Electric vehicles for a cleaner environment and energy security

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

What is electric vehicle(EV)? How is it different from vehicle running on diesel or petrol? Why the Government of India has set a target of sale of only new electric cars in the country from 2030, and complete ban of cars running of fossil fuels?

In order to answer these questions, let us understand the basic technology of vehicles running on fossil fuels like petrol or diesel and vehicles powered by electricity.

The heart of any vehicle is the engine. In case of vehicles on petrol or diesel, the engine is called internal combustion engine(ICE), where a mixture of petrol or diesel and air(oxygen) undergoes combustion intermittently to move pistons in the cylinders in linear motion. The linear motion is converted into rotatory motion by connecting rod and crankshaft, which in turn is transmitted to rotational motion of axles to move the wheels of the vehicle.

Exhaust from an internal combustion engine contains many harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, unburnt hydrocarbon and particulate matter, which are the causes of air pollution. According to World Health Organization(WHO) data of 2016, 14 cities of India figure in the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. Vehicular emission is main cause of air pollution in cities and health risk.

WHO has stated that by reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. Therefore, it makes a complete sense to switch over to non-polluting fuels to drive vehicles.

Natural gas and LPG are much cleaner fuels for running vehicles. In some cities, where natural gas is available through pipelines or a cascade of cylinders as compressed natural gas(CNG), there is option of using natural gas as fuel for buses, passenger cars and auto-rickshaws. But the network of CNG stations is still limited even in Delhi.

While I was working in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India from 1995 to early 2000, I worked hard to promote use of LPG as alternate auto fuel in India. I was looking after the LPG as a petroleum product and in that capacity, I had opportunity to attend the World LPG Forums in different cities in the world and Asia LPG Forum in Tokyo.

One of sessions of the Forum was on Automotive LPG and sharing of experiences of countries using LPG as auto fuel mainly for taxis. At that time, LPG was being used by some owners/drivers in a clandestine manner by retrofitting the engines and fixing LPG cylinders in the dicky of vehicle. Since retrofitting was done in local garages without following safety standards, there used to be accidents and fires on vehicles running on domestic LPG.

In order to promote LPG as auto fuel in OEM vehicles having option of running on petrol or LPG, we got necessary amendments made in Motor Vehicle Act. However, due to limited availability of LPG filling stations in cities, its use LPG as auto fuel did not take off on a large scale. Now, Government of India is promoting use of cleaner biofuels like bioethanol and biodiesel.

Till now, the target of blending 10% biofuel in petrol or diesel is yet to be achieved. Now, let us look at the feasibility of running vehicles on electricity. The source of power of an electric vehicle(EV) is a set of batteries, which may be kept at any convenient place in it.

In Tesla cars like Model S and Model 3, a large number of small lithium-ion batteries are packed together on the lower floor of the car for supply of direct current to an inverter in the vehicle. The inverter converts the direct current into alternating current, which is connected to an induction motor. The rotatory motion of rotor in the motor is directly transferred to the rear wheels of the vehicles to power the vehicle.

Depending on the requirement of power and performance, the number of motors is increased and rotatory motion is transferred to either rear or front or both wheels of the vehicle. The torque and speed of an EV can be changed by changing amplitude and frequency of alternating current.

In India, the government has laid on emphasis on complete shift to EVs. During the launch of two charging stations for EVs at the premises of NITI Ayog in February, 2018, Shri Nitin Gadhkari, Union Minister of Transport announced that sale of new cars from 2030 onwards shall be only EVs. This announcement rattled the manufacturers of passenger cars in India and they came out with arguments related to lack of infrastructure and fear of loss of present business. Nevertheless, they have to reluctantly accept the roadmap of switching over to EVs as laid down by Government and prepare themselves for the new opportunity.

In India, sale of electric cars is very much limited to about 2000 annually. Mahindra Electric is leading in making of EVs in passenger car segment with its electric cars, namely, Mahindra e2O Plus, a four seater hatchback, having a range of 140 Km. and price tag of Rs.7-12 lakhs, and Mahindra eVerito Electric Sedan with range of 140 Km. and price of Rs.9-11 lakhs. Other companies like TATA, Hyundai, Maruti, etc. are also trying to capture a slice of market share of EVs by engaging in research and development. However, various models of two wheelers and three wheelers are already running on electric battery.

China is the world leader in manufacture of electric vehicles and its sale. In 2017, China sold 777,000 new EVs against 199,000 by USA and 1,223,600 globally. It is estimated that in 2018, China will sell 1,000,000 new EVs, USA, 400,000 and global sale, 1,800,000. The biggest effort in making EVs in the world is by TESLA, promoted by Elon Musk and others. It started making stylish and fast SUV car, Model X, Sports car, Roadster, Sedans-Model S and Model 3, which are excellent in terms of performance and range.

Price of latest entry, Model 3 is about US$ 35,000, which is considered to be affordable in USA and European markets. Many people have booked Tesla cars by paying US$ 1000 and they are willing to wait upto two or three years before delivery. To meet the huge demand of battery to power the EVs, TESLA has set up the largest factory to make lithium-ion battery and power walls under the name and style of Gigafactory 1 in Nevada and Gigafactory 2 at Buffalo in New York.

Solar City, a sister concern of TESLA is setting up charging stations along the highways by using solar panels. TESLA has already set up 1332 Supercharger Stations along highways with 10,901 superchargers which can fully charge a car in about 30 minutes. The range of TESLA cars go upto 1000 KM. TESLA is trying to meet the entire needs of its car owners. It was reported that TESLA has overtaken well-established car companies, Ford and General Motors, in terms of market capitalization.

Use of electricity to run vehicles has a benign effect on both environment, energy security and balance of payments. There is no noise and vehicular emission from EVs which will help in mitigating pollution in cities. Only caution is that electricity for running EVs, if generated by polluting thermal power plants, the benefit of no pollution from Evs will be compromised. Therefore, there is a strong case for generation of electricity from renewables like solar, wind, hydel or biomass to meet the needs of electricity for vehicles.

In 2017-18, India imported 219.15 MT of oil for USD 87.725 billion (Rs 5.65 lakh crore), according to the latest data available from oil ministry’s Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC). The share of oil import was 80% of its requirement. With the depreciation of rupee against US dollar to about Rs.70 per dollar recently, the oil import bill will increase by US$26 billion in 2018-19.

With shift to electric vehicles for almost all modes of transport in the next 10-15 years, it is possible to bring down oil imports and improve balance of payments. Lower cost of transportation by use of electric vehicle including trucks on account of fast improvements in battery technology and reduction in cost will result in containing of inflation and higher economic growth.

In order to encourage and popularize EVs, Manipur may also look at two important infrastructure-renewable energy generation and setting up of a network of charging stations. It is in the interest of all to adopt the new technology as early as possible. It is the day of disruption. EVs will end the role of petrol and diesel as fuel to power vehicles, if not immediately now, but surely in the next 10-15 years.

Views expressed are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on August 26, 2018.

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