. The fact is, this has been a global concern, not just our own.
In the past decade and more, India has seen considerable success in the use of CNG in select markets, while experiments have also been conducted on hydrogen and bio-fuel as potential alternatives. However, unlike several other countries that have taken a persistent direction towards a particular alternative, India has not found its miracle fuel yet.
Internationally, various new alternatives are being talked about – algae-based bio-fuels, for instance, are starting to create some noise, and so is electrofuel. Electrofuel pathways that feed CO2, water and energy to enzymes to create long-chain carbon molecules, which function like fossil fuels at one-tenth the cost of current bio-fuels, are reported to have been developed by biopharmaceutical researchers.
The key question, however, is whether these new fuel technologies are scalable to make commercial sense. It is clear that the long-term objective is to leapfrog to cleaner fuels and vehicles. And that calls for large-ticket investments in clean-energy innovation and infrastructure. Not all alternatives being worked upon today will bear fruit, but some of them will. And, they clearly could change the way we drive our vehicles in the future.
Meanwhile, in this issue of Auto Tech Review, read about how synthetic fuels from residual biomass may contribute considerably to the global fuel demand. Also, read a detailed feature on Volkswagen’s flexible MQB platform.
Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
New Delhi, March 2012