Charting Change, Enabling Development

The world is predominantly dependent on fossil fuels for its energy requirements. Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources where stored energy is released through combustion, such as such as coal, natural gas, petroleum and they account for almost 80% of energy used worldwide. Other sources like solar and electrical energy are also emerging as alternative energy sources to support our manufacturing and transportation needs.

Globally, people now are coming to terms with the fact that not only are they dependent on a finite fuel energy source when it comes to fossil fuels, extensive usage and its side effects are causing irreparable damage to human life and health.

Fuels that are positioned as alternatives to fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel include ethanol; electricity; hydrogen; propane; bio-diesel; methanol and P-series fuels, which are a blend of ethanol, natural gas liquids and methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF). Although their usage is increasing, it must be appreciated that they are unlikely to replace gasoline and diesel completely anytime soon. The transition will have to be gradual.

A ‘green’ move to adopt alternative fuels as a preferred energy source primarily for the transportation sector is underway. This move is gaining ground since vehicles with alternative fuels generally have lower emissions, which is welcome since emissions cause smog, air pollution and global warming. Acceptance of alternative fuels is also going up because of the sustainability factor which enables nations to become energy independent.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Alternative Fuels:

Each of the alternative fuels comes with positive attributes and has some constraints which slows down its adoption.

Alcohol-based Ethanol derived from fermenting and distilling crops is already being blended with gasoline in India to increase octane levels and improve emission quality. Though it is renewable in nature, subsidies attached to it have a negative impact on food prices.

Natural Gas is already being used in homes and fertiliser plants successfully because of its lower emissions compared with gasoline or diesel. However, the methane created is far worse for global warming than carbon di-oxide.

Electricity  is a feasible alternative to run vehicles and electric vehicles are getting a lot of attention from the Government. Electric vehicles no doubt will help reduce pollution levels dramatically, but as things stand today, a large amount of electricity is produced from fossil fuels such as coal, which adds to the bad carbon footprint.

Hydrogen as an additive to natural gas or its use in fuel-cell vehicles is yet another emerging alternative since it offers near zero emission problems. But it could be a costly alternative today. Technology enhancements in the future will help overcome its cost, and distribution infrastructure constraints.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or Propane, a by-product of natural gas processing has already entered our kitchens on commercial basis and is popular in the transportation sector primarily because of its lower emission properties. But its production, storage and distribution hamper its rapid acceptance as an alternative fuel.

Biodiesel, based on vegetable oils and animal fats is an alternate fuel which is considered safe and biodegradable. It is, however, yet to be fully exploited commercially.

Alternative fuels have both advantages and disadvantages relating to their impact on the environment and society in general. But the time has come to increase the utilisation of alternative fuels to help create a better and cleaner world for everyone.