‘India’s biofuel space is huge’
Sanjiv Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of Indian Oil Corporation Limited
Q: What is the future of fossil fuels in India? Many experts believe that by 2030, electric mobility will become a way of life, resulting in reduced demand for gasoline and diesel.
Let us look at mobility from the customer’s point of view. They want it to be economical and reliable. When we started driving two-wheelers, they were all two-stroke engines, giving a mileage of 35-40 km per litre; 40 km per litre was a dream. Today, the fuel economy has changed the game. Cars are extremely reliable. If you look at electric vehicles (EVs), technically they are extremely advanced. But there are issues, too. Let us look beyond emissions... look at the complete lifecycle—how are we generating electricity, manufacturing batteries, and how frequently are batteries being replaced and disposed of. EVs provide a wonderful alternative but how aggressively they come to India depends on each and every aspect that I mentioned. Infrastructure is also an issue for them. Our internal and global assessments indicate that internal combustion engine (ICE) cars will remain the major option for transportation at least for a few decades. In the automobile space, a lot of growth is happening, with a lot of urban families owning more than one car. Many people also want to move from two-wheelers to four-wheelers. However, hybrids can come in a big way since they don’t require charging. The electric motor takes care of the car when the ICE is the least efficient. But at higher speeds, it is the engine that kicks in and charges the battery.
Q: What are the alternatives you are looking at?
There is a lot of work happening on hydrogen fuel cells, which requires hydrogen as input and water vapour is the only emission. It also does not have a storage issue like a conventional battery. The only challenge: the way we are producing, it is expensive. We have a hydrogen dispensing unit in our research and development centre in Faridabad. We are running a trial bus service from Faridabad to Delhi using hydrogen fuel cells, in a tie-up with Tata Motors. Hydrogen can be produced from water; now imagine what can happen if we can use solar energy to produce hydrogen from water (by the process of electrolysis). What can be better than that? EV is not the end of the journey. The other options are a little away from going commercial. But while we are looking at all these options, conventional engines are now extremely environment-friendly and efficient. A BS-VI diesel engine’s emissions are the same as that of a compressed natural gas (CNG) engine. So, when we talk about diesel engines, let us not talk about a truck which is 15 years old, but which will hit the roads in 2020.
Q: What about biofuels?
We strongly believe that there is a greater opportunity for India in the biofuel space. It has the potential to help other stakeholders like sugarcane farmers. Sugarcane production is really high and sugar prices are really low but ethanol production is a way out. Earlier, ethanol could only be produced from molasses but now it can be produced from sugarcane juice too. Also, it fetches a higher price for the farmers. We can go up to 20% ethanol blending in fossil fuels; the national average in just 4%. But in states where there is a lot of ethanol, like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, we have gone up to 10% blending. The restrictions on inter-state movement of ethanol are also gone. So, farmers get a good price, so do refiners, and we are able to reduce our crude oil dependence, as I don’t have to make that much gasoline. Pollution levels, too, are lower since the octane levels are higher.
Q: What about biogas as an alternative to fossil fuels?
The third biofuel that people have ignored is biogas. We can make biogas from any kind of biowaste. The potential in India is close to 63-65 million tonnes, close to our total gas consumption. Even if we produce only 15 million tonnes, we can reduce our imports by 50%.