Will methanol engines propel growth for inland waterways in India?

With a vision to take the sustainable route for logistics and to reduce the overall cost of operations, the Government of India is planning to convert its inland waterways vessels into methanol engines.

Aimed at promoting alternative fuel to reduce India’s dependence on imported petrol and diesel, the government is already in talks with Deccan Water Treatment to undertake the conversion of existing diesel engines into methanol onres, a source privy to the matter informed adding that the NITI Aayog is facilitating conversion of inland waterways at Haldia, Varanasi, and Allahabad under this project.

To be implemented through Deccan ScandiNAOS India, a 70:30 joint venture between Deccan Water Treatment and ScandiNAOS with the latter being the technology partner, the project will drive the nations Methanol Economy’ program by providing design and supply methanol fuel solutions for internal combustion engines as well as conversion for existing conventional fuel engines to run on methanol.

The Aayog has drawn a comprehensive plan to replace 20% of crude imports from methanol alone which will help bring down pollution in the country by more than 40%. Under the plan, 500 barges will be converted to run on 100% methanol replacing heavy oil or bunker oil, resulting in a reduction of pollutants into seas and rivers.

Why Methanol?

Methanol is a low carbon, hydrogen carrier fuel produced from high ash coal, agricultural residue, CO2 from thermal power plants, and natural gas.

Touted as a future marine fuel due to increasingly stringent climate ambitions to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Its clean-burning properties make it the best option for India to meet its commitment to COP21.

Methanol can also help India bolster energy security by looking at the domestic production of energy products.

Methanol can be readily produced in India from a variety of feedstocks like coal, natural gas, naphtha, and biomass, which is more economically viable than importing fuels.

Among all, the nation plans on utilizing it Coal for the production of methanol – being the most economically viable option for India, as coal reserves are abundant in India and relatively cheaper compared to natural gas or crude oil, a significant proportion of which is imported.

Apart from easy production, the overall cost of using methanol in operations is also cheaper when compared to gasoline or ethanol.

It is estimated that the cost of gasoline including taxes is INR 94.49 per litre and the cost of ethanol, including taxes on an energy equivalent basis with gasoline, is INR 69.9 while the cost of methanol on an energy equivalent basis with gasoline is INR 37. 6, making methanol more economical compared to ethanol and petrol.

Methanol can also be a strategic approach in the Government of India’s (GoI’s) interest to increase traffic on its inland waterways. In 2016, the National Waterways Act marked the beginning of a massive project to move more freight and passengers along India’s intricate inland waterways. Methanol can support this vision by being a fuel that could reduce inland shipping’s impact on the ecosystems of rivers, improve air quality around rivers while protecting the livelihoods and quality of life of many communities that live along India’s rivers. On top of it, experts believe methanol is expected to significantly improve the efficiency of IWT engines.

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