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India’s Transport Minister: Methane to Soon Replace Petroleum Imports

© AP Photo / Anupam NathAn Indian farmer sprays fertilizer at his paddy field
An Indian farmer sprays fertilizer at his paddy field - Sputnik International
The Indian minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, announced at a conference on Tuesday that developing alternative sources of energy will free India from its crippling fuel import bill.

Gadkari stated that now was the perfect time for India to become a methanol-based economy.

"We are going to develop this country where our import of petroleum will be zero. We are promoting alternative fuels like ethanol, methanol, bio-CNG […] this will boost the rural and agriculture centre and create huge employment," he said.

Though global prices are currently low, India's current crude import costs the country some Rs 4.5 lakh crore (some $67 billion) annually, Gadkari said, adding that turning the country to an alternative fuel economy will positively impact agriculture and the rural economy. Gadkari suggested that it will provide support to rural farmers, as, during the last several years, about 10,000 farmers in the Vadarbha region have committed suicide due to failing harvests and increasing costs.

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Biofuels can be manufactured using municipal waste, fruit and vegetable waste, cotton, corn, or wheat straw. As Gadkari proposed, methane can be generated from coal. Extracting ethanol and biogas from waste is cost effective, when compared to alternatives including fossil fuels, and should be financed by the government. "We are giving subsidy of Rs 45,000 crore for urea. We are importing urea and we need a research institute and transparent policy. This is the future. It is [an] import substitute."

Gadkari drew attention to the need for scientific research, technology funding and entrepreneurship support, and, according to him, the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog (NITI Aayog) is taking the initiative. The minister also pointed to the possibility of using flex-fuel cars, already in use in the US and Brazil.

An expert group established by NITI Aayog will investigate commercially-profitable technological angles for developing methanol production from natural gas, coal and various types of waste. The group will draw a roadmap to adopt a "methanol economy."

The minister emphasized the necessity to spur the process at the local level: "If there is a will, there is a way. If there is no will there is no way."

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