Curbing Carbon Emissions With Clean Fuels may not Work

An attempt to curb New Delhi’s carbon emissions by switching vehicles to run on cleaner fuels has not worked according to a study carried out by the University of British Columbia. The study revealed that the environmental impact of upgrading 5000 of the vehicles had a worse effect on curbing emissions and was detrimental in fighting climate change.
The study focused on Indian city’s conversion of 90,000 buses, auto rickshaws and taxis, which was a program that was introduced in New Delhi in 2003. The aim of the initiative was to curb carbon emissions by changing from dirty fuels to compressed natural gas or CNG. However, the study undertaken by the University of British Columbia revealed that the project had a negative effect on climate change. Of the 5000, two stroked engine rickshaws that were changed to CNG fuel, only minor reductions in emissions were evident, while there was an increase in emissions that negatively impact on climate change.
"Our study demonstrates the importance of engine type when adopting clean fuels. Despite switching to CNG, two-stroke engine auto-rickshaws in Delhi still produce similar levels of particulate matter per kilogram of fuel to a diesel bus and their climate impacts are worse than before," said UBC post doctoral fellow Conor Reynolds who was one of the co-authors involved in the study.
The study, which is the first to take an in depth look at vehicles using CNG fuels and which focused primarily on rickshaws could have a significant impact for many other countries that rely heavily on this mode of transport. This is particularly prevalent for countries who are considering changing their fleets to CNG fuels. Numerous regions and cities in South East Asia including Thailand and Indonesia have larger fleets of rickshaws than in New Delhi and these countries have been considering following similar programs to change to CNG fuels.
The evidence shows that 33% of CNG fuel is not burnt, while higher levels of methane emissions, which is one of the largest greenhouse gases that effects climate change is also released.
The study, which was published online in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology criticized the New Delhi project stating that it would have been cheaper and more environmentally friendly to have converted the two stroked engine models to four engines.
If policymakers have information about emissions and their potential impacts, they can make better decisions to serve both the public and the environment," added Reynolds, who produced the study with Prof. Milind Kandlikar and post-doctoral fellow Andrew Grieshop from UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.
Professor Kandlikar believes that the money and resources would be better served elsewhere and said, “Clean fuels are being used in Indian cities for transportation when they could save many more lives if used for cooking. The interests of the rural poor, particularly women and children, are being put below those of the urban consumer."

Photo credit: Caspian Rehbinder