In 2020, engineer Vishal Prasad Gupta received approval from the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to set up ‘More Mileage’, his own petrol pump, in Ranchi, Jharkhand, India. He has been credited with innovating a biofuel manufactured from a species of microalgae native to Jharkhand’s ponds, which he says is not only more environmentally friendly than petrol and diesel, but also easier on the pocketbook.
The biofuel, which can be used in all vehicles with EM590 diesel engines, costs Rs 78 ($1.05 USD) per liter — a cheaper alternative to diesel, which is currently priced at Rs 92 ($1.23 USD) in Ranchi. Meanwhile, bioethanol costs Rs 72 ($0.92 USD), which Mr. Gupta says can replace petrol currently priced at Rs 99 ($1.33 USD) per liter.
“I come from a petroleum family and always wanted to develop a carbon-neutral and cost-efficient fuel for the common man. My grandfather worked for Burma-Shell in 1932 (now Bharat Petroleum), and my father started working for Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) as a dealer in 1969 as well,” he told Tulika Chaturvedi of thebetterindia.com.
After graduating from the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Mr. Gupta worked as a marketing specialist with TotalEnergies SE (then Total France), a multinational oil and gas company that had an active MoU with IOC. He also worked with several other PSU (Public Sector Undertaking) units for 15 years before his research work on third-generation fuels in 2018, when the Union Cabinet had also approved the Current National Policy on Biofuels.
Mr. Gupta partnered with Dr. Kumar Bhupati, a professor at Birsa Krishi Vishwavidyalaya in Ranchi, who was researching microalgae as feed for livestock, owing to its rich content of proteins, amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients. It was then that Mr. Gupta realized the algae had chemical components similar to those in crude oil, and that it could be used to develop biofuel.
It took about two months for him to receive approval for his creation by the Petroleum Conservation Research Association, of the Government of India. He says that owing to the goodwill he enjoys in his hometown and a strong network in the industry, he was easily able to market his product. He claims to sell as much as 2,000-2,500 Kiloliters (kls) of biofuel daily and has sold around 250,000 kls of biofuel to date. He has also made commercial sales to Tata Motors (250 kls) and Damla Bharat Cement (500 kls).
He owns a manufacturing plant alongside Namkum — one he bought from a friend who formerly sold karanja oil and mahua oil — with a daily production capacity of 70,000 kls. With a team of 35 employees, the plant has been operational since December 2020.
Mr. Gupta is currently in talks with civic officials to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ranchi Municipal Corporation. The agreement will allow him to use city dams for the cultivation of algae and manufacture biofuel on a larger scale.
How does it work?
Explaining the process, Mr. Gupta said that a species of algae called Azolla pinnata, which contains a considerable percentage of oil, is taken out of the pond and put in the chemical compound hexene. After being treated in the plant, it becomes a lipid in liquid form before it achieves its final form of biodiesel or bioethanol.
As much as 7,000 kls of biofuel are produced per batch of production, he says. While a little over 13 hours of sunlight over the plant’s 13 ponds is deemed integral to the process, the plant’s premises also have ultraviolet lamps to aid microalgae cultivation at night. Members of a local NGO help with harvesting and assist in the ponds’ upkeep. Mr. Gupta has also obtained permission from the civic authorities to make use of public ponds in the city. (Is this the same as the above sentences describing the MOU and use of the dams?)
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