While world over, biofuels are always in the news, in India, the biofuels segment is a rather low-profile segment with little or no newsworthy events ever reported. Does this really mean that there is nothing innovative happening in the biofuel sector in India, or is it that the media is so obsessed with solar and wind that they cannot see anything else?
I think it is a bit of both.
The truth is, in spite of the fact that India really is desperate to get off its dependence on foreign oil, the government, academia and the private sector have been less forthcoming in their attention and investments for this important sector. You cannot blame the media for not focussing on this segment if there is really little to write about.
At the same time, I do feel that there are a few research-minded individuals and research organizations that have a dedicated focus to this area, and I think it is important that the Indian media focusses on their efforts so that more such efforts bloom.
One such organization I came across was the Institute of Chemical Research in Mumbai. The institute even has a separate bio-energy division. I had an interesting meeting with Dr Arvind Lalli, who was instrumental in getting the bio-energy sciences division set up. His department has been doing some impressive research with cellulosic ethanol for over three years, and they have cooked up a new enzyme that will hopefully help in lowering the costs of cellulosic ethanol. I visited their cellulosic ethanol lab and other research facilities. Quite impressive. The good news is, the division was funded by DBT to the extent of about $6 million for their cellulosic ethanol efforts.
On the corporate front, I understand that Praj Industries has been doing some impressive work in cellulosic ethanol though I am yet to meet anyone from Praj so I could understand their efforts from close quarters. The other usual suspects such as Reliance, the big oil companies etc., do not appear to have done much research in biofuels or they are possibly flying under the radar.
Even factoring those companies that are deliberately in stealth mode, I doubt there are too many innovative biofuel research companies in India. Perhaps if the media highlights those that are doing a great job, we will have many more universities such as the IITs and IISc start pouring in serious research efforts into this important area.