Alternative fuels can reduce air and noise pollution levels

Vialle, a company based in the Netherlands, manufactures customised cars using alternative fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Carmakers like Maruti, Volvo and Fiat are closely associated with the company. Hans Bruinsma, managing director, Vialle, spoke to Ajit Chak during his recent visit to Delhi

Published: Wednesday 15 March 2000

Can you tell me something about Vialle's work?
We are working in the field of alternative fuels ranging from cng , lpg , and Dimethylether ( dme ). From a commercial point of view, we are concentrating on lpg and cng .

Which are the best alternatives for Indian conditions?
The most practical solution for India today is to run vehicles on cng or lpg that have substantially lower emissions than petrol and diesel. But optimum results can be obtained only when cng or lpg engines are fitted within the factory. Only then we can reduce emissions.

What do you think about the plan to run CNG buses in Delhi?
Before you can introduce cng in Delhi, one would have to create the infrastructure. The problem is that in Delhi most of these buses are very old and you would have to replace them completely.

What do you think about dual fuel systems?
In dual fuel systems, which are cheaper, you just need to add a little bit of cng and run the bus primarily on diesel. This is because one is always accelerating and decelerating. During these periods, the bus will only run on diesel defeating the entire purpose of reducing emissions. The problem is that all diesel engines leak and if you change them to a mono fuel cng or lpg engine, it could turn out to be very dirty, although not very dangerous.

At the same time, it is not very safe to keep gas very close to an engine. So, you would have to overhaul the whole engine, which could also be costly proposition. We are now testing an old diesel engine from Delhi to see what could happen, you could encounter that the costs are as much as the running cost of a brand new cng engine. In general, for the older type of buses, we have to ensure that we do a safe conversion. For new engines, however, we believe in dedicated monofuel cng or lpg engines.

What are the additional benefits of using alternative fuels?
People have to realise that the use of alternative fuels is not only eco-friendly, but economical too -- they will be able to earn back the initial amount spent on the changes within a year or two. Moreover, noise pollution from alternative fuel engines is just half of those from diesel engines.

Is it possible to convert a very good car, say a new petrol Mercedes, into CNG?
Again, it's a matter of cost. Nothing is impossible. If we change the existing petrol engine into either cng or lpg , the burning strategy of fuel would still be based on petrol. But for the best results, you must take into account the burning characteristics of lpg or cng . This can only be done within the factory gates.

Have your company done this anywhere else in the world?
We converted around 1,000 petrol buses in Beijing to lpg . Unfortunately, Delhi does not have a lot of petrol buses but mainly diesel buses which are more difficult to convert.

Most carmakers are going in for diesel models. What kind of an impact do you think it would have?
I don't think it is wise to promote diesel engines in the cities. If the diesel engine is running at a steady speed then the dangerous effects can be contained. The diesel engine is a long haul engine and is at its cleanest when it runs at a steady speed. It is not meant for cities. To arrest the polluting effects of diesel on account of acceleration or deceleration, a filter can be fitted, but the filter is bound to get clogged after every 5,000-10,000 kilometres. So, we would not be remedying anything.

Do you think the diesel lobby can frustrate the attempts to promote alternative fuels?
The diesel lobby is very powerful and car companies have invested billions of dollars in the development of the diesel engines. The oil companies also have invested billions of dollars to make the refineries for diesel fuel.

Does the diesel lobby have anything to do with air pollution levels in European cities?
I know about the situation in France. About four years ago, the French government came to the conclusion that there was indeed an unholy pact between the oil refineries, the automobile industry and the government. This was because the government was collecting more taxes from diesel sold than on alternative fuels. Although the air pollution levels in the cities was not as bad as Delhi, it was worsening. However, some cities in France have now started to convert their means of public transport to lpg or cng .

Is CNG an immediate solution to the problem?
For India, lpg and cng technology is the solution for the next 20-25 years.

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