SpiceJet spices up the fuel scenario with test flight powered by biofuel

After spicing up on-board meals with pre-booking discount, SpiceJet has done something more seminal--- its first-ever successful flight from Dehradun to Delhi powered by 75 percent aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and 25 percent biofuel fuel mix. In a country that boos and lampoons frugal innovators---Prime Minister Modi for his suggestion to use gutter gas as cooking fuel a few days ago and Raman Pillai for his petrol from herbs more than two decades ago—SpiceJet’s initiative could well be an accelerator on the fuel front.

In Sweden, methane is being generated from sewage to make bio-CNG to run buses. The Congress Party and its President Rahul Gandhi have betrayed their ignorance by lampooning Modi for suggesting the use of methane found in abundance in Indian gutters.

The USA came out with a first-ever possible substitute for hydrocarbon-based petroleum products. Its shale gas discovery in 2000 has not only made the US self-dependant on the fuel front, sending shivers down the spines of oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia but also sent out a positive message that substitute is the antidote to monopoly and its green-mailing threats.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Simon Locks in a vastly informative article describes how the OPEC and Russian strategy to render shale gas production unviable through relentless reduction in prices of hydrocarbon was bravely neutralised by the US, thanks particularly to its private property rights law that allows house owners to claim proprietary rights over shale gas produced in their backyards.

Porous rocks holding in their folds oil and gas are not unique to the US but almost ubiquitous. The Indian government hasn’t done enough to tap this promising source of import substitution.

The Modi government unveiled an ambitious biofuel policy on 16 May 2018 which among other things incentivises farmers to convert their surplus crops into biofuels. Of particular importance is its assertion that one crore litres of E10 (ethanol mix) saves Rs 28 crore of forex at current rates. The ethanol supply year 2017-18 is likely to see a supply of around 150 crore litres which will result in savings of over Rs 4,200 crore of forex.

Petrol sold in Indian petrol bunks contains a 10 percent ethanol mix. The USA also does the same but gives an option to the vehicle owners to choose from a variety of combinations of fuel mix. Brazil follows a more aggressive biofuel policy with 25 percent ethanol mix being de rigueur but going right up to 100 percent. Being the largest producer of sugarcane with enormous surplus naturally it can afford to divert a sizeable portion of its sugarcane harvest to ethanol for fuel.

India’s fuel imports are pegged at Rs 6 lakh crore. Biofuels can easily bring about tremendous reduction in this import dependency and foreign exchange guzzling besides making the environment cleaner. It is not as if biofuel can be made only from sugarcane; corn, beetroot, broken cereals and sorghum, etc also lend themselves admirably to being used as biofuel feedstock.

Our biofuel policy does recognize the potential and plans to set up ten biofuel refineries but the fight against hydrocarbon must be carried out on a war footing. SpiceJet has shown the way ---if ethanol mix in the air is safe, it can be safer still on terra firma.

Our fuel revolution hinges on two things---biofuel from crops in which farmers have a vital role to play. It can enrich them. But corporate India too has a role to play by scouring for shale gas. While we have a reasonable estimate of hydrocarbon resources in India, we are yet to do so on the shale gas front. Shale gas production requires enormous quantities of water. We need investments to stop the sad spectacle of rain and flood waters merging into the seas and instead harnessing them for agriculture, drinking water and shale gas production.

(The author is a senior columnist. He tweets @Smurlidharan)

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 16:44:35 IST

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