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It's time for an alternative fuel

The era of human development with oil and gas as energy source is nearing its end and in the next 30-40 years, there will be a 'clean break' to produce energy from renewable, non-fossil fuels, mostly from hydrogen. The rise in global temperature due to emission of green house gases will force man to seek alternatives so that life is viable on earth, M S Srinivasan, additional secretary, Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said today.

He was delivering the inaugural address at the oil and gas meet of the Energy Summit 2004 organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry with the focus on 'Latest Environmental Trends' in this energy sector.

'We have to move onto the next line of development as technology is overtaking us rather fast and we should not be averse to thinking out-of-box in the search for alternative energy fuel,' he said.

Stating that mankind was paying a heavy price for 'aggressive pace in the quest for progress', he said, 'we have reached the end of the line of development and dependence on fossil fuel has to go' as in the Third Wave of progress, energy will be from renewable base and on an extremely diversified platform'.

After the 1973 oil shock when Saudi Arabia, an important OPEC member, imposed an embargo against America, the western world over the years had considerably reduced their dependence on oil and gas by diversifying their energy base. 'But still the world is yet to get out of the 'petra-addiction'. While US has moved away from such dependence, developing countries like China and India are exposed to volatility of oil prices as in recent times,' he said. For an oil price hike of $10 per barrel, a GDP is brought down by 0.6 per cent in the US, whereas in China and India it is a negative growth of 1.2-1.5 per cent for the same.

Besides heavy political risks associated with petra-addiction, damage in terms of environment and health because of oil and gas as main source of energy is huge and 'it will take around 300 years to regain the carbon cycle, if emission of carbondioxide is stopped from now on'.

Energy production through oil and gas has already peaked and 'depletion of resources cannot be solved just by switching over to alternative sources' as the energy economy has to undergo a paradigm shift, if there has to be any impact on the environment. 'We are depleting more of exhaustible resources, than it is possible to replenish in times to come,' he said.

By spending thousands of crores in meeting the Euro norms in auto-emissions of fuels 'we are just tinkering with the surface to contain the cataclysmic changes awaiting us'. In the last century (1900-2000), global temperature rose by three degree celsius on an average, resulting in 17 per cent decrease in snow caps giving rise to 20 inches rise in sea levels. By 2050, the temperature was expected to rise by another seven degree celsius and by 2010 it would by 10 degree celsius which would pose a big question mark on the survival of human species on the planet,' he declared.

The US already has plans for 25 per cent of its gasoline retail outlets dispensing hydrogen fuel by 2015 and with 1,000 km of hydrogen pipelines, it is well into finding a viable alternative. 'By combining nanotechnology manipulating subatomic particles for new products and hydrogen for alternative fuel, a way can be found on how to store hydrogen and discharge into the usage system,' he said.

'A lot of rigorous work is going on all over the world to find alternatives and hydrogen merits criteria for developing it as Third Wave energy source by marrying nanotechnology in its research,' he said.

Dr Leena Mehendale, executive director, Petroleum Conservation and Research Association (PCRA), speaking on the need for bio-gas as alternative fuel, said there was need to stop the transmission loss from the generation site to the end-consumers. Though Euro norms had come into existence in metro cities, there was a need for resource management and in smaller towns and cities, fumes of auto-emissions were contaminating the environment. 'There is a need to look at kitchen waste as possible source of bio-gas fuel, as huge amount of diesel and petrol can be saved if kitchen waste from households are treated to produce fertiliser and a source for fuel,' she said.

Though much spade work was being done on solar and wind energy, cost of energy was prohibitive due to costly material involved in them. 'We have to look into the possibility of decentralisation of power generation, so that wastage through transmission is avoided'.

Petroleum consumption is expected to go up from 112.56 million tonnes in 2002-03 to 175 mt in 2006-07 to keep up with the GDP target of the country, said S V Narasimhan, managing director, Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL). 'It is important we conserve petroleum by using them judiciously, restrict its use to essential needs and use substitutes that have minimal ecological footprint,' he said.

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