Cochin International Airport Limited is all set to venture into the manufacturing of hydrogen-powered buses in Kochi.

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KOCHI: A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation,” Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, once said. With talks about reducing carbon footprint once again gaining momentum in the wake of the natural calamities — which several experts feel are due to climate change — views of Bogotá gain relevance, particularly when it comes to popularising alternative modes of public transport.

Taking a cue from the successful models, Kerala is moving forward with its plans to promote public transport using green fuels. As a first step, the state will soon have 10 hydrogen-powered buses for long-distance travel developed by Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) in association with Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL). The project had received `10 crore in the last budget.

IOC is expected to set up a stand-alone green hydrogen manufacturing unit using gas from CIAL solar power plant. Under the partnership, IOC plans to introduce 10-20 buses in the preliminary stage. “We have already started preliminary discussion with CIAL and the state government. Though we are yet to firm up the details, our team is working towards executing the project without further delay. We are trying to have clarity on the project’s future in a month or two,” said an IOC official. Recently, the company set a target of converting 10% of its hydrogen consumption at refineries to green sources.

According to the IOC officials, the plan is to make the most of the CIAL’s 40-megawatt solar power plant to produce green hydrogen. “CIAL is producing around  1,60,000 units daily and we are trying to make use of the facility to generate green hydrogen. We hope to ply hydrogen buses from CIAL to Thiruvananthapuram in the initial phase,” said the official.

With fuel prices skyrocketing, experts feel public transport projects with alternative fuels will be the way forward. “Though all these alternative modes of transport are in the early stage of development, we need to experiment with them. Instead of going for a mass conversion of existing modes, the government should execute such projects in a phased manner. As we are moving towards electric mobility, all these options should be considered by studying the life cycle and efficiency of these modes,” said D Dhanuraj, chairman, Centre for Public and Policy Research (CPPR), a Kochi-based think-tank.

Need to push public transport
Although Covid has disrupted several projects, experts feel government should carry forward the plan to promote public transport. “Be it hydrogen, electricity or CNG, public transport should get priority in future plans. As travel modes are getting cheaper, there will be a spike in the number of private vehicles and we may have to collect congestion charges like Singapore. To avoid such situations, we have to attract the public to efficient and affordable public transport methods. Instead of giving subsidies to buy e-cars and e-scooters, the government should invest that money in public gradually. Similarly, the government must develop basic infrastructure and a pool of technicians to ensure the stability of service in the future,” said Dhanuraj.  

CNG gets dearer
Though many are switching towards Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to get a respite from growing fuel prices, autorickshaw drivers who have been using it for over a year say its price is going up. “Though the initial days of change fetched good results, the rate has increased by over `15 per kilogram in the last six months. As the government is imposing several cess and duties, we fear that CNG would also be much costlier like petrol and diesel in future,” said G Gilraj, an autorickshaw driver from Kalamassery.

This article was published in www.newindianexpress.com

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