Tuesday, September 06, 2005

ITC breaks "Greening" world record!

ITC broke a Guiness record, when it coordinated the planting of, "3,00,587 saplings of eucalyptus and subabul in just 20 minutes in 264 acres spread across 17 different locations in and around Bhadrachalam on Monday". The previous record was for 134,000 saplings in one hour and was held by a Canadian agency.

Why did ITC plant all the saplings?

The effort was part of the "Sunfeast Hara Banao" campaign of the ITC foods division, and keeps in with ITC's long-term plan to encourage eucalyptus for the paper industry. In this case, the farmers planted the saplings and will take care of them. ITC will buy wood from them at market rates. Apparently the farmers should get about 2 lakhs an acre in the five years of the trees' growth. The effort cost ITC Rs 5,000,000.

In passing...

Tamil Nadu will build its second largest water desalination plant to overcome the water woes of the people of two municipalities. The proposed plant will supply 2.5 million litres per day, which is the total requirement of the 60,000 Ramanathapuram municipality. The entire supply will be shared between two municipalities however, at it supplements the existing water supply.

I am not sure how economical desalination plants are however, and if they are competitive to other sources, why cant we have more of them?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The El Dorado of the Gas Industry

Gas Hydrates are a huge potential source of energy for the future. In fact they are so huge that a country having access to just one percent of the gas from hydrates would make all gas-rich countries of today look like ants. The catch is in extracting it, and India is certainly at the forefront of research in this direction.

Quick Introduction

First, what are gas hydrates? Hydrates are essentially a union of water with some other substance, which results in a nuetral body - often solid like certain crystallized salts. So methane gas hydrates are essentially ice with gas trapped in between. The density of methane is so high that they are referred to as frozen methane - in fact one cubic meter of methane hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of the gas.

How much gas do hydrates hold?

Methane gas hydrates worldwide have been estimated to hold some 400 million tcf (trillion cubic feet) of gas. To put that into perpective, the huge GSPC find in the K-G Basin, Deen Dayal, holds between 20-40 tcf. Worldwide all known natural gas reserves total some 5000 tcf. That means hydrates hold 80,000 times as much gas as natural gas reserves.

While the regions under ice cap contain the richest concentrations of hydrates, India is not unblessed either, as hydrates occur in several marine settings around the world. In fact ONGC and Reliance are finding hydrate blocks a hindrance to their drilling activities in the K-G Basin. In fact India is estimated to have gas hydrate reserves of around 1,894 trillion cubic metres (67,000 tcf).

Can methane be extracted from hydrates?
In late 2003 an international research program including India, the US, Japan and Canada demonstrated for the first time that it was technically feasible to extract gas from frozen gas hydrates. The consortium conducted test drilling at a site called Mallik in the Mackenzie Delta in the Canadian Arctic. The site is located in an area known to have one of the highest concentrations of gas hydrates in the world.

Russia is already extracting gas from hydrates but its method is probably not viable enough in most other places of the world.

Where do we go from here?

Hydrates are not quite there, and few expect commercialization before another decade and a half. However research goes on. The recent US Energy Bill supports funding for research in this field. This should boost efforts from BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. who have been interested in gas from the Alaska hydrates.

The Indian Initiative

India has a National Gas Hydrates Programme (under the oil ministry) which helps coordinate the efforts of the various agencies involved in this effort. This includes the public sector gas giants like ONGC and GAIL, as well as government departments like the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).

Bouyed by its experience from Mallik, India has plans to drill two deep sea wells for extracting gas from methane hydrates. The sites are yet to be finalized but action is taking place in the right direction.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Chhattisgarh going big on Jatropha

The Chhattisgarh government has before proved itself among the foremost proponents of the Jatropha revolution in India. The Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh is already the first head of an Indian state to start using bio-diesel to power his official car, a Tata Safari. That was back in May, when the aim was to run all official vehicles on bio-diesel in three months, and make the state self-reliant in bio-diesel in ten years. (I know the three months are up, but dont know the scores yet)

Doesnt matter. They are doing something better now. They are offering fantastic initiatives to corporates and individuals to cultivate Jatropha in the state. Land disputes? No problem. No capital? No problem. "Under the Government scheme, an individual can lease up to 200 hectares of land at a price of Rs 100 per hectare, per year for the first five years. For subsequent years, these rates could be increased." The government will provide a total of 200,000 hectares of land for this purpose.

Not sure what the incentives for corporates is but companies like Indian Oil Corporation, IFFCO, ONGC and Emami, are making a beeline to the state to get into jatropha farming. As per the government estimates, at Rs 5 per kg of seed, jatropha biodiesel will cost Rs 20 a litre - which is comparable to the price of diesel at $45 per barrel of petroleum. With appropriate duty concession, biodiesel will compete against a $35 barrel too.

Among other figures thrown up were:
"plantation of jatropha in farm bunds; wasteland and fallow land of the State will generate extra income of about Rs 2,000 crore for the villagers by 2010."
"A target of planting eight crore jatropha saplings in State nurseries has already been met this year. We plan to distribute 16 crore saplings next year"

P.S.: Thanks to Sanjay for pointing me to this news item.