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Institute of Chemical Technology working on next generation low cost super-scale algal biofuel

As Panchabuta has reported, the biofuels space has witnessed a lot of activity in India over the last few months.

 Indian Institute of Chemical Technology recently announced that it is working on renewable energy sources like bioelectricity and bio fuels. Recently, Khosla Ventures funded New Zealand based clean-energy company LanzaTech signs deal with Indian Oil Corporation for ethanol production in India. Praj Industries announced a partnership with Soros backed Qteros to accelerate global commercialization of Cellulosic Ethanol in countries including India.

According to reports in the Hindustan Times , Institute of Chemical Technology is working on next generation low cost super-scale algal biofuel.

Scientists at the ICT are searching for algal strains that can be used to develop next generation biofuels, as a green alternative to fossil fuels such as petrol.

“For India, where agriculture is the main occupation, both land and fresh water are very important,” said professor Arvind Lali, head, ICT’s Centre for Energy Biosciences.

“At the same time, increasing number of vehicles will give rise to rapidly growing fuel demands. Availability of biomass in the form of energy crops such as high yield grasses on farmlands or agricultural waste will make it increasingly difficult to meet the growing fuel demand in, say, 2050.”

In the US, there already exist technologies to generate algal biofuels but the cost of production is very high, around Rs500 a litre. India aims to bring down the cost to Rs20 per litre from micro-algae that can be grown on a super scale.

Stephen Mayfield, director, San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, University of California, said: “Countries with a well-trained technological force like India will have an enormous advantage, but only if investments along these lines are made now.”

ICT’s five-year project in collaboration with International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, will genetically modify the best-suited algal strains to increase productivity. The first phase, spanning two years will see an investment of Rs5 crore from the Central government’s Department of Biotechnology.

Once the best strains of algae are indentified, they will undergo genetic modification to change their photosynthetic machinery for efficient carbon dioxide assimilation and growth, followed by cost effective technologiesc for harvesting and conversion to suitable biofuels.

“Marine algae have relatively poor growth rate and biomass yield that will lead to inefficient biofuel production,” said Syed Shams Yazdani, head, Synthetic Biology and Biofuel Group at ICGEB.

“Therefore, we are metabolically engineering the marine algae to improve its growth rate and fat content for biodiesel production,” he said.

There are a number of such research activities happening in reputed universities in India that have been funded by the central Government under various schemes and programs.

 In discussion with private equity funds, Panchabuta understands their keen interest in investing in current and next generation biofuel companies and  have expressed that there are limited opportunities that are arising in this space. Panchabuta will endeavour to develop this ecosystem  and enable connect potential companies with investment bankers and private equity funds.

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