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Are electric vehicles solution to pollution problem?

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By Moushumi Mohanty

The time for electric vehicles, or EVs, may not yet be ripe for India, but the idea of non-polluting passenger cars are surely and certainly maturing – and must be welcomed.

World Health Organization figures show that India has 13 of the planet’s 20 most polluted cities, with New Delhi ranked as the most polluted of all. And with pollution levels scaling new heights in December, the local government was forced to announce a slew of measures to combat the menace.

Attention, however, most focused on the measure that restricted vehicle movement, with odd and even numbered cars allowed on the city’s roads on alternate days. The pilot scheme, which ended on January 15, saw nearly 2.7 million vehicles going off the roads every day, according to Mint business daily citing vehicle registration data available with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

Last year, the National Green Tribunal, which has the powers of a civil court, ordered the Delhi government to ban the entry of diesel vehicles older than 10 years in New Delhi. The odd/even scheme was proposed by the state government after the court sought an action plan to control pollution. The state government also has plans to scrap commercial vehicles that are over 15 years old.

In addition, the Supreme Court banned registrations of new diesel cars in the capital till April 1, 2016, effectively preventing the sale of a car and sports utility vehicle (SUV) inventory worth Rs. 10 billion. The ban has been a major blow to companies such as Mahindra & Mahindra, Toyota, Tata Motors, Ford, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

With the diesel’s popularity on the wane, automakers such as Toyota are mulling re-introducing petrol variants of the popular Innova. Petrol, however, is now being seen as the lesser evil among fuels, and that may well push popular imagination towards electric vehicles.

As the idea of alternative propulsion takes shape, the government is fast working on developing a sustainable eco-system for EVs as well as hybrids (together known as HEVs).

On the one hand, it is clamping down on traditional-fuel propelled vehicles, while on the other, it is promoting adoption of such vehicles with tools such as the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) India program.

Launched on April 1, last year, FAME hopes to have six million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 and offers a subsidy of Rs. 29,000 for two-wheeler and Rs. 138,000 for cars.

The incentives drove sales of EVs, including two-wheeler, up by three times to 21,000 units in the April-December 2015 period compared to between 7,000 and 8,000 units during the same period in 2014.

Incentives have always played a crucial role in enhancing the Indian EV market. In 2010-2012, when the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had implemented an Alternate Fuels for Surface Transportation Program, EV sales in India had reached a range of 85,000-100,000 units.

The percentage of electric cars in these figures are however very small. Mahindra & Mahindra produces the only electric car available in the country, the e2o. IHS Automotive expects e2o sales of only 243 units in 2016 and 1,056 in 2020 in India.

Apart from incentivizing the demand side of electric vehicles, the government is also pushing for the development of indigenous batteries to make the EV program viable. For this purpose, the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) has tied up with the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) to develop battery technology for use in HEVs, leveraging technology used in batteries for space vehicles.

On laboratory testing of the batteries used in space, the research team discovered that the same batteries are suitable for automotive use as well.

The ARAI now plans to test the batteries in an automotive environment and release a prototype in a year’s time. Not only the battery, ARAI will also develop the battery management system (BMS) and thermal management for the battery to make it safe for use in HEVs.

With these moves, ARAI expects to kick-start a ‘Made in India’ battery program that could lower costs when the batteries are mass-produced. Batteries used in powering hybrids and EVs are still expensive, thus prohibiting larger adoption of such vehicles. India, being a price sensitive market, has been slow in adopting such vehicles, mainly due to range issues and lack of infrastructure.

It’s not only the central government and related agencies that are making definite moves towards EVs. Following pollution concerns hitting headlines every day, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are considering waiving taxes on electric vehicles.

Multiple pockets of promotional moves favoring EVs around the country may just add up to achieve what was believed to be unachievable even a few months ago in India – dramatically enhancing adoption of EVs on Indian roads in the mid-to long-term, if not the short-term. Especially so after Delhi’s citizens gave the odd/even scheme the thumbs up and showed that concern over vehicular pollution is real and widespread. (IANS)

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)