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Posted at: Sep 12, 2016, 1:23 AM; last updated: Sep 12, 2016, 1:23 AM (IST)

Gadkari pushes for methanol economy

Energy pill: NITI Aayog explores use of wood alcohol

Converting paddy straw into methanol

  • Today, India is a net importer of methanol with most of it coming from Iran, but methanol evangelist GK Surya Prakash, a professor at the University of Southern California, feels India offers a 35 billion litre methanol market
  • Prakash feels in the long run methanol could be made using carbon dioxide and when that happens, the problem of global warning could easily be ameliorated
  • According to the NITI Aayog, one of the big sources of methanol could be rural and urban waste, especially agri-waste. Today tonnes of agri-waste, which includes paddy straw, is burnt by farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Most of this biomass, using some nifty technology, could be converted into methanol

New Delhi, September 11

The government’s key think tank, the National Institute for Transforming India or the NITI Aayog, is seriously exploring deploying methanol as a possible way to achieving energy independence for India. The radical idea, it believes, also offers a solution to climate change.

Is wood alcohol the solution to India’s huge oil import bill? Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, speaking at an event to brainstorm on methanol economy as a substitute for oil and gas, vowed that “we want to create a country where the import bill for petroleum is zero!”

Today, India annually spends Rs 4.5 lakh crore on importing petroleum products. Gadkari feels “methane is a cost-effective import substitution”. It is also a great way of generating “wealth from waste”, asserts Gadkari, who never misses an opportunity to drive home the point on how he made Rs 18 crore by selling municipal waste water in Nagpur from which methane was one of the by-products.

Methanol, also called wood alcohol, is a form of primordial hydrocarbon made from methane gas. This is distinct from the everyday alcohol or ethanol most of us are familiar with, which is found in beer, whiskies and to a certain extent also used to power vehicles.

Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol and it is toxic to humans, but it is, as the NITI Aayog says, “an excellent light, volatile, colourless, flammable liquid fuel which can be blended with petrol”. It is a good replacement for petrol and its cousin Dimethyl Ether (DME) can be a good and cleaner alternative to diesel, believes the think tank.

Burnt methanol gives out no smoke and does not emit black carbon soot so it could be a solution to contain the ever increasing air pollution. India has only recently introduced blending of petrol with ethanol and one large experimental pilot plant that produces ethanol from agri-waste was inaugurated this year at Kashipur.

Unfortunately, India lacks generous reserves of oil, gas and even uranium, the three key sources of energy that drive the economy. There is copious supply of solar energy but the intermittent nature gives it a distinct disadvantage since the Sun is not available at night when the demand for electricity is high.

Methanol could be a suitable alternative, according to the Methanol Institute, USA, an industry consortium that points out how China is using 15-20 per cent of its fuel mixed with methanol.

Industry experts suggest even the current make of cars can easily take fuel blended with 10 per cent of methanol and in future, when internal combustion engines can run on multiple fuels, blending up to 85 per cent with methanol could be a reality. New alloys need to be used in methanol using engines as it can be toxic to aluminium. — PTI


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