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Bio-energy – fuelling India’s growth

Climate change and energy security are major issues that need to be urgently addressed. White energy security is an issue of sovereignty; climate change is an area in which India can be a leader in providing solutions to the world.

While the government is garnering efforts to make India the clean energy world capital, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has flagged clean energy and swatch Bharat—waste to energy as two of its key missions.

DBT has recently achieved significant milestones in bio-energy research and scale up from fundamental research to applications to ensure nimbleness and constant access to the best technologies.

Significant achievements

Four centres of excellence each specializing in their own areas –

  1. Algal laboratory at DBT-ICT CEB, Mumbai
    Algal laboratory at DBT-ICT CEB, Mumbai
    1.DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences, Mumbai is a unique place that integrates basic and translational science capabilities for bioprocess development and scale up. The 10 ton/day biomass demonstration facility based on the novel DBT-ICT Lignocellulosic Ethanol Technology, the development of novel ‘Hybrid Technology’ for the treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW) and municipal liquid waste (MLW) and the commissioning of 1000L modular photobioreactors designed for autotrophy as well as mixotrophy growth of algae are some of the salient achievements for the Centre.
  2.  3000	litre Tubular Algae Photo Bioreactor facility at DBT-IOC Center Faridabad
    3000 litre Tubular Algae Photo Bioreactor facility at DBT-IOC Center Faridabad
  3. DBT IOC Centre for Advanced Bioenergy Research, Faridabad is a finest example of collaboration of DBT with an industry. The Centre has established protocols for Life Cycle Assessment and GHG emission evaluation of all grades of biofuels. Unique process for CO2 fermentation and conversion to lipids has been carried out and a pilot is under installation. Development of enzymes needed for cellulosic ethanol is a major programme of the centre. It is planning a 10 ton/day cellulosic ethanol green field plant to be operational by Q2 2019
  4. DBT-ICGEB Centre for Advanced Bioenergy Research has been extremely useful in taking science and technology in bioenergy area to a new height, as obvious from the technologies developed, patents filed and articles published in high impact journals. Key technologies developed that are being in the process of scale-up are ‘potent enzyme composition for biomass hydrolysis’, ‘engineered bacteria for C5 fermentation to ethanol’ and ‘engineered algae with enhanced CO2 sequestration’. Deep synthetic biology intervention led to discovery of new pathway for fatty alcohol production and CRISPR/Cas9 based genome engineering led enhanced fungal enzyme production.
  5. 3rd Oversight Committee meeting on 15-16th February, 2016 at DBT-ICGEB Center, New Delhi
    3rd Oversight Committee meeting on 15-16th February, 2016 at DBT-ICGEB Center, New Delhi

  6. PAN IIT Bio-energy Centre constitutes a network of 32 investigators from 5 IITs working on 5 thematic areas

Capacity Building in Bioenergy

  • Ten post doc fellows attracted back to country under the Energy Bioscience Overseas Fellowships – They are now placed in some of the centres of excellences on bio-energy in the country.
  • Launching the Bioenergy Awards for Cutting Edge Research — India and United States have joined hands to support a fellowship that will allow a group of fellows and interns to pursue cutting edge research in various areas of bio-energy in US institutes of repute. This will help build capacity in clean and environmentally safe energy.

International Cooperation in Clean Energy

  • Co-ordinating the Mission Innovation on clean energy for India – Minister for Science and Technology & Earth Sciences Dr Harsh Vardhan announced India’s plans to double the country’s investment in Clean Energy Research over the next five years at the Mission innovation Ministerial at San Francisco where he led an Indian delegation.
  • Indo-US Joint Clean Energy Research and development Centre – DBT is supporting bio-fuel consortium led by IICT Hyderabad and University of Florida from the US. This programme is being co-ordinated by DBT along with US Department of Energy under an MoU signed between both countries in November 2010.

DBT established network of more than 100 scientists working to realize the goals of National Biofuel Policy.

More than 100 papers published & more than 12 patents filed.

The priority areas under which work is now being nurtured include:

  • Waste to Energy – Proposals have been invited to develop and demonstrate technologies for sustainable utilization of MSW waste for cleaner and pollution free environment as well as generation of the energy from MSW.
  • Synthetic Biology – Research is being supported to develop synthetic bio-fuel molecules
  • Algal Biofuels–(micro, macro, cyanobacteria, heterotrophic) Algae biofuels may provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels. However, a number of hurdles like strain identification and improvement, both in terms of oil productivity and crop protection, nutrient and resource allocation and use, and the production of co-products to improve the economics of the entire system need to be overcome for optimum utilization of the technology. DBT is working to support research on some of these challenges.
  • Drop in Fuel – which can obviate massive new fuel infrastructure can be a game changer. DBT is initiating support for proposals in that direction.
  • Bio-Hydrogen– Department has recently initiated supporting research projects on production of biohydrogen realizing the potential of biohydrogen as a fuel for future. Promising microbes have been identified to produce biohydrogen from low-cost carbon source.
  • Bio-butanol — This is being looked as a sustainable and next generation biofuel studies are in progress for production, process optimization, scale up.
  • Gas Fermentation — Microbial conversion of CO2/CO/H2 from effluents to fuels or chemicals. The effluents from Power plants, Steel mills which are released into atmosphere can be used to convert biologically into alcohols and other chemicals.
  • Life Cycle Assessment Study — LCA methodology can be applied to the renewable energy products and process for assessment of environmental impact of the developmental projects. LCA study can provide more reliable and comprehensive information in selecting sustainable products and processes. Net energy gain (NEG) the difference between total energy output and total energy input is one of the accepted indices for analysing energy efficiency, similarly ratio of total energy output to total energy input (NER) reflects the energy efficiency of the process.