Electric heavy-duty vehicles unlock pathway for significant reduction of GHGs in India, study finds - Hindustan Times

Electric heavy-duty vehicles unlock pathway for significant reduction of GHGs in India, study finds

May 28, 2024 08:00 AM IST

A recent study highlights the significant potential of electric HDVs in reducing emissions compared to diesel and natural gas vehicles.

The increased adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) across two, three, and four-wheeler segments in India, driven by government schemes, is transforming the country's transportation sector. However, the heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) segment has yet to experience a similar transformation.

The flagship electric truck of the Company IPLT Rhino 5523 in operation.(Infraprime Logistics Technologies (IPLTech)) PREMIUM
The flagship electric truck of the Company IPLT Rhino 5523 in operation.(Infraprime Logistics Technologies (IPLTech))

A recent study, conducted by an independent non-profit group, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), evaluated the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of various HDV technologies and fuel pathways in India and found that electric HDVs offer the highest potential for reducing GHG emissions among current vehicle technologies.

GHG emissions are directly connected to fuel types as different fuels produce varying amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases when burned, with fossil fuels such as diesel and petrol, emitting more compared to alternative fuels such as natural gas, electricity, or hydrogen. Lifecycle emissions are the total GHG emissions produced throughout the entire lifespan of a product.

Focusing on three such vehicles — a 12-tonne rigid truck, a 55-tonne tractor-trailer, and an urban bus — the study revealed that battery-electric HDVs significantly outperform diesel and natural gas vehicles in terms of GHG reduction. This holds even with India’s current coal-heavy electricity grid supported by ongoing grid decarbonisation policies.

This is primarily due to the inherent efficiency of electric powertrains (the system in a vehicle that delivers power to the wheels). Electric powertrains convert a larger proportion of the energy from the grid into movement, resulting in lower energy consumption and GHG emissions per kilometre driven, explained Aviral Yadav, one of the authors of the ICCT study. “Additionally, as India's grid moves towards decarbonisation, and transitions away from coal to renewable energy, the emissions advantage of battery EVs will only increase. Our study shows that the future grid decarbonisation will significantly enhance the benefits of battery EVs, making them a crucial solution for GHG emissions reduction,” said Yadav.

RE-powered HDVs can achieve 80% lower lifetime GHG emissions compared to diesel

Driven by the growing demand for mobility and the reliance on fossil fuels, the transport sector is one of the fastest-growing contributors to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the sector accounted for nearly 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019, with emissions continuing to rise.

The findings of the ICCT study further highlight that with renewable energy, these vehicles can achieve up to 83% lower lifetime GHG emissions compared to diesel HDVs, underscoring the potential of electric HDVs in reducing the transport sector's carbon footprint.

“Our analysis shows that accelerating the transition to renewables could unlock even bigger emissions cuts from electric trucks and buses. The good news is that India is already making strides in this direction, with ambitious renewable energy targets and new policies to drive EV adoption,” said Amit Bhatt, India managing director, ICCT.

The majority of HDVs in India are diesel-powered, at 6,552,729 vehicles, reflecting the dominance of diesel in the sector. Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles account for 88,209 units, while dual diesel/CNG vehicles are limited to 51, and diesel hybrid vehicles are 267, as per April 2024 data by the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) Vahan dashboard.

The EV segment is emerging, with 8,422 battery-operated vehicles and 20 pure EVs. Ethanol-powered vehicles are at 26, and there are 12 fuel cell hydrogen vehicles, the Vahan data showed. “Battery EVs produced in India in 2023 exhibit up to 29% lower life-cycle emissions than their diesel counterparts, even with the current grid mix projections. These results make a powerful case that battery electric technology should be at the centre of India's strategy to decarbonise its HDV sector,” said Bhatt.

Meanwhile, petrol vehicles, numbering 19,536 (petrol is not preferred in heavy-duty vehicles), with additional combinations of petrol-CNG (397), petrol-hybrid (2), and petrol-LPG (417). This diverse mix indicates a growing shift towards cleaner fuels, albeit in the nascent stages.

