Praj Industries is working on scaling up its ethanol production from non-edible sources like corncobs and baggase by converting ligno-cellulose biomass to ethanol. According to the company,this could bring down the cost of ethanol substantially as the raw materials are fairly abundant and the process is cost effective; the company has set itself a target of Rs 15 per litre.
It is tying up with states sugar mills to add a module to convert baggase to ethanol,while exploring options for the same in the US using corncobs as base. By using residue for base,the comany hopes to avoid the food versus fuel debate,that raged when the food prices peaked in 2007.
At present,ethanol is produced using starch based feed like potato and corn,or sugar based feed using molasses or sugar syrup. The third type of ethanol conversion,from ligno-cellulose to sugar was achieved in April 2008 on a laboratory level,following which the company filed a patent. In January this year,the pilot plant was commissioned which produces two tones of ethanol per day. Many have been striving to produce ethanol from non-edible base. Ligno-cellulose biomass,where the basic feed stock will be non-edible agri-residue like straws,hay,grass and baggase will eventually be cost effective, said Pramod Chowdhari,chairman,Praj. There are five US based companies who are working on a similar process. By 2011,Praj hopes to set up a commercial-demo plant for the production of ethanol using ligno-cellulose bio mass. It will have a capacity of producing 15,000 litres to 30,000 litres of ethanol daily. The raw material used for 15,000 litres would be 50 tonnes. Agri waste like corn cobs will be used to the extent that they are available. To scale up,we would be looking at cultivating certain types of grass which would be grown in barren land, said Shashank Inamdar,CEO,Praj.
Chowdhari also called on the government to focus on ethanol,despite the falling crude oil prices. The shift of focus now is a shortsightedness on behalf of the government, he said. In India,2.2 billion litres of alcohol is produces annually,200 million is used for blending purposes. Most of the demand for ethanol is driven by government mandate. Despite,falling crude oil prices,European governments have issued directions recently for blending ethanol with petrol, said Inamdar.