New Delhi: Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari is looking at a large-scale introduction of biofuel vehicles for road and water transportation.

To prepare a roadmap for this, Gadkari held a high-level meeting on Monday and directed government think tank NITI Aayog to study automobile standards developed by China for various methanol-powered vessels like cars and ships, and prepare a report.

The meeting was attended by several stakeholders, including NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat and secretaries from the ministries of fertilizers, petroleum and natural gas, new and renewable energy, shipping and road transport and highways.

A senior government official who was part of the meeting said on condition of anonymity that all the stakeholders agreed that India needs to cut fossil fuel imports and look for alternative and cheaper fuels like methanol.

“Government is now exploring opportunities for indigenous production of methanol and a pilot project for it is already on in Talcher (Odisha) where it is being prepared from coal," the official said, adding that NITI Aayog is also in tandem working on a road map for methanol production. Methanol can be produced from coal, natural gas, municipal solid waste, coal ash, among other sources.

R.R. Sondy of engineering company Thermax, who is also chairman of task force on production of methanol from coal, presented the big picture for methanol production in the country. According to him, India has good reserves of coal ash and can produce methanol from coal ash.

“The technology is available but commercial application of this technology is yet to be established and the task force is working with various companies to make it possible," said Sondy adding that India would be able to have its own 1,500-5,000 TPD (tonnes per day) plant by 2023.

The move comes at a time when India is focusing on increasing its coal-to- methanol production and NITI Aayog is already involved in the process. A pilot project for coal to methanol is in Talcher. Currently, India imports methanol from Saudi Arabia and Iran.