Greener Travel: Deploying greener fuels in public transportation systems

With growing urbanisation, rising po­pulation and increasing e-commerce facilities, emissions by the transport sector all over the globe have become a cause for concern. Technolo­gi­cal innovations and policy decisions taken at present will determine the energy use and carbon emissions from this sector in the coming decades. It is considered that the transport sector contributes approximately one-quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thus, transforming the fuelling systems from fossils to greener alternatives is essential to mitigate the carbon footprint of the sector. It is applicable to each and every category of vehicle used to commute, including private passenger vehicles, public tra­n­s­portation systems such as buses and trains, freight transportation, aviation and business-operated vehicle fleets. It has been evident that frameworks to adopt climate-friendly smart transportation options are limited to the developed countries. This makes the vision of global net zero emissions for the sector challenging in the short run.

The transport sector is fundamental for any country to connect people to essential services, economic growth and job cr­ea­tion. Thus, it is very important to have well-structured public transportation systems, but it is equally important to draft measures to make these systems climate friendly. Economies across the globe are working towards making policy frameworks to bring sustainable transition in the transport sector. Transport corporations ho­ld a massive potential for making the renewable energy transition, with extensi­ve networks, large premises and infrastructure and huge power requirements.


A large number of vehicles on roads, be they two- or three- or four-wheelers, are turning electric. In India, two-wheeler electric vehicles (EVs) are holding the majority of sh­are. A report by KPMG stated that a 15-20 per cent growth is expected in the EV two-wheeler segment. However, by 2030, this growth is expected to rise to 50-60 per cent. Also, many projects have been laun­ched by state governments across the country to mobilise sustainability by incorporating electric buses in their public transportation systems.
Recently, in January 2023, Convergence En­ergy Services Limited floated bids for the procurement, supply and maintenance of 4,675 electric buses. The project also includes the development of an allied el­ec­tric and civil infrastructure on dry lease under Phase II of the National Elec­tric Bus Pro­gramme. Also, many state tra­n­sport cor­porations are collaborating with private companies for operating electric buses in th­e­ir cities. For instance, in Dece­mber 2022, the Delhi Transport Corpora­tion si­gned a definitive agreement with a subsi­diary of Tata Motors for operating 1,500 electric buses. Tata Motors, with its fully owned subsidiary, TML CV Mobility Solu­ti­ons Limited, has collaborated for the operation of 1,500 electric buses in New Delhi. A similar collaboration has been seen in Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat, amongst many others.

In addition, as of December 2022, to promote electric mobility, the Ministry of Hea­vy Industries (MHI) sanctioned 2,877 EV charging stations in 68 cities across 25 states/union territories (UTs). Under Pha­se II of the Faster Adoption and Manu­facturing of [Hybrid &] Electric Vehicles India (FAME) scheme, 745,713 EVs have been supported till December 2022 by way of demand incentive, amounting to Rs 32 billion. Further, MHI has sancti­oned 6,315 electric buses to 65 cities/ STUs/ CTUs/state government entities for intra-city and intercity operations across 26 states/UTs under the scheme.

In the case of freight transportation through roadways, a market analysis conducted by the Climate Group suggests that medium and heavy duty trucks contribute to 45 per cent of the overall road commercial goo­ds vehicle sales in India. However, only 90 per cent of the road freight movement uses diesel as a fuel in India. Thus, efforts will be made to reduce emissions from this se­gment, wherein a few private companies have already started to operate electric trucks. This would result in lowering emissions from trucks due to the inc­rea­s­ing share of natural gas and electric trucks.

Apart from EVs, the government is also working towards blending hydrogen with CNG called “HCNG”. Various hydrogen-powered vehicles have been developed and demonstrated under projects supported by the Indian government. These include six fuel cell buses, 50 enriched H-CNG buses in Delhi, two hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine buses, 15 hydrogen-fuelled three-wheelers, two hy­drogen-diesel dual-fuel cars and one fuel cell car.

One of the more active subsets to incorporate green fuels, which has received considerable policy impetus, is ethanol blending and biofuels. In June 2022, owing to coordinated efforts of sta­te-owned oil marketing companies, the target of 10 per cent blending under the pro­gramme was ac­hieved much ahead of the targeted deadline of November 2022. In April 2022, the minister of state for petroleum and natural gas, Ra-meswar Teli, informed the Rajya Sabha that the government decided to advance the target of 20 per cent ethanol blending in petrol from 2030 to 2025-26. Subse­qu­ently, the MoPNG notified that oil companies will be selling up to 20 per cent ethanol-bl­ended petrol from April 1, 2023. Similarly, an indicative target of 5 per cent biodiesel blending in diesel was proposed to be implemented by 2030.


Domestic air travel demand will continue to rise rapidly over the next few decades. As income levels rise, people are flying mo­re frequently, which definitely poses an environ­mental cost. The carbon footprint of commercial aviation is growing rapidly. Acc­o­rding to current projections by the Inte­r­national Air Transport Asso­ciation (IATA), demand for air passenger journeys could exceed 10 billion by 2050. As a re­sult, emissions are expected to be around 21.2 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide. To combat the same, IATA has drafted a co­mmitment to “Fly Net Zero” by 2050. Sig­nificant research and development (R&D) has been done in the space of generating sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). SAFs are based on renewable hydrocarbon so­u­rces that are not derived from fossil fue­ls. This can include waste cooking oil, mu­nicipal waste and forestry biomass. As reported by IATA, over 450,000 flights have taken to the skies with more than 50 airlines using SAFs.

On the same lines, in September 2022, the Tata Group’s airlines Air India, Air Asia India and Vistara signed an MoU with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Institute of Petro­leum. The main agenda of the MoU is to work together on R&D and deployment of SAFs. On the same grounds, many commercial airlines in India and even the Indian Air Force are proceeding to turn their fuels greener.
Other than SAFs, technological innovations have been taking place in the aviation space to look for an alternative fuel for aircraft. Recently, in November 2022, Air­bus revealed plans for a hydrogen-powered zero emission engine to be la­unched by 2025. First, the company intends to perform hydrogen propulsion where hy­drogen can be combusted through modified gas turbine engines. This can be further converted into electrical power that complements gas turbine through fuel cells. Second, the company aims to use hydrogen for creating e-fuels, which are generated exclusively through renewable energy. To facilitate the ongoing transition, in 2020, Airbus launched “Hydrogen Hub at Airports” to help airports identify infrastructure requirements for future hydrogen aircraft, as well as low-carbon airport operations across the entire value chain.


Indian Railways (IR) is considered to be the fourth largest railway in the world by network and has very high energy consu­mption for its operations. IR has envisioned achieving net zero carbon emission by 2030. It has committed to achieving 100 per cent electrification of the broad gauge railway network. As of October 2022, IR has install­ed about 142 MW of solar plants, both on rooftops and on its vacant land. It has also commissioned 103 MW of wind power plants. IR is also planning to install waste-to-energy plants and progre­ssively procure renewable energy to re­duce energy consumption through conventional sources. In Jan­uary 2023, the minister for railways, communications and electronics and information technology, Ashwini Vais­hnaw, announced that IR will run hydrogen trains on its narrow gauge heritage routes by December 2023.


The country’s transportation sector is undoubtedly progressing toward a greener future. In order to ace this transition, it is important to have good infrastructure that can support new-age vehicles. This infrastructure can be establish­ed either through public-private partnerships or by providing ease in financing options for the private sector to expand its network. Going forward, it will be beneficial to have more R&D wings for continuously up­grading technologies for emerging segments such as EVs, green hydrogen and biofuels.

By Nikita Choubey