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From Traditional Fuel to Biofuel

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

From Traditional Fuel to Biofuel – Journey of a Revolutionary Paradox at BPCL

UCO, i.e. the used cooking oil-based biodiesel, if generated, can bring down greenhouse gas emissions by almost 91%. And therefore, it's very important to focus on these fuels. Also, while we may not have the downstream industry ready to accept these fuels for various reasons, there is definitely a case for blending these fuels in the fossil fuels; and that's exactly what we are focusing on.” - Milind Patke, Executive Director (Biofuels), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited

In the Sustainable Circular Economy Series – Doing Well by Doing Good conducted by ProMFG in collaboration with BiofuelCircle, Milind Patke, shared his insights and best practices that have been implemented within the company to create an ecosystem of Sustainability and Circular Economy

Question: Please walk us through the steps that BPCL has taken towards sustainability.

It's paradoxical when an oil and gas company, which is into the traditional oil and gas business, is getting into biofuels because we are the emitters of carbon. We are the ones now to have the responsibility to really get into biofuels or get into alternate energy, alternate fuels and show the way. By not doing so, we will be harming ourselves. But yes, I think society is far more important than the business interest alone. The writing is very clear on the wall with the Paris Declaration. By 2030, we need to really achieve a lot. It is very clear that given the per capita consumption of this country, we're definitely going to have fossil fuels, but at the same time, the fossil fuel percentage is going to come down drastically. This may not be in line with the rest of the world, as against the last 10 years or 15 years, the next 15 years will be definitely different. And by 2050, India would have achieved a very, very substantial reduction in fossil fuels. This may not be the case by 2030, but definitely by 2040 and substantially by 2050.

When we look at biofuels, we are looking at it as petrol or diesel is causing the emission of about 3.5 kg per liter of fuel, then the fuels like first-generation ethanol, have a capacity to bring down the emissions by almost 41% to 1.91 kg per liter of fuel, in case of biodiesel, by 22%. Second-generation ethanol from the lignocellulosic route can bring down by almost 81%. Used cooking oil-based biodiesel, if generated, can bring down greenhouse gas emissions by almost 91%. And therefore, it's very important to focus on these fuels.

While we may not have the downstream industry ready to accept these fuels for various reasons, there is a case for blending these fuels in the fossil fuels. Right now it's very important to understand the potential that exists in some of these fuels on a Net Lifecycle basis. Here's a very good example - Why does Used Cooking Oil have the potential of bringing about a 91% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions? Because the entire carbon footprint has been generated while processing the edible oil. After the edible oil use is over for cooking, the oil has zero value and but it can be converted into biodiesel. If the vehicle carrying the Used Cooking Oil is running on diesel, except that part, there is no other carbon emission and if that also the vehicle can run on biodiesel, then obviously even that is emission-free. This is almost 100% greenhouse gas emission reduction. There are ways and means of using this cooking oil in the refinery and co-processing along with a traditional oil and gas refinery. The problem, however, is the collection of used cooking oil. And going forward, a platform such as this can help have a far more involving discussion on the setting up of supply chains for these kinds of waste materials, which is a huge challenge. So, these are the kind of products that can result in a net greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Question: Would you like to throw some light on what are the energy-mix targets that BPCL is planning?

This question can be answered in two parts - one is the energy that we are using and the other one is the energy that we are supplying to the consumers. On the energy that we are using, we have embarked on a huge expenditure as far as the pipelines are concerned. Earlier, our products were moved using lorries. Now lorries are no longer used in major cities. Across cities, there are pipelines that directly transport the products. These pipelines are a great asset to the country in terms of reducing fuel wastage. Another is that most of our 17,000 retail outlets will have these solar rooftops. So, all the energy that is consumed by them will be generated by the solar rooftops. The third - our Mumbai refinery, which is our main asset, is using wastewater refined by RCFA. So, instead of using freshwater or saline water, we are using wastewater for the refinery operations. These are our key initiatives. When it comes to the actual energy supplied, there are huge initiatives that have been taken: The first one is first-generation ethanol. The country is producing and has been producing sugar molasses-based ethanol in the private sector and the sugar cooperative sector. But that ethanol has been by and large used in the liquor industry or for industrial or chemical use. But in the last few years, we have increased the percentage of fuel-led ethanol in petrol to be blended and sold to the consumers. There is an advantage because it's known to have a better octane value and therefore, it improves the octane value of petrol. But it reduces to some extent the calorific value of mix petrol, that is why we are mixing only 10%. Going forward, we are also planning to blend up to 20%. But that also depends largely on the development of the automobile engines, which the automobile industry is currently working on. By 2024-25, we will have engines that will be compatible with a 20% ethanol mix in petrol. So by 2024, they will be launching all the new compatible models. So, going forward by 2025, e20 will be launched. Unblended petrol will not be sold from any outlet. That's a huge reduction as far as the crude import bill is concerned.

As mentioned earlier, first-generation ethanol reduces carbon emissions by 41%. Now the second-generation ethanol is a very advanced technology and worldwide the plants have not been successful yet. Nevertheless, India has decided to put up five plants and we are putting up one plant in Bargarh, Orissa. Second-generation ethanol is made from a lignocellulosic base and it's mainly found in rice straw. Because Bargarh is the rice bowl of Orissa and it has plenty of rice for both seasons, we will get enough of the rice straw to be converted into second-generation ethanol. The world is looking at us very closely because these technologies have not been very successful in Brazil. They produce from gas because they have very large sugar factories visa-via India, but in India, we use bagasse and the sugar industry uses it as a fuel for boilers.

So here at our second-generation plant, we also have a boiler that runs on lignin. Lignin is something that comes out of the rice straw, rice straw mainly has cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Lignin is a woody part, it is used to fire the boilers along with some of the biomass. But with this boiler, we are facing very many challenges. So, these are the kinds of difficulties in putting up an ethanol plant which is very capex high, but we have nevertheless decided to go for it.