India has spared no effort to reduce its dependency on importing foreign oil. In order to lessen these interdependencies, various measures have been taken in the past but the conventional solution lies internally by looking at the substitutes and India, is well, on the right path to do that!
Methanol or Di Methyl Ether (DME) are creating a buzz as an alternative liquid fuel for transportation and to power ship engines. A low carbon, hydrogen carrier fuel – Methanol is on the path to meet the needs to generate clean power all over the world. It burns clean, it burns well and it is a complex derivative that is produced from high ash coal, agricultural residue, and natural gas. DME – a hydrated form of Methanol is nearly identical to diesel and could be used as alternative transportation fuel that is fuelled by exceptional burning characteristics and lower Green House Gas emission.
Globally, Methanol is derived from natural gas, which is a relatively uncomplicated process. But India doesn’t have many natural gas reserves, so, producing Methanol from imported natural gas lead to the outflow of foreign exchange and proves to be uneconomical due to inflation in the prices of natural gas. The next best alternative for India is to utilise Coal, which is in abundance with the country. However, the high percentage of Indian coal makes most internationally accessible technology and equipment exposed at our disposal inadequate to meet the demands.
Hence, to address this issue, BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited) R&D centre at Hyderabad began the operations on India high ash coal gasification in 2016 with the aid from NITI Aayog to derive 0.25-ton methanol per day. Department of Science and Technology supported the project by extending a grant of Rs 10 crore. With four years of rigorous efforts, BHEL successfully demonstrated a facility to create 0.25 TPD Methanol from high ash Indian coal using a 1.2 TPD Fluidized bed gasifier.
Methanol has the efficiency to create a pathway for meeting India’s commitment to COP 21. NITI Aayog launched the ‘Methanol Economy Programme’ to reduce India’s oil import bill and subsequent reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions while converting coal reserves and municipal solid waste into methanol. Methanol production and application will also generate close to 5 million jobs and blending DME in LPG annually can save Rs 6,000 crore. As per NITI Aayog, in order to create a Methanol Economy, five Methanol plants based on high ash coal, five DME plants, and one natural gas-based methanol production plant with a capacity of 20 MMT/annum, in a joint venture with Israel, have been planned to be set up. Further, three boats and seven cargo vessels are being built by the Cochin Shipyard Limited for the Inland Waterways Authority of India to use methanol as a marine fuel.
A Step towards Hydrogen Mission:
Looking at Hydrogen as a holy-grail of the cleaner future, National Hydrogen Mission was launched with the objective to reduce carbon emissions and subsequently increase the use of renewable sources of energy.
In April this year, speaking at the Hydrogen Round Table on ‘Hydrogen Economy: New Delhi Dialogue-2021’, the then Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan stated, “The added advantage of hydrogen is that, apart from transportation, it can be a “decarbonising agent” for industries like chemicals, iron, steel, fertiliser and refining, transport, heat and power.”
“We are working on a pilot project on Blue Hydrogen, Hydrogen CNG (H-CNG) and Green Hydrogen… we are blending hydrogen with compressed natural gas for use as a transportation fuel as well as an industrial input to refineries”.
Hence, the bottom line is simple – Adoption of Methanol and furthering high ash coal gasification that in all likelihood will reduce our import bill and aid in slowing global warming in a massive way.