Context

NITI Aayog to formulate a roadmap for transition to methanol made from coal, based on the alternative fuel’s use in China

Introduction:

  • The Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday held a high-level stakeholders meeting to deliberate upon a strategy to use methanol as an alternative fuel in automobiles.
  • At a high level discussion, Gadkari has asked National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog to “study the automobile standards” of China, where vehicles run on methanol.
  • The official said that NITI Aayog made a presentation to push methanol as a fuel for waterways, which is “clean, good substitute for heavy fuel and can cut down imports”.

What is Methanol?

  • Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, is an alternative fuel for internal combustion and other engines, where it is often used in combination with gasoline
  • The chemical is generally derived from fossil or natural gas.
  • It can also be made through synthesis of carbon-dioxide and hydrogen.
  • Presently, methanol is an essential chemical building block for numerous products, and an emerging energy resource.
  • India accounted for four per cent of the overall Asia-Pacific methanol market demand share in the year 2011.

Benefits of using Methanol:

  • Methanol economy will help India use its vast reserves of coal while driving import substitution.
  • Research in converting carbon dioxide to methanol is promising and can be a game-changer for methanol economy.
  • Methanol is a promising fuel for waterways as it is clean, cheaper than fossil fuels and a good substitute for heavy fuels.
  • Methanol is used in many parts of the world. In most countries it is being made from natural gas, for India it makes much more economic sense to use locally available coal.
  • Use of methanol will help in increasing the output of spark plug based ignition systems as methanol has a higher octane rating.
  • The use of methanol based fuel will help reduce global warming.
  • Methanol is a cost-effective import substitution.
  • Methanol will be significantly cheaper than traditional petrol
  • Methanol based economy will create a lot of employment and enterpreunship in India.
  • There is the additional benefit that methanol produced in India can be exported to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan which have comparable economies and with similar energy circumstances.
  • Investing in a methanol economy might be the required push for the energy sector, considering the costs of plunging a new technology and implementing it in a nation as big as India it still a daunting task.

Disadvantages of Methanol:

  • Methanol based fuels corrode the engine thereby reducing the engine life.
  • Methanol is less volatile than petrol so it will be more difficult to start the vehicle in cold weather.
  • The hygroscopic nature of methanol also means that it will be absorbing water vapour from the atmosphere which might lead to problem during prolonged storage.

Why government is considering manufacturing methanol from coal?

  • To cut oil imports costs and reduce pollution through alternative fuels.
  • Indigenous production at present is very low as it’s not cost effective due to import cost of natural gas.
  • Presently, India import methanol from Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • India depends on fossil fuels and petroleum for 80-90% of its energy requirements and around Rs 4.5 lakh crore is spent every year importing oil
  • Using the fossil fuels is harmful for the environment.

Government initiatives for methanol:

With India’s strong stand on climate change and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to use renewable source of energy, it seems India is taking methanol much more seriously now.

  • The government is considering indigenous production of methanol from coal- a pilot project for which is being set up in Odisha’s Talcher
  • India has signed a Statement of Intent with the Methanol Institute of the US to further work on the technology.
  • India has introduced blending of petrol with ethanol and one large experimental pilot plant that produces ethanol from agri-waste was inaugurated last year at

Sources of methanol:

  • Niti Aayog is working on a roadmap for manufacturing methanol which can also be made from using municipal solid waste
  • Using methanol from natural gas could be an ‘expensive” move for India, thus it must convert methanol from coal, which is abundant in India.
  • North Eastern states, which are rich in bamboos, can use it in producing methanol.

Why methanol as the alternative fuel?

  • Methanol is the cleanest fuel known to mankind.
  • Methanol is the simplest forms of alcohol, a single carbon solution, since it has no carbon bond they do not emit particulate matter making fuel clean.
  • It is easy for India to switch to a methanol economy.
  • Methanol can be easily produce from renewable sources like agricultural waste, forest residue, , solid municipal waste, biomass waste can be converted through gasification.
  • Methanol as a clean fuel is slowly gaining prominence across the world including India.
  • Israel started using methanol as a fuel, while it has been popular in Brazil for many years.
  • China is the largest producer of methanol and has been seen a rapid expansion in consumption and production in the last decade.

Conclusion:

Considering the above mentioned advantages of methanol as a clean fuel, India should actively explore methanol as a long term substitute of oil and natural gas as the high amounts of agricultural waste can be beneficially converted to power the country. It would provide a feasible and safe way to store energy, make available to convenient liquid fuel, and assure mankind an unlimited source of hydrocarbons while at the same mitigating the dangers of global warming.

 

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