Methanol blending for petrol unlikely till 2030

India’s quest for ‘methanol economy’ may not become a reality until 2030.

The National Democratic Alliance government plans to move towards a clean fuel economy, in sync with its commitment made by ratifying the Paris climate change deal to reduce carbon footprint. As part of this strategy, ministries of petroleum and natural gas, and road transport and highways are working towards blending of methanol with petrol.

Blending of methanol will help in cutting down oil import. The Narendra Modi-led government plans to halve its oil imports by 2030. Methanol can be produced from coal, municipal waste and biomass.

This comes at a time when the government is promoting the ethanol-blended petrol (EBP) programme. Ethanol—a form of alcohol produced from sugarcane and corn—is blended with petrol by oil marketing countries (OMCs). At present, the permissible limit under the EBP programme is 10%. However, during financial year 2014-15, OMCs reached only 2.3%.

“It will be difficult to say as to when methanol will be taken up completely but we are pushing for it as it is one of the cleanest forms of alcohol and causes less pollution. Currently, ethanol blending is being operationalised after which methanol shall be taken up therefore, nowhere before the next decade. However, it is being monitored closely and we are in touch with the transport ministry as well,” said a petroleum ministry official requesting anonymity.

“Methanol is in its early stages now. Niti (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog has formed an expert committee to create a roadmap for the viability of methanol as a fuel. It will be difficult to set a deadline before Niti Aayog comes out with its report,” said another government official who also didn’t want to be identified.

India currently imports one-third of its energy needs and is currently the world’s third-largest consumer for crude oil after China and the US. India imported 202.85 million tonne (MT) of crude oil in 2015-16 at a cost of Rs.4.16 trillion. In 2014-15, the country imported 189 MT of crude oil amounting to Rs.6.87 trillion.

The science behind methanol works for it in the Indian context.

“Methanol is a pure form of alcohol. Talking about it in terms of organic chemistry, methanol does not have any carbon to carbon bond which is why there is minimal emission of smoke when it is inflamed,” said Sebanti Basu, associate professor for organic chemistry at Scottish Church College, Kolkata.

Queries emailed to the spokespersons of Niti Aayog and ministries of transport and petroleum on 14 October remained unanswered.

According to a 6 September government statement, Nitin Gadkari, road transport, highways and shipping minister, “pointed out that methanol is the future for the country… As rural areas are a source of feedstock for methanol, it would provide additional income and also become a source of livelihood for rural folks.”

India has stepped up its efforts to promote the usage of clean fuels. Shortly after launching a programme to run two-wheelers on compressed natural gas, the government now plans to fuel vehicles with liquefied natural gas (LNG). Going forward, the strategy is to fuel long-haul commercial vehicles and trains with LNG.

Experts are convinced by the fuel’s efficacy.

“It is good that we are opting for alternatives that will lessen our dependence on imports. We will have to wait and see as to what the reports say only after that should we draw conclusions. Ethanol has proved to be a good option as of now,” said Raju Kumar, partner at EY, a consultancy.

 

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