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Creating Methanol from Coal

  • 11 Sep 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the first Indigenously Designed High Ash Coal Gasification Based Methanol Production Plant has been opened in Hyderabad.

  • With this, Government owned engineering firm BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited) has successfully demonstrated a facility to create methanol from high ash Indian coal.

Key Points

  • About:
    • Methanol is utilized as a motor fuel, to power ship engines, and to generate clean power all over the world. However, the majority of worldwide methanol production is derived from natural gas, which is a relatively easy process.
    • Since India doesn’t have much of the natural gas reserves, producing methanol from imported natural gas leads to outflow of foreign exchange and is uneconomical because of higher prices.
    • The next best option is to utilise India's abundant coal. However, due to the high ash percentage of Indian coal, most internationally accessible technology will not be adequate.
    • To address this issue, BHEL successfully demonstrated a facility to create 0.25 TPD (Ton per Day) Methanol from high ash Indian coal using a 1.2 TPD Fluidized bed gasifier.
      • The methanol purity of the crude methanol produced is between 98 and 99.5%.
    • This is part of NITI Aayog's 'Methanol Economy' programme that is aimed at reducing India's oil import bill, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and converting coal reserves and municipal solid waste into methanol.
    • Also this in-house capability will assist India's coal gasification mission and coal-to-hydrogen production for Hydrogen Mission.
  • NITI Aayog’s Methanol Economy Programme:
    • About Methanol: Methanol is a low carbon, hydrogen carrier fuel produced from high ash coal, agricultural residue, CO2 from thermal power plants and natural gas. It is the best pathway for meeting India’s commitment to COP 21 (Paris Agreement).
    • Methanol vis-a-vis-Petrol and Diesel: Although slightly lower in energy content than petrol and diesel, methanol can replace both these fuels in the transport sector (road, rail and marine), energy sector (comprising boilers, process heating modules, tractors and commercial vehicles) and retail cooking (replacing LPG [partially], kerosene and wood charcoal).
    • Environmental and Economic Impact:
      • Blending of 15% methanol in gasoline can result in at least 15% reduction in the import of gasoline/crude oil. In addition, this would bring down GHG emissions by 20% in terms of particulate matter, NOx, and SOx, thereby improving the urban air quality.
      • The Methanol Economy will also create close to 5 million jobs through methanol production/application and distribution services.
      • Additionally, Rs 6000 crore can be saved annually by blending 20% DME (Di-methyl Ether, a derivative of methanol) in LPG. This will help the consumer in saving between Rs 50-100 per cylinder.
    • Initiatives Taken:
      • The Bureau of Indian Standards has notified 20% DME blending with LPG, and a notification for M-15, M-85, M-100 blends has been issued by the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways.
      • In October 2018, Assam Petrochemicals launched Asia’s first canister-based methanol cooking fuel programme. This initiative is in line with the Prime Minister’s vision of striving towards the provision of a clean, cost-effective and pollution-free cooking medium.
      • Five methanol plants based on high ash coal, five DME plants, and one natural gas-based methanol production plant with a capacity of 20 MMT/annum, in a joint venture with Israel, have been planned to be set up.
      • Three boats and seven cargo vessels are being built by the Cochin Shipyard Limited for Inland Waterways Authority of India to use methanol as a marine fuel.

Way Forward

  • India, with 125 Billion Tonnes of proven Coal reserves and 500 million tonnes of Biomass generated every year has a huge potential for ensuring energy security based on alternate feedstock and fuels.
  • However, Methanol does not get the same attention from the government as EV (Electric Vehicles), even though the former can come in faster. There is significant work needed to implement the Methanol Economy holistically.
  • The development of methanol based technology can turn energy-importing India into an energy exporting country.

Source: PIB

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