Three days after the Union government notified bio-CNG and hydrogen-CNG (HCNG) as automotive fuels, Coal India also announced today that it has issued a tender for coal-to-menthol projects. These newer fuels are not only diversifying the automotive fuel basket for India but can help in emission reduction to some extent.

The ministry of road transport and highways on September 25 issued a gazette notification laying down quality specifications and allowing use of both bio-CNG and hydrogen blended in CNG up to 18 per cent in motor vehicles. The notification though delayed followed a November 2018 Supreme Court directive in the MC Mehta versus Union of India, where Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s largest fuel retailer with apex research and development (R&D) facility in the area of automotive fuel, was asked to submit regular updates on HCNG to a court appointed committee.

Indian Oil had earlier told the court that it is doing a HCNG pilot project which is scheduled to be operational by July 31, 2019 and the trial on buses with HCNG is likely to begin in August 2019. It also said it was possible to introduce HCNG buses by some time in February 2020. “There were certain delays because of statutory clearances and COVID-19-induced lockdown but now everything is in place for a launch,” SSV Ramakumar, director (research and development), IndianOil told Business Standard.

Ramakumar said IndianOil was able to directly produce H-CNG gas where hydrogen is controlled at 18 per cent by partially reforming the mother natural gas. “Globally, we were the only ones to come up with this technology five years back. This method removes the need for storing and transporting hydrogen separately which can be a logistical nightmare,” he said.

The entire effort is to gear up to handle the winter pollution levels in the National Capital Region. HCNG has 70 per cent lower carbon monoxide and 25 per cent lower hydrocarbon than CNG though the NOx level is the same. “According to a directive of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, IOCL and IGL have collaborated to put up the first semi-commercial plant as a pilot project for conducting the study on the use of HCNG fuel in 50 BSIV compliant CNG buses in Delhi. After commissioning of the plant, the performance report will be submitted to the court after trials for six months. The trial period shall be used to identify challenges in dispensing,” said an Indraprastha Gas Ltd executive who did not want to be identified since the matter is subjudice.

He said a “separate compact reformer based HCNG production unit” is being set up in Rajghat-1 depot of Delhi Transport Corporation that runs city transport buses as a part of the pilot project. This compact reformer is patented by IndianOil R&D and will be used for production of HCNG fuel from natural gas at the unit rather than physical blending of CNG with hydrogen. “The economics of HCNG fuel shall be known upon completion of six month trial period,” he added.

The MORTH notification also authorizes use of bio-CNG which unlike HCNG needs further emission control measures since it emits carbon-di-oxide and has other impurities. The Union government along with states like Haryana and Punjab is also pushing for converting the residual bio-mass, that is burnt by farmers in winter to clear their fields for fresh sowing, into bio-CNG. While this incentivizes farmers to use the residue, it also helps in controlling pollution in NCR.

The other automotive fuel technology is of menthol. Coal India Limited on Friday floated a global tender inviting bids for setting up a first of its kind in India, coal to methanol (C2M) plant through surface coal gasification route on Build-Own-Operate (BOO) model. The BOO operator would be selected for the life span of the plant which is expected to be 25 years. “This is a part of implementing the methanol economy programme of the government aimed at reducing the country’s oil import bill,” said a senior executive of the company.


CIL would also supply the low ash high calorific coal of Ranigunj coalfields, having an ash content of around 24 per cent, as basic raw material for the production of 2,050 tonne of methanol daily. CIL would meet around 1.5 million tonne of coal requirement annually. “We have aligned ourselves with the national objective of reducing dependence on imported crude and the plan to set up the plant is a step in that direction. “It would also reposition coal as chemical feedstock from that of a conventional energy product resulting in considerable decrease of carbon foot print”. India is signatory to COP 21, Paris Climate Change Conference.

CIL-owned Dankuni Coal Complex (DCC) in West Bengal, currently run by its subsidiary South Eastern Coalfields Limited, is identified as the project site for the proposed C2M plant. The estimated capital outlay of the entire plant is around Rs 6,000 crore though the cost would not be borne out of CIL’s coffers. BOO operators would own and lease the plant, apart from designing, building, maintaining, producing and storing the product.

Approximately 676,000 tonne of methanol annually is targeted to be produced from the plant to be used for blending with petrol up to 15 per cent. The use of this blend would also need to be notified by the Union road transport and highways, though a Coal India official added that at this capacity the plant would cater to the methanol requirement of four states –West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar.

CIL is in discussion with IndianOil and other government owned oil companies for long term tie-ups for assured marketing of methanol.

Project Developments India Limited, the government-owned consultancy and engineering company, is the consultant for the selection of the BOO operator.

The bidder is required to have successfully built plants on BOO basis in coal to liquid, coal gasification, coal to chemical, fertilizer and methanol and the like. While the mechanical set-up of the plant is expected to be completed in 36 months, the actual commissioning of the plant is envisaged to be in 41 months. The last date for the submission of bids is December 17, 2020.

Extracted in full: