||Dr Ranjan Patnaik
Head, Biofuels Research Group, DuPont Knowledge Center (DKC), Hyderabad
DuPont, an American chemical company that was founded in 1802, has come
a long way since its inception from being a gun powder company to being
one of the fiercest advocates of providing carbon-neutral energy to the
world. DuPont’s Knowledge Center in Hyderabad, which is spread across
15 acres and has received investments worth $29 million (
is home to DuPont-BP biobutanol advanced biofuels program.
Dr Ranjan Patnaik, head of Biofuels Research Group, DKC, Hyderabad, who
was among the speakers present at EmTech India 2011 — an annual event
conducted by Technology Review India — provided insights into the
present scenario of biofuel consumption and R&D in India during the
Dr Patnaik in his interview to BioSpectrum also acknowledged the fact
that although much research has been done in various laboratories
across the world, only negligible proportion of this knowledge has
actually got translated into reality.
Q What do you think is
the future of energy in our country?
The future of
energy has to be diversified so that you do not invest everything in
one form or source of energy. The power portfolio has to be properly
balanced and it has to be adjusted to the geo-political situation in
Q We still have vast amounts of fossil
fuels and we have an unlimited source of energy in the form of the sun.
However, there is a lot of hue and cry over the scarcity of fossil
fuels. What are your thoughts on this?
The few major
global trends that are happening around us are concerned with nutrition
for the population and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. A lot of
new technologies that have come into existence are slowly giving us the
incentive to rethink — how we want to manage our energy portfolio.
Although everything comes from sunlight but it is not going to fulfill
all our energy needs. The sunlight has to be trapped into a
usable form. One of the usable forms is the liquid transportation fuel,
including petrol and diesel, and the other is electricity.
Q Which energy compounds is DuPont
working on presently?
DuPont is working
on biobutanol. Biobutanol was first used in World War II as a fuel and
it was obtained by the process of fermentation of renewable feed stocks
with bacteria. Biobutanol has many advantages as compared to ethanol.
Biobutanol can also be directly used in the existing petrol or gasoline
infrastructure. We use the technology of metabolic engineering and
rewire the bacteria or yeast to make a pure product of biobutanol. We
are also working with cellulosic ethanol, which is being obtained from
non-edible agricultural residue (cellulosic biomass).
Q What is your personal take on the
Although there is
an ever increasing demand for energy, we should try to cut down on the
usage and learn how to conserve. I believe that simple changes in one’s
lifestyle and daily habits can help us reduce energy consumption
Q Burning of fuels, irrespective of the
source they have been produced from, leads to carbon di-oxide (CO2)
emissions. Is there any way in which we can control this?
Since, we value
energy and we put a price tag on the kind of energy we access, an
important factor that emerges is energy sustainability. Biofuel emerges
as a clear winner in this context. If you analyze the life cycle of
biofuels, from beginning of harvest to burning in the car, there is a
net reduction in the carbon emission. We cannot expect this from fossil
fuels. However, the present mixed energy portfolio has very negligible
contribution from biofuels. Thus, what we are trying to do now is to
balance the mixed portfolio in such a way that it accelerates towards a
net zero scenario.
Q What is your opinion on the ‘drop-in’
biofuels and their usage in our country?
We have been using
ethanol as a blended biofuel in the form of E85 or E10 and butanol is
now being used as it is a far advanced biofuel as it has several other
properties better than ethanol. Butanol can be blended with petrol or
gasoline at a much higher level than ethanol and can be dropped-in
directly in the engine. We are also working on other technologies that
are still in the incubation stage.
Q What are your major concerns associated
with the future of biofuels?
A good source of
fuel is the one which you can apply with ease. A biofuel will be
considered to be a good fuel only if it is efficiently able to run the
present engines. Since there is still an abundant availability of
fossil fuels and as such the internal combustion engines are not going
to disappear, biofuels that can support the present infrastructure and
power distribution grids will emerge as the champions in the future.
However, it will take time for any such source of biofuel emerge as a
major fuel soruce.