India’s path to clean transport is electric, strong central policies on zero-emission vehicles

Globally, June 5 is World Environment Day. It was created to raise awareness and encourage action in favor of environmental protection. This year, transport emissions are in focus as this sector is responsible for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. It’s part of the story. The other part is that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the transportation sector have steadily increased over the year. The transport sector was the second source behind the energy sector in terms of annual change in CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2021.

Also in India, transport is one of the sectors with the fastest growing emissions and it accounts for around 14% of CO2 emissions, 90% of which comes from road transport. Therefore, reducing emissions from road transport is key to achieving the country’s climate goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2070.

So the big question is: how can India reduce emissions from road transport? The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has published a Life Cycle Assessment of GHG Emissions from Passenger Cars and Two-Wheelers in India which provides interesting and relevant information. The objective of this research was to identify fuel and powertrain technologies, which can provide significant benefits in reducing carbon emissions. The study included all GHG emissions from the production, maintenance and recycling phases of the vehicles, as well as emissions related to the production and consumption of fuel and electricity.

In many ways, the assessment can be seen as having settled the debate on effective pathways to decarbonize road transport. Figure 1 shows the results for passenger cars and Figure 2 shows emissions from two-wheelers, both in India. Note that the error bars indicate the difference between the evolution of the electricity mix according to the announced policies (the higher values) and what is necessary to align with the Paris Agreement.

Figure 1. Lifecycle GHG emissions of new medium-sized gasoline, diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG) cars in the sedan, battery electric vehicle (BEV), and fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) segment ) registered in India in 2021.

Source: ICCT
Source: ICCT

Figure 2. Life Cycle GHG Emissions of New Medium Gasoline and Battery Electric Motorbikes and Scooters Registered in India in 2021.

Let’s discuss three important points of the analysis:

The goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved with an internal combustion engine

Diesel and natural gas powered cars exceed the life cycle GHG emissions of gasoline cars recorded in 2021. With a modest share of biofuels in fuel blends (5% to 20% ethanol and up to 5% biodiesel), GHG reduction benefits are minimal. While higher biofuel blends could further reduce GHG emissions, the supply of waste and residue-based biofuel feedstocks is very limited and unlikely to be sufficient to substantially replace fossil fuels. Food-based biofuels, on the other hand, not only cause additional emissions from indirect land-use change, but can also interfere with food security.

The story is the same for trucks. A review of well-to-wheel (lifecycle) emissions from liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks shows that they are consistently worse than diesel. In fact, the methane leaks upstream and downstream offset all the climate advantages offered by natural gas. Unlike other GHGs, methane contributes several times more to global warming in the first 20 years after its emission than the 100-year global warming potential (GWP) reflects.

Electricity is cleaner, even with the existing grid in India

Even starting with India’s current grid, which derives almost three-quarters of its electricity from fossil fuels, battery electric vehicles emit less over their lifetime than internal combustion engine vehicles. Indeed, electric cars registered in 2021 are estimated to produce 19% to 34% less GHG emissions than gasoline-powered cars. The reduction in emissions in the case of electric two-wheelers is even greater, 33% to 50% less than gasoline models. Also, the benefits will increase over time.

Renewables have already contributed almost 11% of the total electricity generated in India in the financial year 2021-22. With over 100 GW of installed renewable energy capacity already today, India is on track to reach 450 GW by 2030. As the grid becomes cleaner, the GHG benefits increase yet to reach 30% by 2030. Notably, the ICCT found that BEVs powered by renewable electricity produce the lowest emissions, even less than FCEVs powered by green hydrogen. Indeed, the FCEV path based on electricity is three times more energy-intensive.

Given the lifecycle GHG emissions benefits that BEVs already deliver today, the transition to electric cars doesn’t need and can’t wait another decade for additional industry improvements. electricity.

Hydrogen is promising, but its applications are limited

Fuel cell electric cars emit about 16% less GHG emissions over their life cycle than gasoline cars when hydrogen is produced by reforming methane from natural gas, or “grey hydrogen”. “. The emission reduction benefits are even greater when gray hydrogen is combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to create “blue hydrogen”, and greater when produced from renewable electricity, the aforementioned “green hydrogen”.

With India’s growing renewable energy portfolio and solar tariffs hitting record highs, green hydrogen looks promising. However, overcoming cost and distribution infrastructure challenges will be crucial. It is important to note that the existing CNG infrastructure can only be used to transport hydrogen in small blended quantities. Thus, transporting hydrogen would require significant capital investment to create a dedicated pipeline network, and this would be reflected in the price of hydrogen at the pump.

With falling solar power prices and electrolyser costs, pump prices for green hydrogen are expected to drop from $9/kg in 2030 to $5/kg in 2050. Until then, however, this The fuel pathway will likely be limited to heavy-duty vehicle applications located near hydrogen production facilities, as this would not require widespread distribution.

ICCT research clearly indicates that there is no realistic path to decarbonize the internal combustion engine in a timeframe consistent with global climate goals. Only BEVs and FCEVs have the potential to achieve near-zero GHG emissions in the coming decades. So, as India plans its future and develops sectoral targets to achieve its net zero emissions goal, it will need to develop strong central policies that support zero-emission vehicles and phase out internal combustion engine vehicles.

Amit Bhatt is the Managing Director (India) of the International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT). Harsimran Kaur is a research associate (consultant) for ICCT. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the position of this publication.

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