India sees a deep-fried path to lower crude imports

The government panel on alternative fuels says India can make at least 20 lakh tons of biodiesel annually by processing used cooking oil from restaurant chains


India consumed about 2.2 crore tons of gasoline and 7.5 crore tons of diesel in the 12 months through 31 March. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
India consumed about 2.2 crore tons of gasoline and 7.5 crore tons of diesel in the 12 months through 31 March. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Mumbai/New Delhi: India’s love for fried food could help curb its crude oil imports.

The nation of 130 crore people can make at least 20 lakh tons of biodiesel annually by processing used cooking oil from restaurant chains, said Ramakrishna Y.B., the head of an Indian government panel that’s looking at the potential for fuels derived from plants.

“These are low hanging fruits,’’ Ramakrishna said in an interview in New Delhi on 3 August. State-run Indian fuel retailers are due to announce investments in biofuels later this week, he also said, without specifying which companies.

India’s crude consumption growth is expected to outstrip all other nations in the decades ahead, highlighting risks to the fastest-expanding major economy from a heavy reliance on imports. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal is to reduce such overseas energy purchases by 10 percentage points by 2022, through increased domestic output and greater use of alternative fuels.

“The entire 10% reduction in oil imports can be met through biofuels,’’ Ramakrishna said.

India consumed about 2.2 crore tons of gasoline and 7.5 crore tons of diesel in the 12 months through 31 March, both records, based on oil ministry data.

India is one of the top edible oil consumers in the world. Ramakrishna pegged usage at 2.0 crore tons to 2.2 crore tons per year. The challenge is putting in place a reliable system to collect and reuse these supplies.

The $2 trillion economy has struggled for about a decade to blend more ethanol with gasoline, and biodiesel with regular diesel. The goal this year is 5% blending for both gasoline and diesel. Presently, the figure for gasoline is about 3.6%, and there’s very little mixing of diesel and biodiesel.

India imports about 80% of the crude it needs. The country is expected to surpass Japan as the world’s third-largest oil user this year and will be the fastest-growing crude consumer in the world through 2040, International Energy Agency estimates show.

“We have to reduce import dependency,” oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at the Bloomberg Address in New Delhi on 1 August.

Ramakrishna said India in a decade could achieve 20% blending of ethanol in gasoline and as much as 10% of biodiesel in diesel — if farming policies are supportive by encouraging more cultivation of biofuel crops such as jatropha.

“We just need to provide farmers quality seeds and a fair price,” he said. Bloomberg

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