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Govt to Issue a Policy on Methanol Use as Alternative Fuel Soon

E-methanol, which is made from captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen, is another method of producing methanol. Because of its abundant reserves, methanol derived from coal is the most economically viable option for India, according to the NITI-Aayog.

Shivam Dwivedi
E-methanol, which is made from captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen, is another method of producing methanol.
E-methanol, which is made from captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen, is another method of producing methanol.

According to Prakriti Sethi, Chief Representative of India for the Methanol Institute, the Centre is likely to issue a policy on the use of methanol as an alternative fuel soon. "In the coming months, some positive policy developments for methanol fuel are expected." We are upbeat because we are collaborating with the government," Sethi said.

Since 2016, NITI-Aayog, the Centre's think-tank, has collaborated with the Methanol Institute on the "Methanol Economy" program, which aims to reduce the country's oil import bill, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and convert coal reserves and municipal solid waste into methanol.

Sethi stated that traditionally, methanol was produced from coal and natural gas, with the latter producing more. "India and China have enormous coal resources for producing methanol." "However, we are now investigating the production of bio-methanol from renewable sources such as agricultural waste and municipal solid waste," she explained.

E-methanol, which is made from captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen, is another method of producing methanol. Because of its abundant reserves, methanol derived from coal is the most economically viable option for India, according to the NITI-Aayog. It is less expensive than natural gas and crude oil, both of which are imported.

Sethi stated that methanol is less expensive than other sources such as ethanol, citing a NITI-Aayog study that compared ethanol, methanol, and gasoline. Based on internal research conducted by the Ministry of Coal in collaboration with private investors, coal gasification companies, and technical experts, the study concluded that the price of methanol is likely to be Rs 22-25 per kg or Rs 17.5-19.8 per liter (density of methanol – 0.791 kg/liter).

Methanol Institute, which includes the world's largest producers and distributors, has been in the country since 2016, collaborating with the Ministries of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Renewable Energy, and Road Transport and Highways, in addition to Niti Aayog. "However, we're now looking at technical providers who use methanol for fuel and power generation," Sethi explained.

The institute, in collaboration with NITI-Aayog, is working to ensure energy security and reduce India's rising fuel bills. "We have seen significant growth in the production of indigenous resources to use methanol as an alternative in the last five years," she said.

Since the Covid pandemic, the Centre has understood the dynamics of renewable energy production, shown interest in it, and ensured its growth. "The private sector is also interested and is conducting its own research trials and pilot project," said the Methanol Institute's representative in India.

"There is a significant push on the cost-effectiveness of alternative fuels with the goal of ensuring energy security and rising current energy prices. As a result, companies are looking into methanol as an alternative fuel," she said, adding that standards for M15 (mixing 15% methanol with gasoline) were established in 2018.

"Indian Oil Corporation Ltd has launched a pilot project on M15 in Assam, which is expected to benefit other parts. The Automobile Research Association of India laid the groundwork by conducting M15 trials in two- and four-wheelers," Sethi explained.

But, more importantly, a successful pilot project of methanol stoves -the methanol cooking program- was carried out in Assam. For the pilot project run by NITI Aayog and Assam Petro Chemicals, 300 stoves were initially distributed.

"The cookstoves market is a low-hanging fruit segment that will benefit local consumers by improving indoor air quality and lowering the risk of health hazards. The pilot's results were satisfactory, and we may see more projects on methanol stoves come onboard,” Sethi said.

NITI-Aayog has announced that the methanol cooking program will be expanded to one lakh households in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, and Manipur. Methanol, according to the Methanol Institute India representative, is an excellent hydrogen carrier due to its chemical properties. "The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is working on the India Hydrogen Mission to investigate how to mitigate transportation and storage challenges and support the immediate adoption of hydrogen," she explained.

The MNRE is looking into commercial aspects and tariffs, among other things. Sethi stated that the Delhi government had issued a directive to use alternative fuel generator sets instead of diesel generator sets, which were banned due to pollution.

"One of the effective alternative energy solutions that can be included in the list of alternative sources is methanol. We have requested that the Delhi government investigate methanol generator sets. It may be considered by other states with higher pollution levels," she said.

Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd has begun testing methanol generator sets. According to NITI-Aayog, Kirloskar has converted a 5 KW generator set to run entirely on methanol. It is now collaborating with Dor Chemicals in Israel to convert generator sets with capacities ranging from 150 to 300 KVA/KW. Ashok Leyland has started a methanol pilot project.

In addition, five methanol plants based on high ash coal, five dimethyl ether plants, and one natural gas-based methanol production plant with a capacity of 20 million tonnes per year are planned to be built in a joint venture with Israel, according to NITI-Aayog.

The Cochin Shipyard Limited is constructing three boats and seven cargo vessels for the Indian Inland Waterways Authority that will use methanol as a marine fuel. Methanol, according to Sethi, is also used in power generation, and the Indian Army has been using methanol fuel cells for some time. The National Thermal Power Corporation announced a green methanol pilot project in Vindhyachal and plans to scale it up, she said.

Thermax Ltd has successfully developed a 5-KW methanol-based reformer on a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell, according to NITI-Aayog (DMFC). This module is being tested for use in mobile towers to replace DG sets.

According to Sethi, private stakeholders are interested in learning about the utility of methanol and are looking into these applications in India. To help meet the 20% ethanol target, the industry is considering blending ethanol with methanol.

"The industry is looking into methanol to ease the strain on ethanol supplies and make the fuel more cost-effective. Other parts of the world are experimenting with ethanol-methanol blends. Italy is working on A20 blends with 15% methanol and 5% ethanol in gasoline engines," she said.

Attempts are being made to use additives to blend methanol and diesel. Methanol can be blended with diesel, according to Tim Chan, Assistant Director, Government and Public Affairs (Asia & Middle East), Methanol Institute. "Successful trials with 15% methanol diesel blending have been conducted," he said.

Sethi stated that in order to assist the country in its energy transition and achieve a net-zero vision, the Centre should send strong policy signals similar to Europe, which offers carbon credits and incentives while also penalizing defaulters in the methanol industry. "There is a need to advance the agenda on alternative fuels by sending a strong message to diversify India's energy basket, and Methanol will play a role in this," Sethi said.

According to NITI-Aayog, the methanol economy will generate nearly five million jobs, while blending dimethyl ether in LPG will save Rs 6,000 crore per year. The consumer could save between Rs 50 and Rs 100 per cylinder.

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