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India’s search for cleaner, greener fuel may end in its kitchens

Sandeep Soni

India’s energy needs are constantly increasing for which the country needs to enhance its production. However, fossil fuel reserves are depleting and keeping in mind its impact on the environment, the world needs to work on long term solutions that come from renewable energy only. The government is aiming to increase its share of clean energy through massive thrust on renewable space. With the rapid increase in pollution levels and the need to reduce the dependence on crude oil, Delhi-based Shiva Vig launched BIOD Energy -- a second-generation business that looks to “process a wide variety and worst quality of used cooking oil (UCO) into biodiesel,” Vig told Financial Express Online.

Vig has set up a biodiesel plant in Haryana that will begin production by the end of this year. The UCO division was started in June 2017 with an average collection limited to 40 litres per day and in a short span of 2 years, it has increased collection to 5,000 litres of UCO per day. The company currently has more than 600 contracts, covering over 1000 kitchens.

As of now, used cooking oil is either not discarded or disposed of in an environmentally hazardous manner and sometimes even finds its way to smaller restaurants, dhaabas, and street-vendors. “Many players have started to realize the potential of UCO to produce biodiesel. However, presently, the collection is not done optimally. The players of the industry have joined hands with restaurants, fast food chains, hotels, motels, etc, to collect UCO. Yet much more is required to be done to collect UCO from all corner including individual homes,” said Vig. FSSAI and Indian Biodiesel Association are to soon establish a nation-wide eco-system for collection of UCO and its conversion to bio-diesel. 

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The process of making biofuel is called transesterification wherein molecules of oil are split into two parts — methyl esters and glycerine. The esters are combustive and are thus used for fuel. Vig imported the technology for conversion overseas even as it can be used for converting multi feedstocks like acid oil, tallow --  an animal fat to biodiesel. “UCO is a potential source from which a cleaner, greener fuel can be made. This directly helps in curbing the pollution of the country and reduces its dependence on import of crude oil. India on average consumes 14.4 kgs of edible oil yearly. Considering only 10 per cent as waste, the potential for UCO collection is immense. This can very easily become the best and most available raw material,” said Vig.

With the population levels similar to China, India has a huge potential to match China in terms of market size. The new bio-fuel policy is in place to harness the potential and reduce the import dependency of crude oil to meet India’s growing energy demand. The National Policy on Biofuels-2018 envisages a target of 20 per cent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 per cent blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030.

Currently, diesel alone meets an estimated 72 per cent of transportation fuel demand followed by petrol at 23 per cent and the rest of the need gap is fulfilled by other fuels such as CNG, LPG, etc., added Vig. The overall blending percentage of biodiesel in diesel has been less than 0.1 per cent in the country.  If collected and processed properly, UCO has immense potential in realising green fuel use in the country.