'Clean & Green Energy'
Energy is undoubtedly essential for all kinds of life on the earth. In order to sustain life, energy is a crucial factor for economic productivity and industrial growth. Derived from the ancient remains of dead plants and animals over a period of millions of years, fossil fuels, namely coal, oil and natural gas, stand out amongst all the primary energy sources and have been spurring global economic development over the past century. As of now, it has been fully realized that fossil fuels are finite resources and world needs to develop and utilize renewable energy.
Although, the technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) may contribute in reducing the GHG (Green House Gas) emissions generated by fossil fuels, renewable energy derived from natural resources is definitely the most sustainable and least risky way out. These resources have dual benefits of being abundant, and causing minimal, if any, environmental damage. Energy from the sun, wind, waves and tides, and the earth's crust are a few examples.
India being a developing and the second most populous country in the world, is facing twin challenges on the energy and environmental front, in view of the rapid urbanization and industrialization. Moreover, India has limited resources of fossil fuels and is not geographically favoured for presence of any major oil or natural gas pools, and hence, more prone to geo-political and geo-economic shocks. Indigenous coal resources are among the largest in the world but of poor quality (with high ash content and low calorific value).
India has already devoted considerable attention to the renewables in its energy policy, becoming the first nation in the world to set up a ministry dedicated exclusively to new and renewable energy sources in 1992. India has made reasonable progress in renewable energy domain. As of October 31, 2020, the installed renewable energy capacity stood at 89.63 GW, of which solar and wind comprised of 36.31 GW and 38.26 GW, respectively. Biomass and small hydro power constituted 10.14 GW and 4.74 GW, respectively. Power generation from renewable energy sources in India reached 127.01 billion units (BU) in FY20. The government plans to establish the renewable energy capacity of 50 GW by 2030.
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), with its mission of 'Retaining a dominant position in the Indian Petroleum sector and enhancing India's energy availability and recognizing the fact that petroleum resources are dwindling worldwide,' has taken steps to look at all forms of energy to fulfil the country's growing energy needs. It has established ONGC Energy Centre (OEC) that aims to conduct Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D) in alternate energy, specifically focusing on projects, which have the potential to make an impact on India's energy scenario.
ONGC Energy Centre (OEC) is engaged in RD&D in various clean and renewable energy options through own teams as well as collaborative projects, jointly taken up with some of the leading national academic and research institutions. The key technology areas are (i) Geothermal Energy, (ii) Hydrogen Energy - focus on Hydrogen generation and related activities, (iii) Bio-technology based processes for energy, (iv) Uranium Exploration, In-situ recovery of Uranium and Helium, (v) Solar Energy, (vi) Kinetic Hydro Power, (vii) Other options like - energy efficiency in oil & gas sector, energy recovery from hydrocarbon waste, conversion of CO2 to value added products, etc.
Solar thermal energy is a promising renewable energy resource. Solar thermal has a broader range of applications than PV, as the sun's heat can be focussed and transferred to a medium, and that stored energy is further used for heating and cooling industrial and domestic sectors, or generating electricity. OEC is setting up a 2MWe Solar Thermal Power Plant (SOLTOP-2) at South Santhal, Mehsana, Gujarat in collaboration with BARC. A Solar plant technology demonstration unit has been conceptualized based on beam down solar power tower technology and will utilize the concept of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). The beam down tower has been selected to minimize the tower load and heat losses.
Geothermal is the energy harvested from heat stored in the earth. OEC is also looking forward to developing the first geothermal field in Ladakh, India. The initiative was taken up in line with the letter received from Ladakh authority in August 2018, requesting OEC to take-up the project to assess the feasibility of geothermal utilization of Puga, Chumathang and Panamik. Subsequently, OEC team had visited sites and collected past geothermal exploration data of the areas. OEC has also signed an MoU for consultancy with Iceland GeoSurvey institution (ISOR). OEC has submitted a draft MoU to Ladakh authority, that is expected to be finalized and signed shortly.
OEC has also taken initiatives to develop Biotechnology Processes for Generation of Gaseous and Liquid Fuels from various sources like Lignite, Unrecovered Oil, and Coal, etc. OEC has set up bioenergy laboratory facilities at KDMIPE, Dehradun for the same. It is estimated that a significant quantity of oil remains unrecovered in mature fields after secondary and tertiary recovery. Through the in-house facilities, microbial process has been developed to harness the energy from depleted oil reservoirs and OEC is getting geared up for the field trials of the technology in the Ankleshwar field.
The utilization of biotechnological processes can be one of the promising approaches to convert low rank or unrecoverable coal into methane. OEC in association with TERI has isolated methane generating bacterial consortia that can act on the coal seams to produce biogas, comprising of mainly methane and carbon dioxide gas. The microbial process has been demonstrated in CBM wells at Jharia. The field experiments have shown two-four fold increase in gas production due to the enhanced activity of methanogens leading to additional/enhanced methane generation in coal seams.
Hydrogen, the ultimate carbonless energy (carrier), is one of the potential solutions to global warming due to its zero carbon emissions. It can be produced in a clean and green way using virtually all the possible primary sources. OEC has a dedicated Hydrogen Programme to carry out the collaborative RD&D on Hydrogen generation. Hydrogen Programme is engaged in indigenous development of hybrid thermochemical water splitting processes for large scale production of green hydrogen. From among the various options, development of closed loop Copper-Chlorine (Cu-Cl) and closed/open loop Iodine-Sulphur (I-S) cycles have been taken for RD&D in collaboration with several national centres of excellence. The ICT-OEC Cu-Cl cycle has been patented worldwide and is projected to produce green hydrogen at competitive cost upon commercialization.
Additional challenges to hydrogen-based economy includes development of compact and inexpensive storage capacity, establishment of hydrogen network, development of hydrogen-based IC engine, and efficiency improvement of different type of fuel cell systems.
Striving in its quest to meet the national energy needs of tomorrow in a clean and sustainable manner, ONGC Energy Centre (OEC) has been granted 5 National and 3 International patents, whereas 12 national and 4 international patents have been filed. OEC has also been awarded 'Biotech Product, Process Development and Commercialization Award 2018' from DBT, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.
With one of the world's largest and most ambitious renewable energy programmes, India can take a leading role in the renewable energy transformation, both regionally and globally.
The author is Director General, ONGC Energy Centre.