Easy On The Oil, Step On The Gas

Updated: Aug 25 2004, 06:03am hrs
Americans merely display their disregard for the niceties of the English language when they talk of tanking up with gas instead of petrol. But soon, Indians may be doing the same.

Not thanks to MacDonaldisation, but because Indian Oil Corporation has kickstarted talks with domestic vehicle makers to develop hydrogen engines for scooters, three-wheelers, cars and buses. Willing partners in this effort at innovation are Mahindra & Mahindra, Bajaj Auto and Maruti.

Global corporations like Honda, Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Toyota are already making hybrid cars, which run on fuel cells with on-board storage of hydrogen. Their performance is almost at par with petrol cars.

In Malmo, Sweden, experiments are being conducted to see if mixing up to 8 per cent of hydrogen with compressed natural gas (CNG) improves the efficiency of CNG vehicles. The role of hydrogen in reducing emission of oxides of nitrogen is also being experimented on in California.

There seems to be no shortage of permutations and combinations of this colourless gas, the lightest, simplest and commonest element in the universe. Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam) has suggested that, to start with, 5-10 per cent of hythane, a mixture of hydrogen and methane, may be added to CNG. Initially, the impact of hythane-powered engines will be assessed on buses, a Siam official told FE. IIT Delhi has already conducted some tests on engines in ideal conditions. The real test will be on the roads.

Introduction of hydrogen gas will further expand the basket of alternative fuels such as CNG, Autogas (LPG), ethanol-blended petrol and bio-diesel being introduced by the oil industry in phases to reduce dependence on traditional fuels.

The auto industry feels that internal combustion (IC) engines will be better for running hydrogen vehicles. This is because fuel cell technology is still being developed globally. Other issues such as safety, supply, cost and purity of hydrogen are still to be worked on - after all, the gas is flammable. But if humans can inhale oxygen to rejuvenate themselves, why should their precious cars not get their fix of hydrogen