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India’s energy engineering is evolving towards sustainability: IIT-B professor

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Rangan Banerjee teaches energy science and engineering at IIT Bombay. Speaking to Srijana Mitra Das, he discusses major changes taking place across Indian industries aiming to achieve energy efficiency:

has announced a 2035 net zero carbon target — what does such a transition involve?

A. There are plenty of possibilities. In oil and gas, the actual refining accounts for only a small percentage of emissions — these could be offset. Next, in terms of understanding the total Co2 generated from an industry, Co2 per unit of energy is multiplied by energy per unit of output — this can be made more efficient by reducing the energy per unit of output. Also, Co2 per unit of energy can be made zero by using renewables — any industrial process needs heat and electricity. If that comes from solar photovoltaic, wind or hydropower, it becomes zero carbon. Another option is to segregate and capture the Co2 and store it. Globally, oil companies are trying this approach — a project in Norway’s Leitner is segregating carbon which is being used for enhanced oil recovery in old oil wells. It’s a positive development that companies are setting net zero targets and exploring all the options towards these. Global oil groups like British Petroleum (BP) are studying the possibilities of biofuels, biorefineries, solar energy, etc. The interesting question is the scope of change.

How does India’s energy sector compare to the US and China?

A. In terms of energy per unit of output, India is higher than the US but lower than China. The US has saturated much of its demand for steel, cement and aluminium. Most of its GDP comes from the services sector. India shows a similar trend. China is different as it provides most of the world’s industrial output.

India actually has some of the world’s most energy efficient industries. For example, we have some of the most efficient cement plants globally — the Indian average in energy intensity in cement is much lower than the world average. In chemicals and fertilisers too, India has some of the world’s most efficient plants.

It’s helpful that the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has started a Perform, Achieve and Trade scheme — all the large industries are tagged with their specific energy consumption. They aim to reduce this over a set duration. This process is tracked while the Bureau also awards the most efficient industries.

Which sectors in India should improve energy efficiency?

A. Almost every sector should do this. Cement is doing well. But even here, many plants are lower than the global and Indian average. In terms of Co2 emissions, steel, cement, aluminium and chemicals should adopt sustainable changes. So should textiles and pulp and paper. It makes sense for them to have zero carbon processes. This will bring competitive advantage — demand is changing now with conscious consumers looking at eco-labels. Secondly, the European Union and other export markets are changing their emissions benchmarks. There are also real possibilities underway for changing the process in many of these industries — Elysis, set up by Alcoa and Rio Tinto, is working on a process for zero carbon aluminium by 2024.

These transitions involve major investments. They need a consortium of industries and governments. But, given that India has a significant presence in many energy-intensive sectors, it makes sense for our industries to see the future and start process modifications.

has a process called Hisarna, which is more energy efficient and less carbonintensive. This is at a relatively small scale now but they are working towards a prototype.

India’s fertiliser industry has some plants performing carbon capture and utilisation for urea production. Indian Oil will also begin a large-scale carbon capture project in one of their refineries soon. Alongside, we’re seeing more dematerial isation. I f the Ei f fel Tower was constructed today with nanotechnology, we’d use much less steel to achieve the same strength.

Decarbonisation will be accomplished thus by changing industrial processes, integrating with renewables and carbon capture. This movement needs more investment, planning and R&D.

Are we looking at a complete reworking of energy engineering in India, focusing far more on the environment?

A. We should be — there are challenges though. There is, for instance, a lock-in with large, centralised operations. We’ve been used to mega-sized power plants and so, we want to do solar energy in the same way when we actually need decentralised solutions. We should design small, distributed solar units connected to a large grid. But that’s not how this is developing. However, in conventional coal, oil and gas, energy engineering and technology are evolving — there is new vision and the rules of the game are changing.


(Views expressed are personal)

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