Sustainable alternatives to Oil within reach, says Indian scientist; move ahead of rhetoric, critics.

Sustainable alternatives to Oil within reach, says Indian scientist; move ahead of rhetoric, critics.

N.B.Nair

Dehradun/New Delhi (ISJ) – If India develops its alternative and sustainable sources of energy, the country does not require crude imports. The country has the alternative sources in abundance as crude substitution, said Dr Anjan Ray, Director of Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun.

Crude import is a key factor in India's current account deficit (CAD), which currently is 49 billion dollars or 1.9% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The increasing CAD is a cause of concern for the country and if it crosses the threshold of 3% of the GDP, it would badly affect the economic stability.

Besides, India's import is hugely affected by the geopolitical situation, like the threat of sanctions by the United States on imports from Iran, the second biggest supplier of crude to India.

"We have alternative sources in abundance for substitution of crude (and natural gas) imports if we re-examine them as carbon atom imports and leverage all the carbon-containing solid wastes, liquid effluents and atmospheric emissions of methane and carbon dioxide arising out of anthropogenic activity within India," Dr Ray told Indian Science Journal. He, however, said the key for the successful transition depends on how soon the supply chains and business models that ensure sustainability are developed in the country.

Dr Ray said, proven technology to develop crude substation sources are available indigenously in India, but those are currently at laboratory or pilot scales. These technologies need to be upscaled to meet the commercial requirement of oil.

Indian Institute of Petroleum, IIP, under the CSIR has developed several technologies for green energy. Recently, Spicejet flew in to Delhi from Dehradun on Biojet fuel produced at the Institute from Jatropha. The right engine of the test flight was filled with a mixture of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and biojet fuel at a ratio of 75:25. IIP produced around 330 kg of Biojet fuel at its lab facility for the 45 minute flight.

IIP has also developed the technology for producing diesel from waste plastic and plan to set up a technology demonstrator in Dehradun in the coming days.

Another technology that has been unveiled by Indian scientists is conversion of sewage into biofuels. A sewage treatment plant (STP) launched in Delhi would convert 10 lakh litres of sewage into three tonnes of biofuel per day.

Dr Arvind Lali, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Head of DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences at Institute of Chemical Technology, who is setting up India's first sewage-to-biofuel plant in Delhi however is sceptic, though hope it would gain ground.

"If we are able to achieve 10% blending/substitution in the next three years, it will be a great achievement. Please note that while we are talking of replacing part of petrol and CNG/LPG, we do not have any viable alternative to substitute diesel which is the largest consumed transport fuel for the country," Dr Lali told Indian Science Journal.

Dr Lali said, the concept of biofuel generation from sewage would multiply rapidly especially since the DBT-ICT technology is seemingly quite robust. He however, said a lot needs to be done in terms of biofuel policies though a start has been made.

"The gap between new technologies and their groundbreaking and finally rapid expansion is still quite big. However, all said and done, we are going to see biofuels gaining ground every year, regardless of anything else," added Dr Lali.

Anil Dussa, who steered the national bioenergy programmes including biogas, waste-to-energy and biofuels, as advisor in the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, however felt, the initiatives from the government is "not moving beyond rhetoric and signing of MoUs and agreements."

"There is huge potential for producing liquid and gaseous fuels from biomass. This potential is more than the petrol consumption in the country. Government is ensuring that this is not done," rued Dussa. "In 2014 they scuttled the proposal that was under consideration to invite bids on the basis of price at which entrepreneurs would sell their produce. This would have ensured that technologies available worldwide would get demonstrated in India at a price discovered through competitive bidding process. Powers that be decided to work only with Indian technologies, of which there were none that have been tested at more than a pilot level."

India has recently unveiled a National Policy on Biofuels, which maps a strategy for gradual reduction of import dependency, as the country would continue to remain vulnerable international situations. The policy targets to reduce import dependency by 10 per cent by 2022.

"It appears to be a good framework for upscaling both installation sizes and number of installations for the most viable technologies," commented Dr Ray. "A robust proposal appraisal and milestone-based review process can help accelerate this and focus public funds towards those projects that have better - and quicker -chances of success."

However, the government efforts could find some resistance from oil majors, who have huge interest and investment in oil refining industry in India. A generational shift to new green fuel would, first make their existing technology redundant and any new technology would require injection of fresh investments.

"But the returns on those investments could also be huge, especially if they effectively drive down India's carbon demand and make a meaningful impact on India-bound crude oil shipment prices," felt Dr Ray. He expressed confidence that if India takes a leap into alternatives to fossil fuel, it could achieve the targets ahead of its international commitments.

Besides biofuels, India has the potential to generate green energy from Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Ocean Thermal Energy, which are all non-carbon options and can help reduce carbon imports by demand substitution. Also hybrids are expected to emerge in the energy sector like Wind-Solar and Wind-Solar-Biofuels.

Road transport sector accounts for 6.7% of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Currently, diesel alone meets an estimated 72% of transportation fuel demand followed by petrol at 23% and balance by other fuels such as CNG, LPG etc. for which the demand has been steadily rising.

The domestic crude oil production is able to meet only less one fifth of the demand, while the rest is met from imported crude. India's energy security will remain vulnerable until alternative fuels to substitute/ supplement petro-based fuels are developed based on indigenously produced renewable feedstock.


Image: For representational purpose only.


ISJ Bureau

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