Industry-academia bonhomie driving clean energy

Once upon a time, Industry and Academia had been famous for their differences. The dispute is fast turning to mutual attraction as they come together and pool expertise to solve problems of society. Mission Innovation, an international alliance of 23 countries for boosting clean energy investment and technologies is an early beneficiary.
IIT Delhi and Thermax, a company which works on energy efficient and eco-friendly technologies are coming together to develop technologies for methanol production from Indian coal. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has tied up with the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for life cycle assessment and GHG emission evaluation of all grades of bio-fuels.
Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) — A group of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and institutional investors committed to help bring promising new zero-emission energy technologies to market—has announced a commitment to invest more than US$ 1 billion in a fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). The BEV fund focuses its investments in Mission Innovation countries, knowing that the foundation of many energy innovations will likely come through government research pipelines.
India has set up several centres, in which both academic organizations as well as industry are participating for developing sensors, devices, new materials and technologies for promoting clean energy.

DBT-IOC Centre for Advanced Bioenergy Resaerch:

This centre is one of the supreme examples of collaboration of DBT with an industry, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). Situated at Faridabad, the centre focuses on Lignocellulosic based bio-fuels, Algal research, Gas fermentation and Life cycle analysis. Development of enzymes needed for cellulosic ethanol is a major programme of the centre. This multipurpose pilot plant has the capacity designed for pre-treatment operation for multiple feed under a wide range of operating conditions and pre-treatment chemicals usage.

IIT Delhi and Thermax Collaborative Research Project:

IIT-Delhi and Thermax launched Methanol Demonstration facility. In a perfect sync with the spirit of ‘public-private partnership’ to build big technologies indigenously, a research team from IIT Delhi and Thermax, Pune had assembled to develop indigenous technology for methanol production from high-ash coal from India’s own coal resources. The pilot plant has the capacity of producing one tonne methanol every day.  The technology development is also expected to achieve the dual objective of training crucial manpower for the methanol economy. This project serves as a fine example of focused academic-industry interaction to address the challenge of sustainable energy solutions.

DBT-ICT collaboration with HPCL & BPCL:

The Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai has developed India’s first home grown technology to convert biomass to ethanol with speed and efficiency; and the technology has been transferred to BPCL and HPCL for building commercial scale biomass to ethanol plants. The technology which converts agricultural waste into bio-ethanol, is superior as the rate of conversion is four times faster than other available technologies in the international market. This plant is country’s first second-Generation (2G) ethanol plant, established at Kashipur in Uttarakhand. BPCL is setting-up 2G Biomass Ethanol Bio-refinery in Bina, Madhya Pradesh with a capacity to process 400 tonnes/day of Biomass (equivalent to 100 KL/day of ethanol generation capacity); and HPCL in Bhatinda, Punjab. Each proposed plant is expected to utilize approx. 140000 tonnes of biomass per year and yield 32000 KL of ethanol.

DST-IISc Center for Research on Energy Storage Technologies (CREST):

Department of Science & Technology (DST) collaborates with Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru for the Development of electrochemical energy storage devices with high power density including supercapacitors and power dense devices. Several ongoing research projects at this center would lead to a transformative change in the adoption of both grid-integrated and off-grid clean energy solutions in India.

DST-IITD Energy Storage Platform on Batteries (ESPOB):

DST supports feasibility assessment of fresh idea/concepts including various emerging and disruptive materials technologies for potential use in energy storage devices. With this objective, DST & IIT Delhi have come together to develop next generation materials & India-centric scalable energy storage technology, and low cost & efficient hybrid organic-inorganic membrane. ESPOB at IIT Delhi brings together different expertise for the development of redox flow battery, ion-battery and photo-electrochemical water splitting technologies using earth abundant materials.l

DST-IITB Energy Storage Platform on Hydrogen (ESPHy):

DST and ESPHy, a multi-institutional centre on Hydrogen Energy Systems at IIT Bombay have collaborated to lead the S&T research in the country in materials and systems research, prototype demonstration, and technology development. The ESPHy is a unique R & D and National Resource Centre to enable Innovations and HRD in the field of Hydrogen Energy. With the strong expertise in both materials and systems development, the Centre acts as a focal point towards development of next generation of materials and technologies, industrial and collaborative interactions, capacity building, knowledge dissemination and deployment of hydrogen based technologies.

