Methanol Production From High Ash Coal

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    In Context

    • India’s first indigenously designed High Ash Coal Gasification Based Methanol Production Plant successfully demonstrated facility to create methanol from High Ash Indian Coal.

    About

    • Due to the high ash percentage of Indian coal, most internationally accessible technology did not cater to the Indian demands.
    • Therefore, the BHEL R&D centre at Hyderabad began working on Indian high ash coal gasification in 2016 with support from the NITI Aayog to produce 0.25 ton per day methanol. 

    What is 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 a colourless liquid that boils at 64.96 °C  and solidifies at −93.9 °C .
    • It forms explosive mixtures with air and burns with a nonluminous flame. It is completely miscible in water. 
    • Methanol was formerly produced by the destructive distillation of wood. The modern method of preparing methanol is based on the direct combination of carbon monoxide gas and hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst.This catalyst is generally derived from natural gas, biomass etc.

    Methanol Economy

    • About:
      • Globally, Methanol is derived from natural gas, which is a relatively uncomplicated process. 
      • But India doesn’t have many natural gas reserves, so producing Methanol from imported natural gas leads to the outflow of foreign exchange and proves to be uneconomical due to inflation in the prices of natural gas.
      • The next best alternative for India is to utilise Coal, which is in abundance with the country.
    • Benefits of Methanol Based Economy
      • Lower production costs: It is cheap to produce relative to other alternative fuels.
      • Reduced environmental hazards: Methanol has a lower risk of flammability compared to gasoline.
      • Increased energy security: Methanol can be manufactured from a variety of carbon-based feedstocks, such as natural gas and coal. Its use could help reduce fuel use while advancing domestic fuels.
      • It is also used to generate di-methyl ether (DME), a liquid fuel that is very similar to diesel.
      • Cleaner fuel:Methanol is a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer smog-causing emissions (sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter) thus, improving air quality and related human health issues.
      • Sustainable fuel: the use of methanol would help reduce our dependence on imported petroleum. 
      • Methanol has the efficiency to create a pathway for meeting India’s commitment to COP 21.

    NITI Aayog’s ‘Methanol Economy’ Programme

    • Recently, NITI Aayog launched the ‘Methanol Economy Programme’ that aimed to reduce India’s oil import bill and subsequent reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions while converting coal reserves and municipal solid waste into methanol.
    • Although slightly lower in energy content than petrol and diesel, methanol can replace both these fuels in the transport sector, energy sector and retail cooking (replacing LPG [partially], kerosene and wood charcoal).
    • 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.
    • Methanol Economy will also create close to 5 million jobs through methanol production. 

    Other Initiatives

    • 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.
    • In October 2018, Assam Petrochemicals launched Asia’s first canister-based methanol cooking fuel programme
    • Three boats and seven cargo vessels are being built by the Cochin Shipyard Limited for the Inland Waterways Authority of India to use methanol as a marine fuel.

    Challenges

    • Lack of necessary infrastructure
    • Inadequate waste segregation 
    • Lack of focus on this as compare to EV Policy

    Way Forward

    • It is expected that developing countries like India will account for a 25% rise in global energy demand by 2040 due to an increase in the per capita income and rapid industrialization. 
    • Methanol economy can play a breakthrough role in improving the worldwide global energy scenario. It is a single carbon compound and can be produced from a wide variety of fossil fuels and biomass products.
    • Focus on ethanol based economy should be on the similar line to EV policy.

    Conclusion

    • Adoption of Methanol and furthering high ash coal gasification that in all likelihood will reduce our import bill and aid in slowing global warming in a massive way.

    Source: BS