In a first of its kind move, India has brought forward its top energy research agencies which are working together to develop the next generation of fuel resources for cutting edge commercial applications.
The three state-owned research bodies include the Indian Railways’ alternate fuel arm Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF), Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) Dehradun and National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) which are working to develop solar-assisted Biomass Pyrolysis technology for production of methanol as an alternate fuel. In addition, IROAF is separately experimenting with Hydrogen-powered fuel cells for power generation.
Delhi-based IROAF has been tasked with exploring new avenues to fuel the national transporter which has set a target of reducing its annual energy bill, including electricity and diesel, of over Rs 30,000 crore by Rs 41,000 crore over the next decade. “An alternate route of Methanol production is by using biomass, wood and waste products. Currently, people use the catalytic route (enzymatic route) for this. We aim to do this through biomass pyrolysis,” Ravinder Gupta, Chief Administrative Officer of IROAF told ETEnergyWorld in an exclusive interview.
Pyrolysis refers to thermal decomposition of biomass occurring in the absence of oxygen. The process pyrolysis results in by-products including bio-oil and gases like methane, hydrogen, carbon-monoxide and carbon dioxide, among others. “We have formed a joint working group at IROAF with IIP, Dehradun and NISE. We are putting our heads together to develop a solar-assisted biomass paralysis plant in the first stage and eventually look at the possibility of obtaining methanol,” Gupta said.
IROAF aims to use solar energy to convert wood and bio-waste into wood-oil and IIP is currently conducting research on how to convert wood-oil into methanol. According to Gupta, the Indian Railways will have to develop a dual-fuel engine for converting existing locomotives to run on Methanol.
The Indian Railways’ fuel arm is also experimenting with hydrogen-powered fuel cells on a pilot basis. A fuel cell is a device in which hydrogen is used to generates electricity through a chemical reaction in the presence of Oxygen with water as a by-product. The device finds application in the electric vehicle industry.
“We are also working on fuel cell technology. Hydrogen-run fuel cells have also become affordable. On an experimental basis, we are going to fit a hydrogen fuel cell for powering guard vans attached to trains as a standby. Fuel cells can generate power up to 300 kilowatts,” Gupta said.
The use of fuel cells to power electric vehicles has risen of late. Global automobile giants including Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have reportedly leased a few hundred fuel cell-based vehicles over the past three years, and expect to lease over 1,000 in the current year.
The Indian auto industry lobby Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has also called for developing the fuel cell technology to meet the government’s target of shifting completely to electric vehicles by 2030.
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