New Delhi: The electrification megatrend is gaining ground in India, as it is across many major markets globally. And, electric vehicles are seen as the future. However, that need not be the reason to stop efforts to develop the internal combustion engine. That’s because efforts involving new energy sources, by some technology majors, could strengthen the internal combustion’s proposition in the solution pack for clean transportation.
The focus will be on low carbon fuels, according to Mandira Bhattacharya, Technical Director, Cummins Emissions Solutions. Biodiesel blends, natural gas, and Hydrogen are the key options that Cummins is focused on for its ICE technology development roadmap. The global engine major has also invested in building electrified solutions, but it’s pushing the technology envelope in the ICE space too.
Zero emission technologies
In its journey towards carbon neutral technologies, Cummins has developed a fuel agnostic engine platform. The engines to be based on the common base architecture will be for diesel, natural gas, and Hydrogen. The platform is also part of the MoU for low and zero-emission propulsion technology solutions that Cummins has signed with long-time partner Tata Motors.
Natural gas and Hydrogen are set to be the key ones to extend the longevity of the ICE technology. Hydrogen, particularly for the commercial vehicle industry which will eventually also move away from diesel. S S Thipse, Senior Deputy Director, Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) says there’s a 3-pronged strategy being taken for natural gas adoption for transportation in India.
As the Government focuses on enhancing the adoption of natural gas in the transportation sector, availability of CNG can be more in urban areas, CBG (Compressed Biogas) for rural areas, and LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) could be mainly available in the highways. Stressing on the prospects for Hydrogen as a fuel, Thipse says Hydrogen ICE technology adoption should not be affected by the colour of the Hydrogen used.
On the passenger vehicle side, ethanol is set to capture a significant share of the evolving energy mix for the internal combustion engine. Though India will start using E20 (20% ethanol blend in petrol) from April 2025, E20 vehicles have already started rolling out of factories. India’s largest passenger vehicle maker Maruti Suzuki India is slated to launch the flex fuel version of its WagonR in 2025.
Highlighting the difference in the carbon footprint of ethanol, Ajay Kumar Vashisth, General Manager – Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India, says that the difference in emission between the flex fuel WagonR and its petrol version could be over 79%. The existing WagonR has a CO2 emission of 106 gms/km.
Vashisth says that more powertrain development will be for Greenhouse gas reduction. Betting strongly on CBG, the industry professional says that manure-based CBG can be carbon negative. This can lend a never-before clean image to the internal combustion engine. Vashisth says that Maruti Suzuki India is taking a “multi-pathway approach” in developing solutions for green mobility. The OEM is also preparing for its EV journey, with as many as 6 new models starting 2025.
P Sakthivel, Chief Research Manager (Automotive Research), Indian Oil Corporation R&D Centre, says that gas consumption will grow at a much faster pace than liquid fuels in spite of high prices prevailing in international markets. He highlighted that India’s LNG production capacity is set to grow from 47 MMTPA (million metric tonnes per annum) to 70 MMTPA by 2030. And, the CNG dispensing network is expected to grow from 5953 stations in September ‘23, to 17,700 stations by 2030.
In the ethanol adoption journey, the E20 regulation is expected to create a demand for 1,000 crore litres of the fuel by 2025. Ethanol can also be blended with diesel, says Dr. Sakthivel.
The technology experts shared their views during a technical session at the 2023 edition of an international conference by Emission Controls Manufacturers Association (ECMA).
All these developments bode well for the internal combustion engine, and not to mention for the country too both in reaching its 2070 carbon neutrality target as well as reducing its fat crude oil import bill (USD158 billion in FY23).
However, there are challenges to be met. In some cases, the characteristics of the alternative fuels necessitate minor to major engineering interventions by the OEMs and suppliers. For example, for a petrol engine to be made flex fuel compatible, the number of changes required is equal to virtually developing a new powertrain. In another case, usage of 100% biodiesel in an engine can damage components.
While engineers work on developing greener ways of using the internal combustion engine, and also devising ways to mitigate some challenges, the Government is expected to come up with regulations and fiscal policies that facilitate the adoption of bio-fuels. An expert highlights that India, which has been following Europe (EU regulations, doesn’t have provisions for bio-fuels) in its emission regulation roadmap. It needs to make enabling provisions for the adoption of bio-fuels.
With innovation, and the need to develop cleaner solutions on the rise, engineers and researchers may come up with more solutions. As Mandira Bhattacharya highlighted in her concluding slide, Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil to run his diesel engine in 1890.