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January 9, 2003
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Should you use greener fuels?

One good reason why most of us want our cars to run on anything but petrol is its price.

There are a couple of options for the Indian car user to greener fuels - a strictly legal conversion to compressed natural gas or a not-so-legal conversion to liquefied petroleum gas.

But if you are merely on the lookout for economical motoring, the option of diesel-powered cars still remains the best alternative.

CNG and LPG are universally accepted alternatives that can get an internal combustion engine going. LPG is even more widely used around the world than CNG, since it is more economical and more freely available.

The Union petroleum and natural gas ministry declared LPG as legal for automobile use way back in August 2001.

According to an amended Central Motor Vehicles Act, LPG in proper kits with fixed non-replaceable cylinders can be used in vehicles. More recently, the ministry has also permitted a mixing of petrol with ethanol - or gasohol - for automobile use.

Quality CNG conversion in India can set you back by Rs 25,000. While CNG remains a rare fuel consumed mainly by taxis in big cities in our country, LPG has reached almost every other urban home.

The problem is LPG - the way we know it - is bottled for use as cooking gas and not for automotive applications. That has not stopped people from using LPG in cars. LPG conversion kits are available for as low as Rs 10,000, but quality conversions (with the specified non-replaceable tank) cost almost double that.

CNG and LPG conversions make sense when done on older cars that use carburettors. Converting a newer car, which uses fuel injection systems in conjunction with on-board engine management systems requires a great deal of skill. Most conversion garages lack this skill, and hence such conversion is avoidable.

CNG and LPG conversions reduce the running cost of a car by 20-25 per cent, and also help older engines meet today's strict emission norms. The negative side, however, is that there is a 10-15 per cent dip in the overall performance of the car. This will affect acceleration, top speeds and even air-conditioning efficiency.

Fuel for thought

  • You can't convert a diesel engine to run on LPG or CNG (diesel is a cheap and efficient fuel in the Indian context, in any case).

  • None of the mainstream cars in India come with a factory-fitted CNG or LPG kits yet - except in cars built for taxi use (that means you have to find someone to carry out the conversion).

  • LPG, though a popular fuel for internal combustion engines around the world, especially in taxi applications, is not exactly legal in India yet. While the Central government has not come out with any specific ruling, some state governments seem to be open to the idea of cars that run on LPG.

  • CNG is available only in metros. While fuel stations in Delhi and Mumbai cater to large taxi populations, it is still not freely available even in these cities.

  • Cars that run on CNG suffer a 10-15 per cent dip in overall performance.

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