The Indian government’s push for cleaner mobility turned a new leaf last month, when Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways announced the commissioning of a Centre of Excellence (CoE) on methanol at ARAI as well as the M15 Blending Programme. Ever since he took charge in 2014, Minister Gadkari has been on mission mode, and has over these years made strong cases for various alternative propulsion technologies – most prominently electrification.
His speech at the 2017 annual SIAM convention, where he threatened to “bulldoze” auto companies if they failed to produce cars driven by alternative fuels by 2030, must still be fresh in everyone’s minds. Industry professionals watched in rapt, yet stunned attention, the Minister’s command to all automakers to dump petrol and diesel vehicles and switch to making electric cars or search for alternative fuels, such as methanol.
Much has changed since, and the Minister too has softened his stance, including his ministry’s U-turn with regards to an EV policy. The much-hyped MOVE Summit in September 2018, too, failed to address the growing concerns about the government’s intent and direction towards electrified mobility.
It was around the same time that the government, as well as its policy making body, Niti Aayog had started propagating methanol as a better, cost-effective and sustainable alternative for India. VK Saraswat, a member of Niti Aayog has suggested a roadmap to reduce India’s annual oil import bill by $ 100 bn by 2030 through extensive use of methanol in cooking gas as well as transportation fuel. Then, there have been talks around the government’s plans to increase the target level for the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme from 5 % to 10 % by 2022, and further to 20 % by 2030. Yet, regrettably, the level of ethanol market penetration in the country, as a gasoline blend, is just about 3 %; non-availability of the fuel being the primary deterrent.
Many industry stakeholders we spoke to aren’t too excited or hopeful about this latest methanol move. Theoretically, the proposed blending 15 % methanol in petrol is possible, but they argue not much research has gone into this technology intervention. While ARAI has reportedly been working on methanol blending for some time, a lot more is yet to be done to substantiate its appropriateness as a transportation fuel.
Nonetheless, with the government committing to fund research in this area, one can hope to find credible answers for a cleaner environment.
DEEPANGSHU DEV SARMAH
New Delhi, February 2019