GHG emissions reduction scenario for HDVs by 2030

The ICCT study modelled future changes in India’s electricity grid using projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenarios. Under the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), the coal share in the grid decreases from 70% in 2021 to 55% by 2030. It also considered IEA’s more ambitious scenario, the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which projects a reduction in coal share to 30% by 2030 and just 5% by 2040. In addition to these grid projections, a third scenario was considered where battery EVs are powered entirely by renewable electricity.

"By calculating annual electricity consumption based on vehicle efficiency and distance travelled, we estimated the total upstream GHG emissions from charging, reflecting the impact of different electricity grid compositions on battery-EV emissions over their lifetime,” said Yadav.

Of the three vehicle types, an example compares the life-cycle GHG emissions of a 55-tonne tractor-trailer entering the fleet in India in 2023 versus 2030, across the different scenarios of electricity grid composition and categorised by powertrain and fuel type.

In the 2023 scenario for electricity grid composition, a battery EV powered by the grid mix under STEPS results in approximately 1,200 grams of CO2 equivalent (gCO2e) per kilometre. Under the SDS scenario, emissions are reduced to around 900 gCO2e per kilometre. However, with renewable energy, they drop significantly to roughly 200 gCO2e per kilometre.

"By 2030, advancements in vehicle technologies are expected to improve fuel efficiency, leading to about 5% lower GHG emissions for diesel HDVs compared to 2023 models. Battery EVs will also benefit from improvements in battery energy density, resulting in lighter batteries and reduced lifecycle emissions,” said Yadav.

Meanwhile, for the categorisation under powertrain and fuel type, in the 2023 scenario, diesel vehicles combined with biofuels produce the highest GHG emissions, nearing 1,600 gCO2e per kilometre, while LNG and biogas vehicles reach approximately 1,800 gCO2e per kilometre. Battery EVs using the 2023-2037 grid mix show significant reductions at around 1,200 gCO2e per kilometre, with further reductions to 200 gCO2e per kilometre when powered entirely by renewables. In the 2030 scenario, diesel vehicles with biofuels drop to around 1,200 gCO2e per kilometre, LNG and biogas vehicles fall to about 1,400 gCO2e per kilometre, and battery EVs using the 2030-2040 grid mix drop to around 900 gCO2e per kilometre. With renewable energy, emissions for these EVs again reach the lowest level, around 200 gCO2e per kilometre.

Yadav added that the decarbonisation of India’s electricity grid will significantly reduce the GHG emissions of battery EVs. “By 2030, decreased coal usage and increased renewable energy are projected to lower emissions, making battery EVs entering service in 2030 estimated to have 32% lower life-cycle GHG emissions than in 2023,” he said.

Electrifying HDVs: A pathway to India's climate goals

Electrification of the HDV sector plays a crucial role in helping India achieve its climate commitments.

According to ICCT, heavy-duty vehicles currently contribute to about 58% of the on-road emissions of India’s transport sector. “As demand for HDVs continues to rise, GHG emissions from HDVs are projected to nearly double by 2050,” said Yadav.

This trajectory, however, poses a significant challenge to India’s climate goals. "Such trajectories are incompatible with India's commitment to a 45% emission reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2070," Yadav said.

Previous ICCT studies have demonstrated that diesel powertrains are insufficient to meet these ambitious targets. "With the current study, we find that electrification provides a clear pathway to net-zero as well as towards energy independence by 2047," Yadav added. "We find that by 100% electrifying new HDVs by 2045, India can meet the sub-2-degree commitment under the Paris Agreement," he added.

Earlier this month, the ministry of heavy industries (MHI) announced the development of an inclusive EV roadmap. As a part of this, the MHI established an EV task force, with the ICCT leading efforts, along with industry bodies related to electric trucks and supporting infrastructure in India.

“With the knowledge and expertise of industry bodies, our goal is to engage stakeholders through workshops and meetings, ensuring that the adoption of electric trucks and the necessary infrastructure development are strategically aligned with the nation's sustainability goals, and in line with the Indian government’s vision of Viksit Bharat,” said a senior official from the MHI, requesting anonymity.

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