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LNG: Tata Motors ready to step on it for its buses and trucks

28 November, 2016

G BALACHANDAR
Article courtesy: The Hindu Business Line

Eco-friendliness, soft price make it compelling

There is a new automotive fuel revolution happening in India. It was barely a couple of weeks ago when the country’s first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) bus made its debut in Kerala, thanks to the three-way joint venture of Tata Motors, Petronet LNG and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC).

LNG could just become a strong contender as an optional fuel for transportation as environmental concerns get louder by the day. With its prices also projected to stay benign in the foreseeable future, use of LNG in buses and trucks could become a compelling proposition.

"Globally, there is a strong move happening towards the fuel. While China is taking a big leap, thousands of vehicles in Europe and the US are using LNG. In the West, it is estimated that about 10 per cent of transportation fuel will be LNG by 2020," says Ajit Jindal, Head - Engineering (Commercial Vehicles), Tata Motors.

In his view, conditions in India are now favourable for its use in the transportation sector as availability is no longer a constraint. LNG is also cheaper than diesel to the tune of nearly 40 per cent as well as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) which is 15 per cent dearer.

Its high energy density and liquid form allows LNG to be stored in smaller cylinders with a packaging akin to diesel. Carrying capacity of vehicles powered by the fuel is 2.5 times more than CNG. In addition, LNG buses can operate up to 600-700 kilometres (in one filling) which is twice as much as what CNG can manage. In short, LNG vehicles are the best bet for operators in ownership costs.

Jindal believes the need of the hour is to improve access to the fuel by setting up more retail outlets to replicate the European experience. The Petroleum Ministry is already working on a blueprint while the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has released draft notification for use of LNG as an automotive fuel. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation in Nagpur has formed an expert panel to frame regulations on installing LNG fuel tanks and dispensing stations.

At present, there are four LNG terminals: Dahej and Hazira in Gujarat, Dabhol in Maharashtra and Kochi in Kerala with nearly 22 million tonnes capacity that is expected to double to 47.5 mt by 2022. Jindal hopes the west coast region, starting with Kerala, will be the early adopters of LNG vehicles since more gas stations are tipped to come up along the region up to Gujarat. Likewise, there are plans to commission stations along the Mumbai-Delhi corridor and also along the banks of the Ganges river.

Tata Motors showcased its first LNG-powered heavy truck Prima in 2014 which has been undergoing exhaustive tests since then. The Starbus launched in Kerala is the latest addition and will come with 50 and 35-seater options. The company has worked closely with Petronet and IOC in readying LNG infrastructure for these buses, which will be put to commercial use by April next year. The Kerala State Transport Corporation is keen on buying 100 of them and over 1,000 CNG buses.

Tata Motors expects buses to lead the way in LNG while trucks will gain momentum once transporters are convinced of its benefits. Since engines for both CNG and LNG are the same, switching fuel options will not be an issue. "More gas stations need to come up. There are local companies that have the expertise to make cryogenic tanks for LNG vehicles," says a confident Jindal.

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