The Methanol Economy.

India needs around 2,900 crore litres of petrol and 9,000 crore litres of diesel per year currently, making it the sixth highest consumer in the world. By 2030, consumption will double, making India the third largest consumer. India’s import bill on account of crude oil stands at almost Rs. 6 lakh crore.

Source: The Hindu Business Line

Methanol and its uses

Methanol is a clean burning drop-in fuel which can replace both petrol & diesel in transportation & LPG, Wood, Kerosene in cooking fuel. It can also replace diesel in Railways, Marine Sector, Gensets, Power Generation and Methanol based reformers could be an ideal complement to Hybrid and Electric Mobility.

The Methanol Economy

Methanol Economy i.e. an economy based on Methanol by replacing conventional fuels is the “Bridge” to the dream of a complete “Hydrogen based fuel systems”. Methanol is a scalable and sustainable fuel, that can be produced from a variety of feedstocks like Natural Gas, Coal (Indian High Ash Coal), Bio-mass, Municipal Solid waste and most importantly from CO2. The Concept of “Methanol Economy” is being actively pursued by China, Italy, Sweden, Israel, US, Australia, Japan and many other European countries. 10% of fuel in China in transport Sector is Methanol.

How will methanol help in curbing pollution?

Methanol burns efficiently in all internal combustion engines, produces no particulate matter, no soot, almost nil SOX and NOX emissions (NEAR ZERO POLLUTION). The gaseous version of Methanol – DME (dymethylether) can blended with LPG and can be excellent substitute for diesel in Large buses and trucks. To adopt Methanol as a transport fuel, it requires minimal infrastructure modifications and capital both in vehicles and in terminal and distribution infrastructure. Methanol 15 % blend (M15) in petrol will reduce pollution by 33% & diesel replacement by methanol will reduce by more than 80%. Urban Transport contributes to close to 40% towards urban air pollution. Annually 400000 deaths take place in India due to air pollution. Methanol 100% engine will look to replace diesel in its totality.

CO2 sequestration cycle

One of the reasons why Methanol has the potential to be an enduring solution to human energy needs is because the beltched out CO2 (greenhouse gas emission) both from using Methanol and while producing Methanol can be tapped back to produce Methanol. Thereby a seamless loop of CO2 sequestration cycle is created to perpetually burn fuels without polluting the environment at all. CO2 from steel plants, Thermal Power plants, Cement Plants etc. can be tapped in large quantities to produce Methanol. The Technology has acquired commercial maturity and countries like Iceland are producing in meaningful quantities already.

Sector specific benefits –

  • Transportation Sector – With very little modifications to existing engines (vehicles) and fuel distribution infrastructure, vehicles can be converted to run on Methanol & Di Methyl Ether (DME). India has had extensive discussions with Israel , which has successfully implemented Methanol 15 (M15) blending program for Technology transfer.
  • Marine Sector – Worldwide due to emission regulations being implemented stringently by IMO (International Maritime Organisation), marine Sector is shifting to Methanol as fuel of choice. Being a very efficient in liquid form and practically generating no SOx or NOx, Methanol is much cheaper than LNG and Bunker / Heavy Oil.
  • Railways – Indian Railways consumes about 3 billion litres of fuel a year and the annual diesel bill is in excess of Rs. 15000 Crores. Once all 6000 diesel engines are converted to methanol (at very minimal cost of less than 1 crore a engine), the annual diesel bill can be reduced by 50%. Methanol conversion program in railways is complimentary to the goals of electrification in Railways.
  • Energy sector – India has an installed capacity of 22000 MW on HFO (Heavy fuel oil) alone. HFO is one of the dirtiest fuel and most countries of the world have abandoned it. The entire HFO usage can be replaced by Methanol. Power Modules of Mobile Towers (about 750000) in India can fully be replaced by Methanol Reformer / Fuel Cell based platforms in the next two years. Diesel industrial Gensets, Gas Turbines running on Naptha, LFOI (Light Fuel Oil) and other dirty fuels can also be fully replaced. Industrial boilers which are running on diesel will also be replaced with Methanol.
  • Cooking fuel – The cooking fuel program of Methanol liquid fuel and LPG-DME blending can be very beneficial for India. A 20% blending program with LPG, without any infrastructure modifications would result in an immediate savings of Rs.6000 Crores a year. Lakhs of rural women will cook healthy and Methanol supplied in canisters would ensure fuel supply in the remotest part of North East and Himalayas.

India by adopting Methanol can have its own indigenous fuel at the cost of approximately 19 Rs. per litre which is at least 30% cheaper than any available fuel. Methanol fuel can result in great environmental benefits and can be the answer to the burning urban pollution issue. At least 20% diesel consumption can be reduced in next 5-7 years and will result in a savings of 26000 Crores annually. Rs. 6000 Crores can be annually saved from reduced bill in LPG in the next 3 years itself. The Methanol blending program with Gasoline will further reduce our fuel bill by at least 5000 Crores annually in next 3 years. Make in India program will get a further boost by both producing fuel indigenously and associated growth in automobile sector adding engineering jobs and also investments in Methanol based industries (FDI and Indian).

Methanol Economy, if adopted by India can be one of the best ways to mitigate the Environmental hazards of a growing economy.

Sources: PIB and PIB