NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

India’s transportation architecture should comprise a mix of fuel sources: NITI Aayog

NITI Aayog member VK Saraswat says transforming entire vehicle fleet to electric power was not viable due to reasons such as cost, high investment in manufacturing, and non-availability of raw material for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries

The NITI Aayog on Friday said India’s transportation architecture should comprise a mix of fuel sources, in what could provide relief to automobile manufacturers, under the pump with the government’s push for an all-electric fleet of vehicles by 2030.

“India’s transportation architecture would be based on three aspects—maturity of technology, cost-effective and how close it is to sustainability. Based on these, India will be rolling out its transportation design. It will be a mix of conventional internal combustion engines, electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and other evolving technologies," said NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat.

He added that the entire transportation system of a country could not rely on just one form of fuel.

Saraswat said transforming the entire vehicle fleet to electric power was not viable due to reasons such as cost, high investment in manufacturing, and non-availability of raw material for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries.

“Importing raw material for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles can’t be a substitute for importing crude oil. The idea is to reduce India’s import bill. If oil is replaced by lithium in imports, it beats the basic idea of reducing import costs for India," said Saraswat, adding that an indigenous path like methanol- and ethanol-powered vehicles needs to be explored.

The federal think tank member has been given the responsibility of charting India’s alternative fuel road map, and exploring options to run vehicles on fuels like ethanol and methanol. India imports $64 billion (around Rs4 trillion) worth of crude oil every year.

On the question of a white paper on methanol which Saraswat was supposed to submit to the government, he said: “There won’t be any white paper now. We will be coming out with three detailed project reports on India’s methanol-based transportation. The reports will be on methanol production, conversion of internal combustion engines to hybrid engines and infrastructure required for having a methanol-based transportation system in India."

Saraswat said that there was huge potential in alternative fuels like ethanol and methanol, which can be produced from coal and biomass. He also backed the idea of several incentives like viability gap funding and subsidies for hybrid vehicles and those setting up units for production of methanol.

Rajeev Singh, partner (automobiles) at Deloitte India, said, “The idea to have a transportation fleet with a mix of fuels— conventional, EV (electric vehicles), hybrid, fuel cell, ethanol—makes sense as we are experiencing many disruptive technologies in the automotive sector. A lot of R&D is happening to find sustainable, environmental friendly and cost-effective modes of transportation. For a developing economy like India, keeping an open-ended policy would be the best option as it will help to accommodate evolving technologies in the transportation system."

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