India’s Roads Minister Nitin Gadkari has said that the government would soon announce a policy for 15% blending of methanol in petrol, by producing methanol from coal.
A few days back, Mr. Nitin Gadkari announced that he would promote urea project from human urine to reduce the import of urea fertilizers.
Reading the two above announcements, one wonders whether Mr. Nitin Gadkari has done his homework adequately.
Coal-based methanol project unlikely to be viable:
India at present has five methanol plants of which three are not In operation and India imports around 1.7 million tonnes of methanol per year. Large Indian methanol capacity remains unutilized as the units use natural gas as feedstock and Indian units are unable to compete with the price of imported methanol from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where the price of natural gas is very much lower than in India.
The minister wants to promote the project to produce methanol from coal in India, as is being done in China.
He justified the proposal stating that methanol produced from coal would cost only Rs. 22 a liter and pointed out that China is producing methanol from coal at Rs. 17 per liter.
The following factors indicate that the Indian coal-based methanol project is a calculated risk and the risk is not worth pursuing.
The high ash content of coal in India leaves Indian coal-based methanol project with no particular advantage over lower ash coal-based methanol projects in China, which is a pioneer and trendsetter for coal-based methanol projects in the world
The technology for coal-based methanol projects in India based on high ash Indian coal is still in preliminary development stage. Pilot plant studies are required to develop and optimize the parameters, which is a not a short-term activity.
There are serious engineering, technological and environmental issues in using domestic coal with a high ash content as feedstock to produce methanol, which is yet to be sorted out.
The cost of production of high ash coal-based methanol in India is unlikely to be globally competitive, with the natural gas based methanol produced in other countries.
The environmental issues in starting coal-based methanol projects in India would go against the targets submitted by India to COP21 (Paris Climate Conference) on greenhouse gas emissions.
The obvious and fair question is, why not look for better options which are available and feasible for methanol production in India than coal-based methanol projects.
Bio-methanol is similar to conventional methanol in all respects and can replace conventional methanol in all applications.
Bio-methanol is eco-friendly product because it is produced from renewable feedstock such as municipal solid waste, which is plentifully available in India.
Commercially proven technology parameters are now available abroad for production of bio methanol from feedstock such as municipal waste. A similar plant is in operation in Canada, and a large project is now being set up in Netherlands.
Urea from urine project
Human urine has nitrogen content, and this is why the minister has been tempted to plan to use of urine as replacement for synthetic urea, which is a nitrogenous fertilizer.
The minister seems to be impressed with this proposal, since India has around 130 crore people, who could inevitably produce several million liters of urine day after day without efforts and India imports around 6 million tonnes of urea every year.
There are many economic and technological issues that would make this proposal unfeasible.
Urine to urea project is yet to be validated anywhere in the world scientifically from productivity and utility factors.
Has not the minister done any homework?
It is shocking that a minister is making such announcements without proper studies of techno-economic feasibility even as it is known to expert technologists that these proposals will not materialize
The minister should have ordered some specific research efforts and feasibility studies and thrown the results for public debate before rushing with such announcements.