Companies

IOC bullish on producing fuel from CO2 in 3 years

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on January 09, 2019 Published on January 09, 2019

A press release issued by LanzaTech in 2017 says that IOC will invest ₹350 crore in a demonstration facility at its Panipat refinery.   -  File photo

IOC currently runs a tiny, one kg pilot plant, the first of its kind in the world

India’s biggest oil refiner, Indian Oil Corporation, is “extremely confident” that it will be able to produce transportation fuels and highly valuable Omega-3 fatty acids from carbon dioxide, the company’s Director (R&D), Dr SSV Ramakumarthe, told Business Line.

IOC currently runs a tiny, one kg pilot plant, the first of its kind in the world. Based on the encouraging results, the public sector refiner will build a commercial scale plant, he said.

Ramakumar was here in connection with the ‘12th International Symposium on Advances in Electrochemical Science and Technology”, organised by the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), one of the research institutes under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The process of refining crude oil results in the production of large quantities of CO2, an undesirable greenhouse gas.

So, IOC’s problem was — if you can’t help but produce the gas, is there any way of utilising it?

Choosing the bio-route

CO2-to-fuel is a subject that scientists have been dabbling with for decades, and IOC chose the ‘bio-route’ for this purpose.

It developed a strain of algae that can produce lipids and Omega-3 fatty acids, if fed well.

‘Algae’ refers to a whole kingdom of rootless, aquatic plant-life, which vary in size from microscopic to a metre-long. Like all plants, they need carbon to grow, but can’t take their supply of carbon from the CO2 in the air.

“We were looking for a cheap source of carbon,” Ramakumar said, observing that the an easily available feed, glucose, was far too expensive.

Then, while poring through scientific literature, IOC scientists stumbled upon an American start-up called LanzaTech.

LanzaTech developed a process to produce (chemicals called) acetates from CO2. Now, the acetates are something on which IOC’s algae can feed.

In July 2017, IOC signed up with LanzaTech for a five per cent stake and a board seat. Beneath the corporate deal was the “hyphenation” of two chemical processes: CO2 to the acetates of LanzaTech, and acetates to the lipids and Omega-3 fatty acids of IOC. Ramakumar observed that they were conflicting processes: the former needs complete absence of oxygen, or else, the microbes would die; and the latter requires abundance of oxygen.

And that is how IOC will – eventually – use a million tonnes of the CO2 it produces from its refineries.

A press release issued by LanzaTech in 2017 says that IOC will invest ₹350 crore in a demonstration facility at its Panipat refinery.

It is the Omega-2 fatty acids that make the venture economically viable. A kilogram of CO2, which costs about ₹50, yields 400 gm of Omega-3 fatty acids, worth $800 (₹56,000).

One could also get 300 gr of lipids, which can be processed into bio-ethanol.

Published on January 09, 2019
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