Public transport in India is still the most popular and affordable means of transport for the masses. Yet, sometimes even these can be out of reach for some of the poorest Indians. Hence, Phoenix India Research and Development Group have developed a method to use cow dung, in the form of biogas, to power specially designed buses, which will charge just Re 1 for a 17.5 km stretch. This makes it the cheapest mode of transport in India.
Animal waste or manure is the cheapest source of fuel in India, and widely available. Biogas, produced from manure, is a non-toxic colourless flammable gas. It is used as fuel for vehicles, cooking and generating electricity, and is eco-friendly. Jyoti Prakash Das, Chairman and MD of Phoenix India Research and Development Group, who also has a PhD in Botany, told The Hindustan Times,
We are producing biogas principally from cow dung in our plant in Birbhum district. The fuel is transported to Kolkata in tankers. The biogas we produce costs Rs 20 a kg. The bus can run 5 km on one kg now.”
The company has partnered with Ashok Leyland, maker of heavy vehicles, to manufacture the specially designed buses which will run on biogas. The 54-seater bus, which costs Rs 13 lakh approximately, will run between Ultadanga in the north and Garia in south Kolkata. 15 more buses have been planned for this year and will be launched on different routes. The company has got the permission to set up 100 fuel pumps. The first pump will come up at Ultadanga.
Das is also planning to source a technology from Germany which will enable the vehicle to run 20 km on the same amount of fuel. Currently, the tank can hold 80 kg gas, and therefore, the vehicle can run 1,600 km on a full tank and has a cheap fare of Re. 1 for 17.5 km. Interestingly, the lowest fare in a Kolkata bus is Rs 6, which can go up to Rs. 12 for 17 km, and that of a Delhi bus that runs on CNG is Rs 5 for 4 km and upwards.
Phoenix has set up a biogas plant in Dubrajpur of Birbhum district, about 204 km north of Kolkata. Right now it can produce 1,000 kg of gas. Biogas is also said to improve the commercial life of vehicle. According to Das,
A Union ministry notification states that commercial vehicles which are more than 15 years old and are already banned, can continue to ply on roads, if the owners switch the diesel-engines of the vehicles to bio-fuel engines. It means, all the 12 new biogas buses we are manufacturing can run on roads forever.”
In a country where the virtues of the cow are continuously extolled, this is another utility of the animal. However, the more crucial aspect is that we will have more eco-friendly vehicles on Indian roads.