Praj is executing four plants of 2G Ethanol : Shishir Joshipura, Praj
Praj industries, a domestic biofuel technology provider, is bullish on the recent push by the government for the biofuels sector. The country will expand production capacity going forward, Shishir Joshipura, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director told ETEnergyWorld in an interview. He talked about the company’s plan to offer technology allowing industry players to make renewable natural gas, second generation ethanol and bio jet fuel.
Edited Excerpts: What is the status of the 2G ethanol projects you are helping set-up for the Oil Marketing Companies? There are four plants which we won through competitive bidding. Among the four, the first one was in Panipat for Indian Oil Corporation, the second one was for Bharat Petroleum in Odisha and the other two projects have now gone into construction phase. We have finished engineering for all the four. Civil works have begun, equipment ordering has started and major contracts have been awarded. Those sites are progressing towards mechanical completion. In 12-14 months we should see these two plants get commissioned. The other two plants are at different stages and we will make announcements during the year.
Are the capacities for all the four facilities same? What would be feedstock requirement for such plants? Three of the projects, being set up for IOC, BPCL and HPCL, have same capacity of 1 lakh litres per day, while the one for MRPL would have a capacity of 60,000 litres per day. The feedstock requirement will not be the same for all the plants as there are some variations locally. We are looking at a feedstock requirement of 400 tonnes of material per day. The three facilities by IOC, BPCL and HPCL will be based on rice straw and the MRPL one will use rice straw as well as corn stover. Is the demo Compressed Bio-gas plant which Praj was working on ready? The plant will be commissioned in two weeks from now. The technology is state-of-the art and these plants are unique. These CBG plants will mostly come up in rural areas near fields. Therefore, we have ensured that the technology we have brought is virtually maintenance free. Once the plants start operations you do not have to worry about it. The yields from our technology are expected to be at least 1.5 times more than any other existing technology. Both these factors should ensure a healthy growth in business. How many domestic technology licensors are currently present in India? Essentially there are only two schools of technology worldwide -- Continuous Stirred Reactors (CSTR) and Plug Flow Reactors (PFR). PFR technology is a bit complex to master but it is very easy in the hands of the customers. We also have CSTR but we are still offering PFR because we believe that really addresses the needs of the customers and there are many companies in this space. What would be the minimum size a CBG plant that a farmer or an entrepreneur can set-up? The way this works is, it is not only about consuming the bio-mass. It is also about managing the gas output that happens. Typically, 100 ton of biomass would be required as feedstock. It is not as if every field will have a CBG plant. It will be more of an aggregated model, where multiple fields will be involved. The yield for such a plant would be around 10 tonne of gas per day. The chairman, in the 2018-2019 annual report, mentioned the company’s focus on renewable chemicals. Can you explain the plan? It is a very natural evolution from single bio-fuel to a whole basket of bio-fuels -- liquid biofuels to gaseous bio-fuels and derivatives thereof. The next progression is renewable chemicals. As the chairman mentioned this is the new horizon which the company is exploring but as things are at a Research and Development phase it will be too early for us to comment. We are confident that this space has a lot of potential. Could you update us on the partnership with US-based GEVO on producing iso-butanol through second generation route? We have finished the process of generating iso-butanol using different sugary feedstock and cellulosic sugar as well, which is second generation. The process has been developed, certified and we have shared it with GEVO and now we are in the process of starting out a plan of action as we have already figured out how to produce iso-butanol and how to produce bio-jet fuel from iso-butanol. Both the steps are clearly understood by both the companies and now we are in the process of offering it to the marketplace and making a commercial proposition. The government is promoting production of bio-diesel from used cooking oil. Has there been an increase in the use of this technology since the scheme was unveiled? We are already working on two-contracts for these plants. We have a very specialised enzymatic process which we have developed. That allows customers to use different kinds of feed stocks as compared to relying on just one kind. So our process is enzymatic and not chemical, which the traditional processes were. We are able to handle larger variations in the input than any other technology. Overall in the country, do you see the industry ramping capacity when it comes to second generation ethanol plants, biofuels etc? We have seen an increasing role of biofuels in the country whether it is ethanol, second generation ethanol, biodiesel, bio jet fuel, renewable gas. We are seeing biofuels starting to increase share in India’s energy basket. There is a clear gap between the demand and supply of these biofuels and the gap is very significant. We are just scratching the surface when it comes to capacity. The gap in demand and supply should drive capacity upwards and we are very positive about that. How did operations fare this fiscal? What are the key industry trends you have witnessed in the first nine months of this fiscal? One of the good things is that our Pharma HiPurity business is turning back to growth rates. It did face some headwinds but we have been able to reverse that as we progress this financial year. The business is getting better by the quarter. We have also seen good traction on the bio-energy side of the business. Second generation ethanol business has picked up momentum and two of four 2G ethanol projects where we have participated are now at full construction phase, which is a very positive development. We are also expecting increased traction from overseas, especially the European Union. EU has passed a law which stipulates doubling of ethanol blending in fuel from the current level. They have also said that all incremental blending needs to come from advanced bio-fuels or the second-generation route. In light of this development, EU will start building capacity in a couple of years, which is good for the business. On renewable natural gas a policy was announced – SATAT scheme. Another important development in the space is the government announcing the off-take price for CBG till 2029. The setting of price is very good, as it gives clear visibility on project financials and should enable developers to start taking proposals to banks for funding. It is a minimum floor-price -- Rs 46 per Kg up to March 2024; and Rs 46 per Kg from 1st April 2024 up to 2029 Rs 46 will be treated as the floor-price. On the first generation ethanol side, which is the main-stay of the company’s business for many years, domestic market faced some headwinds because of challenges around funding (sugar mills) and the customers faced some other issues as well. But still the business has grown and our market share has increased significantly, crossing 75 per cent in the segment. On the export front, South America, which is a major market for us, last year witnessed increased volatility. Various countries in the region faced their own set of political problems but that seems to be settling down now. We have tied up with DEDINI in Brazil and are confident that the pact will take us forward in one of the biggest bio fuel markets in the world. The company is the world’s largest sugar machinery manufacturing company and we have tied-up with them to take our technology to the Brazilian market for corn to ethanol. The segment is expected to grow there. The brewery segment did not record the same kind of growth witnessed in the previous year but continues to show healthy growth and we will take the business international now. You will soon see some results coming from that effort as well. Our zero liquid discharge business is also beginning to solidify its presence in the market place and we believe that could be a big opportunity for us.
Source: Economics Times