Expanding to make 600,000 litres of Ethanol per day: Samir S. Somaiya, Chairman & Managing Director, Godavari Biorefineries Limited

  • July 05, 2022

 It is estimated that over 62 million tons of biogas can be produced from various renewable sources. Through the SATAT programme, the government has set an aggressive target to produce 25 million tons of biogas by 2025 meeting 40% of India's gas requirement.

How will biofuel, bio-CNG, and bio-electricity impact India and its economy in the long run?

The current geopolitical turmoil has dramatically increased costs of food and fuel. In addition, the entire world faces climate change. India must address its energy security and finally being an agrarian nation with millions of small farmers, India needs to provide meaningful livelihoods to its population. This can be met with farmers growing crops for food and fuel.

Renewable energy can help address these three challenges. India has an abundance of sunlight. This sunlight can help us generate solar power, but also help the crops we grow be a source of energy. Renewable energy, as opposed to energy derived from fossil fuels, helps combat and mitigate climate change.

Sugarcane is one such crop. India makes more sugarcane than it needs for sugar. The government has recognized this sugarcane surplus as a source of energy. Energy from sugarcane comes to us in three forms - ethanol as a biofuel, bio-CNG, and bio-electricity. All three have tremendous potential to meet our energy needs for mobility as well as home needs.

The Government of India in June 2021 has articulated an aggressive and excellent roadmap for ethanol blending. That report is very comprehensive and very well articulates the steps that need to be taken to take this opportunity forward. In fact, the government has advanced the target date for 20% ethanol blending from 2030 to 2025. The government is also encouraging the conversion of grain to ethanol, knowing fully well, that the total ethanol demand will exceed 15 billion litres (across all applications in 2025). Of these 15 billion litres, 10 billion will be used as a fuel.

The future will still require higher ethanol blending and energy self-sufficiency. The government is already piloting E100 as a fuel, and is asking the automobile manufacturers to make flex fuel cars. India has many other sources of biomass that can be used to generate compressed biogas. It is estimated that over 62 million tons of biogas can be produced from various renewable sources. Through the SATAT programme, the government has set an aggressive target to produce 25 million tons of biogas by 2025 meeting 40% of India's gas requirement.

Every sugar mill makes surplus electricity as it generates steam to meet its process needs. This electricity is exported to the grid, and can be used to meet the growing power needs of the country, and be a source for mobility as cars move towards electric vehicles.

Every sugar mill generates electricity as a co-product by using efficient high pressure boilers and turbines. Each sugar mill can export about 30 kwh/ton crushed of electricity while crushing cane (excluding saved bagasse). 320 million tons of cane will mean 9.6 million mwh of electricity. An electric car can give a mileage of about 7 km/kwh. This equates to about 67 billion km of distance traveled.

Petrol gives on average 10 km/l. This translates to 6.7 billion litres of petrol saved (to put this number in context, India consumed 42 billion litres of petrol in 2019). The combination of these will go a long way in addressing India’s energy security, mitigate climate change and improve farmer incomes. Further, it will also make India stronger in the context of geopolitical, climate and energy shocks.

Will India reach 20% Ethanol blending by 2025 and introduce E20 fuel by 2023? How will this result in transformation of biorefineries and rural economy?

 India will reach 20% blending by 2025. There are large investments happening to convert sugarcane syrup and/or B molasses to ethanol. Simultaneously, there are investments in setting up grain based ethanol facilities.

With these initiatives, the country is poised to achieve a 20% blend by 2025. With the manufacture of flex fuel cars, and the imperative of energy security especially in the face of global supply shocks, there is a greater consensus on implementing green and sustainable sources of energy and biomaterials.

This will provide an option to agribusinesses to make foods and fuels. This will lead to a stability of revenue streams and consequently farmer incomes. To give an example, earlier, sugarcane was used only to make sugar. Surplus production of cane weighed heavily on the sugar market, leading to surpluses, lower selling prices and sales, cane arrears, and then lower cane production - amplifying surpluses and deficits.

The Biofuel market provides a ‘sink’ for production and stability to the markets and to farmer incomes. This will lead to the set[1]ting up of industry in rural areas and will translate to rural prosperity.

What’s the present yearly capacity of Ethanol for Godavari Biorefineries? Are you further expanding your ethanol capacity?

Godavari has always been at the forefront of making ethanol from sugarcane. The company rapidly increased its ethanol capacity from 200,000 litres per day to its current ethanol capacity of 400,000 litres per day.

We are currently expanding to make 600,000 litres per day from the coming sugarcane crushing season. Next year, we further plan to add a bolt on capacity for adding grain as a feedstock giving us greater flexibility and resilience in our ethanol capacity.

The company is planning to jump into Ethanol based Specialty Chemicals for Pharma Intermediates and Agro Intermediates. Any development on this front?

The company is already in the business of ethanol based specialty chemicals. Chemicals comprised almost 35% of our business in the year ended March 2021. The company plans to continue to expand in the business of making specialty chemicals in a wide range of end use applications, including pharmaceutical intermediates, agrochemicals, coatings, and more.

What’s your approach to sustain[1]ability and plans for achieving net zero? Sustainability initiatives that will improve resource and product sustain[1]ability for the company?

The company fundamentally believes in using renewable resources to make fuels, energy, biochemicals, biomaterials and other products. Sugarcane and ethanol are used to make all the products listed above. The company believes in the concept of a cascading and circular biorefinery.

In addition, the company is also working with farmers to use drip irrigation, inter-crop[1]ping, remote sensing, soil testing, bio-fertilizers, and traditional agro-ecology practices like Panchagavya and Jeevamrut to reduce the carbon footprint, improve soil health, improve farm yields and incomes.

What is the latest development regarding your R&D facilities?

The company has three R&D facilities outside Mumbai and at each of its manufacturing locations. The company has R&D facilities from laboratory to pilot plant facilities. Godavari believes in co-creating end-use applications with collaborators and customers. Since these research programmes are developed internally, these facilities are needed to optimize reaction conditions, yields and scale up.