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Aug 10, 2017 11:52 AM IST |

Fuel for thought: Why the govt is pushing for a methanol economy

Last week, Nitin Gadkari also directed the NITI Aayog to look in the various standards put in place by China for various methanol-powered transport like cars and ships.

Fuel for thought: Why the govt is pushing for a methanol economy

Siddhesh Raut

Moneycontrol News

In the government's latest renewable energy push, Transport Minster Nitin Gadkari called for a “leapfrog” towards a methanol economy.

Last week, Gadkari also directed the policy think-tank NITI Aayog to look into the various standards put in place by China for various methanol-powered transport like cars and ships. Minister of Coal and Petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan also called for public sector units (PSU) to seed funds for further research in the field.

Why methanol ?

Methanol is a hydrocarbon which is made entirely of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. While it produces only half the energy per volume as compared to regular gasoline, it releases no particulate emissions, fewer nitrogen emissions and no sulphur emissions on burning, according to a NITI Aayog report.

It can be mixed in a suitable ratio with gasoline and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to power vehicles. Methanol reacts strongly to rubber and plastic, causing it to wear away.

The report stated that minor changes to engines and the retrofitting of petrol stations can make methanol an environment-friendly fuel for transport, as compared to petrol and diesel.

Methanol is a renewable source of energy. It can be produced from the 1 million tonnes of non-edible biomass that is produced in India monthly.

Around 35 percent of India's energy requirements are met by burning oil and gas, according to the latest Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas report. Of these, around 77 percent of the oil and gas that India uses is currently imported, states the report.

It primarily imports most of its crude oil (81 percent in 2015-16) and natural gas (40 percent in 2015-16) The fuel production of crude and natural gas grows at a dismal compounded annual growth rate (CAGR). Thus, the report states that moving to methanol plugs our dependence on rising imports and improve the energy security of India.

Economic feasibility

The Aayog report talks about China steps to make the transition. Being the second largest economy and the most populous country in the world, China has taken its energy demands seriously by being the largest producer of Methanol.

China has also implemented methanol fuel consumption practices in 15 provinces, which translated to millions of its vehicles and is ready to go nationwide soon.

Moreover, a Chinese auto manufacturing company, Geely, has already commissioned  amethanol fueled automobile plant which will manufacture 200,000 cars annually.

For India to produce methanol proportionate to the country's energy demands, its abundant coal reserves must be used to produce methanol by gasification.

The Aayog stated that to test and understand the mechanics of methanol production in India, a pilot 'coal to methanol plant' must be set up, followed by a commercial plant.

These are the first steps India must take before it can set up a mega coal based complex for production of power, methanol and fertilizers in an integrated manner which would significantly reduce the cost of various commodities produced, according to the report.

A task force has been constituted for defining the framework of the methanol economy which would involve its production, distribution and regulation.

While VK Saraswat, member NITI Aayog and chairman Methanol Committee said that the methanol economy would to help India mitigate its petroleum import costs and at the same time counter problems associated with global warming, working out the fine details and carrying out the long-term switch over will be an uphill task.
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