NEW DELHI: Can India kick its habit of depending on costly import of petroleum products by getting hooked onto a new form of industrial alcohol called methanol?
The government’s key think tank the National Institute for Transforming India or the NITI Aayog is seriously exploring deploying methanol as a possible way to achieve energy independence for India. A radical idea, it believes, also offers a solution to climate change.
Is wood alcohol the solution to India’s huge oil import bill as Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari vows to eliminate petroleum imports? India’s influential Transport Minister speaking at an event to brainstorm on methanol economy as a substitute for oil and gas vowed ‘we want to create a country where import bill for petroleum is zero!’
Today India annually spends Rs 4.5 lakh crore on importing petroleum products. Gadkari feels ‘methane is a cost effective import substitution’. It is also a great way of generating ‘wealth from waste’ asserts Gadkari who never misses an opportunity to drive home the point on how he made Rs 18 crore by selling municipal waste water in Nagpur from which methane was one of the by-products.
Methanol also called wood alcohol a form of primordial hydrocarbon made from methane gas. This is distinct from the everyday alcohol or ethanol most of us are familiar with, which is found in beer, whiskies and to a certain extent also used to power vehicles.
Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol and it is toxic to humans but it is as the NITI Aayog says ‘an excellent light volatile, colourless flammable liquid fuel which can be blended with petrol’. It is a good replacement for petrol and its cousin Dimethyl Ether (DME) can be a good and cleaner alternative to diesel, believes the high powered think tank.
Burnt methanol gives out no smoke and does not emit black carbon soot so it could be a solution to contain the ever increasing air pollution. India has only recently introduced blending of petrol with ethanol and one large experimental pilot plant that produces ethanol from agri-waste was inaugurated this year at Kashipur.