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2G ethanol will help create more jobs in rural India: Novozymes

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 17, 2019 Published on April 17, 2019

Thomas Schroder, Vice-President, Biorefining Commercial, Novozymes

“Going for 2G ethanol would help India create a large number of jobs in rural India, apart from helping it produce green energy,” says Thomas Schroder, Vice-President, Biorefining Commercial, at Novozymes.

Novozymes, a Danish company, is the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes. Schroder, who was recently in Delhi to participate in a seminar on advanced biofuels, spoke to BusinessLine about where do the efforts to produce clean energy stand internationally. Excerpts:

Even though cellulosic ethanol is hailed as the energy technology that can help address issues associated with climate change, the world has been slow in adopting it. What are the reasons for this?

Yes, the commercial adoption of cellulosic ethanol globally has been slower than expected. But the development of the industry has been consistent and definitely in the right direction. Seven commercial plants have come up. And the total investment has been over $2 billion. Several process technologies have now been de-risked and are ready for deployment. In addition to technology maturity for the next uptake, it requires policy developments that are currently maturing across various regions, including India, China, EU and Latin America.

We are optimistic that with the significant cellulosic ethanol technology developments and the policy push, the advanced bio-fuel technology will now see the next leg of commercial rollout globally. Novozymes has extensively worked to develop the most advanced and potent cellulosic enzyme cocktails for the industry that are now commercially available with attractive conversion economics. The cost of production of cellulosic ethanol depends on a wide variety of factors, including the type and price of feedstock, technology used, enzyme performance and co-products utilised in the production process.

How economically feasible is the technology? How does it compare with fossil- based fuels such as gasoline or diesel?

A direct comparison of the cost of cellulosic ethanol with that of gasoline or diesel may not be the right way to look at the overall picture. But, when you add the environmental cost of production and use of fossil fuels, cellulosic ethanol will definitely present itself as a more attractive alternative. At present, cellulosic ethanol requires policy support and incentives to set the stage for large-scale adoption. Also, with increased adoption of green technologies and of cellulosic ethanol there might be a reduction in the demand for fossil fuels and hence lead to reduced prices. But we need to continue on the greener and more sustainable pathway — that’s a given and the biggest risk is not doing enough!

How much cellulosic ethanol is produced currently globally? Is it expected to go up in the near-term?

Currently, there are five operating plants around the globe. We have a positive short-term outlook for cellulosic ethanol expansion; several partners tell us they will break ground for new plants this year across different regions.

What, according to you, is India’s potential in tapping cellulosic ethanol? India has drawn up some ambitious plans. But they are yet to take off. What do you think is holding it back?

The Indian bio-fuel policy has referred to a surplus biomass availability of 120-160 million tonnes annually, which if converted, could produce around 30 billion litres. To start with, the government seems to point to 5-10 billion litres of cellulosic ethanol in the fuel mix by 2030 as a first step. India definitely has a significant potential for cellulosic ethanol. What makes it also unique is that there are a number of drivers for this industry apart from just the issue of climate change. Apart from reduced burden from oil imports, crop residue burning causing local air quality issues, employment generation in rural areas, improved income for farmers, etc are important considerations.

I feel the cellulosic ethanol industry is able to contribute on all of these concerns. The National Biofuel Policy, 2018, has given a clear and ambitious direction and I do not see a reason why this is not achievable. However, all the stakeholders need to be motivated and work together towards making this a reality. The government has announced 12 cellulosic ethanol (2G) plants to be built by the oil marketing companies. All these projects are in various stages of development and we are hopeful of seeing real construction soon

What are the major advantages of cellulosic ethanol as compared to 1G ethanol, produced from sugarcane or other food crops?

Ethanol produced from both cellulosic as well as 1G is essentially the same. But, cellulosic ethanol has many advantages. Firstly, it uses residual feedstocks, which are otherwise wasted or burnt. It has an attractive CO2 profile with often negative CO2 and no need for additional land use. Further, the creation of this new industry will also allow infrastructural development in rural areas, create new jobs and help India achieve its climate targets.

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Published on April 17, 2019
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