Come end-March and the country’s first bus to run on human and animal waste will debut in Kolkata and ferry passengers on the 17.5 km route between Ultadanga and Garia that are 17 kms apart at a nominal fare of R 1 irrespective of the distance covered. As many as 12 buses running on biogas will start plying on 12 routes in the city.
Biogas is produced from animal and plant waste and principally consists of methane. It is a non-toxic, colourless and flammable gas that can be used as fuel for vehicles, cooking and generating electricity.
Two other routes are Ultadanga–Tollygunge and Ultadanga–Sector V (Salt Lake). Nine other routes are yet to be finalised.
Incidentally, the first bus to run on biogas in the UK was launched two years ago.
The ones to run in Kolkata can travel 20 km on a kg of biogas that costs Rs 30 only, which explains the extremely low fares. The tank is of 80 kg capacity and, therefore, the vehicle can run 1,600 km on a full tank.
Right now the buses are being built in Delhi. These will be 60-seater non-AC vehicles. Tata Motors chassis are being used for the vehicles.
The Centre wants to promote the use of this ecofriendly and cheap fuel as it has the potential of becoming an alternative to fossil fuels in some segments.
“Biogas is the cheapest fuel. The lowest bus fare from Ultadanga to Garia is Rs 12, but we will bring it down to R 1. We can offer it and still have a margin that is enjoyed by the normal operators using diesel. All other parameters of performance such as vehicle speed will be the same as normal buses,” said Jyoti Prakash Das, chairman and managing director of Phoenix.
Das is a PhD in botany and has been working on biogas for the past eight years.
Phoenix India Research and Development Group is an alternative energy company that has been selected by the union ministry of new and renewable energy for kick starting the use of biogas vehicles in Bengal. The Centre has selected a company to launch the use of this fuel in each state.
Once the pilot run is successful, the ministry will plan introduction of this technology on a bigger scale. Apart from issuing route permits, the state transport department doesn’t have much to do in this regard yet.
Phoenix has set up a biogas plant in Dubrajpur of Birbhum district. Right now it can produce 1,000 kg of the gas which will be transport to Kolkata by tankers. The company has got the permission to set up 100 fuel pumps. The first pump one will come up at Ultadanga.
“If a commercial vehicle runs on this fuel, it is also exempted from the ban after 15 years. If a commercial vehicle switches over to biogas, it will also be exempted from the ceiling,” said Das.
Each bus will cost Phoenix Rs 13 lakh.
“The union ministry notification states that commercial vehicles – those are more than 15-year 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,” said Das.
However, biogas buses can’t be fitted with AC machines.