A former finance secretary and now as a Member Secretary, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and Principal Advisor-Niti Aayog, Ratan Watal believes that the handling of battery waste is a challenge and India must regulate the recycling market in the country to reap its benefit.
What is your take on the emergence of alternative fuels like biodiesel?
The biodiesel launched by My Eco-Energy is a product that is computable to any diesel engine and is produced from vegetable oils. What was earlier available in India as biodiesel was a blended one, what they call as drop-down fuel. This new product is GST compliant. More interestingly, this product is launched with a unique payment system. Taking advantage of the Digital India platform, the manufacturers have created a system which is really user-friendly and can be accessed by all.
How easy would it be to make people shift to biodiesel or e-cars in India?
Things are changing; we are talking about electric cars. I've got an electric car. However, there are difficulties in infrastructure related to the concept of electric cars. According to me, there are enormous challenges. Consider this, a petrol-based car takes five minutes to fill its fuel tank, a CNG-based vehicle, takes some 15 minutes but for a battery-operated car, around eight hours are required for recharging. This means, an e-car will stand stationary at night and I, as an owner, will be able to use it only during daytime. Also, considering the number of cars to ply on the Indian roads, these cars take five-eight hours to charge and require a good amount of parking space with sufficient charging stations. So there's a whole infrastructure-related issue which may occur in the future.
What are the challenges you see in the hybrid segment?
All kinds of hybrids are available abroad; you have electric hybrid and their cars run on even hydrogen base. There is definitely a shift towards new technology. We have to look at our imports of fuels, along with alternates, where we do things indigenously and I think the future will be an investment in research in efficient batteries. That's a significant challenge. By nature, a battery is not a very efficient way of storing electricity. The biggest challenge right now is how the country manages the battery waste. In this case, we must have proper methods on how to handle waste. In fact, that's another thing I'm looking at in NITI; the whole concept of recycling, which is a part of sustainable growth. We usually look at production as a linear cycle-get the raw material, produce, consume and throw as waste which gets into scrap. In foreign countries, they have well-developed markets which use recycled products. In Delhi, Mayapuri is one of the biggest scrap markets in Asia but it's unregulated. One has to get into regulation in the recycling industry. So I think there is a need for a policy in this regard.
Do you think biodiesel can be taken to a scalable business in India? What are the other benefits you see in this alternate fuel?
The end product is as same as the normal diesel that is available in the market. It follows the European standards. In Europe, biodiesel outlets are common. Though it is left to the choice of the customers to use it, the product is available. Few major advantages of shifting to biodiesel are reduction in carbon emissions, increase in engine efficiency and it is in line with the European standards and one clearly know how much nitrogen and sulphur this gives out. These are very efficient fuels that can be classified as clean energy. If it comes to scale, I think a lot of the state governments would be interested in allocating space under the Make in India programme to encourage domestic production.