DST-NFTDC Centre for Materials & Energy Storage Platforms on Hydrogen (MECSP):

Nonferrous Materials Technology Development Centre (NFTDC) - an autonomous and self financing R & D institution under the aegis of Ministry of Mines – in collaboration with DST is expected to lead to research and technology outputs of immense value for clean energy driven growth. The platform involves graduation from TRL - 3 to TRL - 7 translational R & D, which is predominantly anchored on Material-Process-Product integration and optimization involving materials and processes in a functional product design as systems.

DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences (CEB):

This centre at Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai (a Deemed University) is set up in collaboration with DBT for integrating basic and translational science capabilities for bioprocess development and scale up. The overall bioenergy project mission at the DBT-ICT-CEB is to generate sustainable technologies for biofuel from renewable resources. A ‘Novel Hybrid Technology’ has been developed for the treatment of municipal solid & liquid wastes, and the commissioning of modular photo-bioreactors designed for autotrophy & mixotrophy growth of algae.

DBT-ICGEB Centre for Advanced Bioenergy Resaerch:

This centre is an integrated centre for executing cutting-edge basic research and its translation into reality. The centre performs technology driven basic research through genomic, metagenomic, transcriptomic and proteomic approaches; systems biology, metabolic flux analysis, metabolic modeling; engineering algae and microbes; and the innovative leads produced from the centre will be used for the improvement of existing technology towards the production of biofuel.

A few of the key technologies developed that are being in the process of scale-up are ‘potent enzyme composition for biomass hydrolysis’, ‘engineered bacteria for C5 fermentation to ethanol’ and ‘engineered algae with enhanced CO2 sequestration’. Deep synthetic biology intervention led to discovery of new pathway for fatty alcohol production and CRISPR/Cas9 based genome engineering led to enhanced fungal enzyme production.

The DBT PAN-IIT Centre for Bioenergy:

This centre for Bioenergy Research and Innovation is funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and established to unite scientists from the premier technical institutes of the country under one umbrella mission to solve the big problems in the field of Bioenergy in India. The centre constitutes a network of tens of investigators from various IITs working on various thematic areas. The centre strives to contribute new technologies in the field of bioenergy with a focus on biofuels, lignocellulosic waste use and the engineering of strains and enzymes for better use in existing refineries.

A glimpse of some advances made in the centre’s technologies includes engineering of strains that are producing high amounts of lipids, biomass and biofuel precursor molecules; better enzymes and strains for the conversion of lignocellulosic waste; development of efficient and cost-effective catalysts for conversion of hydrocarbons to transport fuels; development of microbial carbon capture membranes that are extremely cost-effective in comparison to commercial membranes; optimization of reactors; and life cycle analysis of integrated biorefineries.

IITG-Centre for Energy:

The Bioenergy Laboratory at the centre is instrumental in developing the necessary knowledge and range of technologies to improve biofuel crops with efficient biofuel and bioenergy. The lab is involved in development of micropropagation technology for commercial scale production of genetically identical plant materials of high yielding biofuel plants. The lab is actively engaged in development of gene transfer techniques for high value biofuel plants like Jatropha and Pongamia.

A glimpse of some advances made in the centre’s featured research includes Algal route to CO2 capture, sponsored by CSIR; Synthesis of green transportation fuels (biomass gasification integrated fischer tropsch), sponsored by MNRE; Design and optimization of a circulating fluidized bed (CFB) biomass gasifier, sponsored by DBT; Cloning of elite germplasm of jatropha for large scale plantation, sponsored by DRDO; and Development of a cost effective process for biodiesel production through direct transesterification of wet algal biomass, sponsored by DST.

Venture Centre campaigns Bioenergy:

There are 25 R&D organizations and universities are engaged in Bioenergy activities and research, funded by Venture Centre, an initiative of CSIR. The spectrum of research is broad from development of biomass using molecular and synthetic biology approach to assessing biofuels for vehicles. Research on analysis & development of policies is also being carried out at some institutes. Thus there is ample scope for technology development and hope for finding integrated solutions to the complex challenges that the field faces. Key areas of activities include biofuel processing and production through multiple means.