Scientists from across the country, belonging to a consortium of nine laboratories, are working on an ambitious project called ‘New Millennium India Technology Leadership Initiative’ ( NMITLI), to develop a viable and scalable process of biofuel from microalgae, undertaken by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi.
The laboratories are Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar, Department of Marine Living Resources, Andhra University (AU), Vishakapatnam, Calcutta University (CU), Kolkata, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad, Indian Institute of Technology, Khargpur(IIT-KGP), National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) and Chennai, National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science & Technology (NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram.
“One of the objectives of this project is to generate primary data at sufficient scale and in realistic manner to ascertain the feasibility of large-scale marine microalgae biodiesel production with the most promising cultures from Indian coasts, estuarine and other water bodies. Also, the development of a viable and scalable process is the ultimate target. Scientists are also trying to figure out the solutions of hurdles in switching over to high volume, relatively inexpensive products such as microalgal biodiesel. The problem is not making microalgal biodiesel but producing sufficient algal biomass having high oil content with ease and in a cost effective manner,” said Dr Sandhya Mishra, scientist, Discipline of Marine Biotechnology and Ecology, CSMCRI.
Dr PK Ghosh, director, CSMCRI, said developing new energy sources is of prime importance for sustaining needs of the present and future Indian society. The concept of algal biofuel, a non-food source, has not yet been examined in India. India has several areas such as salt pans, tidal mudflats of Kutch in the west, lagoons and tidal deltas in the east that can be profitably explored for future exploitation.
Scientists said, at present there is large-scale production of first generation biofuels (bioethanol) from food crops such as, sugarcane, sugar beet, corn, sorghum and wheat, utilizing vast area of fertile cultivable farmland and large quantity of potable water which competes with food production and creates “food versus fuel” controversy. The second-generation biofuels derived from non-food sources such as jatropha, karanja, microalgae, microbial sources, ligno-cellulosic biomass and bio-ethers are better options for addressing the energy security and environmental concerns. Among the second generation biofuels, micro-algal biofuels appear to be most promising alternative.
However, Mishra said, “There are hurdles like absence of Indian microalgal database available to facilitate selection of the best strains which is one of the objective that we are fulfilling through this project.” The manufacturing process for biofuels produces less CO2 than petroleum-based fuels, but all conventional biofuels result in net positive emission of CO2. The microalgal-based HRBP process, in contrast, results in a net reduction of CO2 emission through carbon sequestration, she said.
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