A central government coterie note that pertains to the compulsory use of petrol blended with 15% methanol’ is all set to be piloted by Niti Aayog. Once approved by the cabinet, this plan will lead to a 10% reduction in monthly petrol bills and assist the government with substantially cutting down its oil import bill.
A top level consultation was held to deliberate the details of the pitch in last week of July and a senior government official told that PK Sinha, cabinet secretary; is personally monitoring the advancement of this goal.
The ambitious ‘methanol economy’ roadmap has been exclusively drawn up by Niti Aayog.
A yearly reduction of $100 billion in crude imports by 2030 with a country wide implementation of 15% blended fuel, both for transportation and cooking; is the ultimate goal of this cabinet note.
Currently, vehicles in the country run on upto 10% ethanol-blended fuel.
The price of methanol has been estimated at less than Rs 20 a litre; which is substantially lower than ethanol which costs Rs 42 per litre. A 15% methanol mix could see petrol prices reduced by close to 10%.
The auto industry was generally wary in its response to the methanol blend plan.
Vishnu Mathur, director general of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam); said, “Industry will have to take R&D projects to understand how much changes are needed in the engine as well as material compatibility… These days most fourwheelers are designed to run on up to 18-20% of blended fuel which currently is ethanol,” Siam is the industry body that represents auto makers.
Dr SSV Ramakumar, Indian Oil Corp R&D director said that methanol-blended petrol was ‘doable’ from a technical viewpoint.
Ramakumar, who also holds the position of convener of Niti Aayog’s task force on utilisation of methanol in transport fuel, said, “There are two challenges: the stability of the blended fuel, and its compatibility with the engine.
We have a solution for the first and for the second, the oil industry and the auto industry are working together on figuring out a solution”.
“Importing methanol for blending in transport fuel will be like partly shifting our dependence from the Middle-East crude oil to Chinese methanol,” said another oil industry executive, while commenting on the bigger challenge that is related to supply of methanol.
Official sources clarified that methanol can be generated from the abundance of coal in the country and other bio resources, alongside the manufacture synthetic methanol. All ensure that the rising demand for methanol could be met going forward.
Government is considering seeking out the services of foreign companies, either directly or through private players, to meet the initial demand for methanol till India becomes self-sufficient over the next four years.
Pune, Hyderabad and Trichi are currently the venues for the commercial production of methanol from coal; and the department of science and technology is running three R&D projects worth Rs 100 crore for this precise purpose in these places.
A pilot project for commercial production of methanol is also in its infancy stages in West Bengal and Jharkhand. The state governments of both these states have allotted a dedicated coal mine for this purpose.
The government will roll out the commercial production of methanol from coal; once the pilot projects are successful.
India is the third biggest oil importer in the world. The country’s oil import stands at close to Rs 5 lakh crore with 2,900 crore litres of petrol and 9,000 crore litres of diesel consumed on a yearly basis.
Alongside reducing fuel prices and the country’s annual oil import bill, the use of methanol will also assit in reducing pollution. Replacing 20% of crude consumption by methanol will bring down pollution in the country by more than 40%; according to Niti Aayog.