Boost to biofuel research at IIT Madras

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, has signed an agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company for conducting collaborative research on energy and biofuels.

The five-year agreement is focused on data analytics, gas conversion and transport, and is aimed towards finding low-emission solutions.  One of the projects being taken up is for developing novel approaches to convert agro-residue biomass to sugars and high value chemicals.

“The objectives of this program are three-fold. We aim to effectively deconstruct rice straw, bagasse and other biomass varieties of Indian origin to produce sugars, which will directly feed into ExxonMobil’s bioconversion platform. Secondly, we intend to convert the lignin present in biomass to valuable phenols using novel catalysts, and finally, we aim to evaluate the environmental and economic implications of performing such conversions at scale,” said Dr. R. Vinu, Associate Professor of Department of Chemical Engineering, who is leading the project at IITM.

The current trend is to develop fuels and fine chemicals from non-food lignocellulosic biomass and agricultural residues, known as second-generation biomass. Lignocellulosic biomass is the only source of renewable carbon with the ability to maintain carbon neutrality in the environment by reducing the net greenhouse gas emissions.

India is the third highest producer of agro-residues globally with surplus potential of over 230 million tons annually, after China and Brazil. The biofuel potential is expected to get realised in the near future with the new biofuel policy of the government.

“This agreement expands our commitment to research at the university level. We work with over 80 universities around the world. This pact gives us a position in the Indian academia,” said Dr. Vijay Swarup, a senior official of ExxonMobil.

Sunderarajan Padmanabhan is a contributor at India Science Wire.

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