Indian cellulosic ethanol technology set for debut at demonstration scale in Uttarakhand 

BD-TS-042216-smIn India, the first demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol plant will open this week at Indian Glycol Limited, Kashipur in Uttarakhand, with the Indian Minister of Science and Technology & Earth Sciences on hand for the ceremonies.

The technology was developed by the DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences — set up as a bioenergy dedicated Centre of Excellence in 2008 at the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai by the Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology. Centre officials describe the project as a significant step towards India’s three-pronged mission of ‘Make in India’, ‘Swaccha Bharat’, and ‘Start-up India’.

Progress to date

The technology, which was already run at pilot scale (1 ton per day) at the India Glycols site, will have a 750,000 litre annual alcohol capacity. The project cost $5.28 million.

According to the Centre, the technology’s competetive edge is lower capex, capability to handle any cellulosic feedstock, and high conversion efficiencies. Feedstocks include hardwood chips, cotton stalk, soft bagasse and rice straw.

The technology employs continuous processing and converts biomass feed to alcohol within 24 hours, and is scalable to 100 tons of biomass/day to as much as 500 ton/day. Accordingly, Centre officials said that the technology can find decentralized deployment in the Indian agricultural heartland.

According to the Centre, “use of surplus agricultural residues and other sources of energy or power generation can lead to partial or full replacement of petro-derived fuels with renewable fuels ensuring energy security for the country. Mandated to blend 5% green biofuels into gasoline (petrol) and diesel by its National Biofuel Policy drafted in 2009, India today has limited diesel substitutes, while barely managing to achieve about 3% bioethanol blending in gasoline.”

Where’s the feedstock in India: residues

Today, Indian researchers are pointing to “a substantial and under-utilized non-fodder surplus of agricultural wastes and other such as municipal solid wastes with the potential to fully replace petroleum fuel requirements of the country.

Specifically, researchers point to: rice straw in Punjab and Haryana; cotton and castor stalk in Gujarat and Maharashtra; bagasse and sugar cane trash in UP, Punjab, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra; palm empty fruit bunches in Andhra Pradesh; and bamboo in Assam, Bengal and Orissa. All together, the Institute of Chemical Technology estimates that more than 250 million ton of accessible, surplus agricultural residues.

With collection logistics in place, the ICT projects the “potential to produce more than 75 million ton of biofuel equivalent to more than three times entire country’s petrol consumption. More than 150 million ton of MSW already collected in large to small cities also has the potential to produce more than 40 million ton of biofuel. Thus, a 10% target should be quite achievable with these already available resources.”

Where’s the feedstock in India: new energy crops

In addition, ICT researchers say that “with cutting edge technologies under development, biomass generation through new marine agricultural farming and use of improved marginal-land utilizing energy crops like Napier grass will add to the total biofuel generation potential of the country.”

The backstory to the launch

shortly after the United States set up its three major bioenergy research centres (JBEI, BESC, and GLBRC), the Department of Biotechnology “took a leap in 2007” with the establishment of an Indian centre of excellence for dedicated bioenergy and biofuel related research and development. The first such DBT supported bioenergy research centre was set up the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai in 2008 with the express mandate to develop, translate and transfer the 2G-bioethanol technology. Today, the DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences at ICT, Mumbai comprises “a state-of-the-art facility matching the best in the world” and has more than 100 scientists working on different aspects of bioenergy and bioprocess technologies.

Addressing problems seen in other technologies

Centre officials said that “Similar technologies for production of second generation bioethanol and other advanced biofuels have been under development around the world now for over two decades. However, cellulosic biofuels contributed insignificantly at only 2 million gallons in 2015 to US fuel supply, despite years of efforts and huge funds spent by both the governments and private industry worldwide. Technologies deployed the US, Brazil and the EU to date are feedstock specific, high in capital and production costs, and require a scale in excess of 500 tons/day biomass at a site.”

By contrast, the “indigenously developed and validated 2G-Ethanol technology”, said its developers at DBT-ICT Centre is “easy to scale up, works with any agri-residue feed stocks and has superior competitiveness with unique and novel features not only for India but also for rest of the world.”

Next steps

The DBT-ICT Centre, along with other Industrial partners, is already on the way to design and scale-up the technology to 100 ton/day and 250 ton/day biomass scale.

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