Crucial CBG: Advanced technologies needed to meet SATAT goals

Advanced technologies needed to meet SATAT goals

Vinod Paremal, Regional President, Evonik India Subcontinent

With a growing population of more than 1.3 billion, India’s appetite for fuel is massive. To satiate the demand, the country imports close to 85 per cent of its crude oil requirements. Oil has gained notoriety for its wildly fluctuating prices and its import costs impact India’s foreign exchange.

On October 1, 2018, the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas launched the Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) scheme for India. The primary goal of SATAT was to decrease India’s reliance on foreign imports of oil by becoming more self-reliant through the adoption of compressed biogas (CBG) to replace petrol, diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG).

In terms of numbers, the SATAT goals are significant. By way of these initiatives, the government aims to have 5,000 plants set up by 2023-24, with a cumulative production output of 15 MMT of CBG and 50 MMT of bio-manure that is left behind after the extraction of the gas.

As of August 2021, the oil marketing companies have issued 2,407 letters of interest,  commissioned 13 plants and 1,826 tonnes of CBG have been produced and sold in the country. By way of signing memorandums of understanding with India’s leading oil and gas companies, city gas distribution networks will be built and the government has earmarked Rs 750 billion towards this effort.

CBG is essentially highly purified biogas that has a methane content of at least 90 per cent. The raw biogas is produced through the anaerobic decomposition of biomass which could include sewage waste, agricultural waste, municipal solid waste (MSW), animal waste, sugarcane press mud, and any such organic matter.

India has been facing major challenges with regard to the safe disposal of the 62 million tonnes of garbage that it produces every year. Nearly 50 per cent of the MSW alone that is produced annually consists of organic matter that is either burnt which causes air pollution, or dumped in landfills, which allows harmful chemicals to leach into the ground, causing degradation of the soil and the water table. The organic matter rotting in landfills also releases methane into the environment, which is a greenhouse gas that has been a major contributor to global warming.

India has been facing major challenges with regard to the safe disposal of the 62 million tonnes of garbage that it produces every year

Through the adoption of CBG, organic waste can instead be used as feedstock to produce gas. The material left over after the extraction of methane is completed can be used as organic fertiliser for agriculture. This creates a circular economy and as a consequence, wealth is created from waste. The ecological benefits are numerous as well.

Although traditional technologies have continued to be deployed for the production of methane, innovative, sustainable and advanced technologies are being engineered. One such advanced technology utilises specially engineered membrane-based technology that allow for the extraction of methane with a purity of more than 90 per cent, and the CBG produced can be directly piped into the distribution network without the need for transporting it in cascades.

Furthermore, there is the environmental impact that must be considered as well. Traditional methods of biogas up-gradation produce effluents because of the usage of chemicals and the generation of waste water. However, the adoption of membrane technology for CBG enrichment neither requires the addition of any chemicals, nor is there a need to input water into the system. Thus, there is no waste water or hazardous by-products that are created by virtue of using advanced and sustainable technologies such as membrane technology.

The adoption of membrane technology for CBG enrichment neither requires the addition of any chemicals, nor is there a need to input water into the system

These new systems might have a higher initial cost but are more ecological and by virtue of their efficiency, resulting in a lower cost of total ownership across the complete lifecycle.  They are also compatible with a wide range of feedstock and require little or no maintenance, which makes membrane technology versatile, practical and economically viable.

Although SATAT is mainly aimed at the adoption of CBG as a fuel for transportation, the usage of CBG goes beyond being just a direct substitute for petrol, diesel, and CNG for automobiles alone.

With the growing levels of air pollution and rising fuel costs, the government is also pushing for electric mobility. Although the country is one of the largest producers of electricity with an installed capacity of approximately 386.89 GW as of June 31, 2021, it is also one of the world’s largest consumers as well. Fortunately, CBG can be used to power electric vehicles as well, albeit indirectly. CBG is a good fuel with a high calorific value. This makes it very conducive to run generators, instead of diesel, or be used as a substitute for coal to heat boilers for the generation of the steam that is required to run thermal power plants and produce electricity.

Nearly 70 per cent of diesel,  99.6 per cent of petrol and 11 per cent of CNG sold in India is consumed by the transportation sector alone. Through the implementation of the SATAT initiatives, all these large volumes of fossil fuels could be substituted by CBG, thus reducing the country’s dependence on oil drastically. This will go a long way in securing the future of India’s energy roadmap and help the country become self-sufficient and self-sustaining, making for the perfect embodiment of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.