Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Big Boost to Construction

India has finally opened what is being touted as the "FDI Floodgates" in the contruction sector. 100% FDI is now allowed into the construction sector via the automatic route - which means that the lengthy Foreign Investment Promotion Board approval is no longer needed for such investments.

Also very importantly the limitation in terms of area to be developed has been removed (it was some 100 acres earlier which only left big townships in their purview). The limitation now is only that some 50,000 sq ft of space be developed within a specified time limit. This will bring FDI into the hearts of the cities. If the development is for an integrated township, then the limit has been brought down to 25 acres.

The boost to the FDI inflows in the country is expected to be around $5 billion, with 12-15 new developers from the Middle East, South East Asia and the US likely to come in.

GAIL guns for gas from coal

GAIL is now working with a Canadian company, Ergo Exergy Technologies, to explore the possibilities of implementing commercial Underground Coal Gassification projects.

Getting gas out of coal beds presents unique challenges. The role of Ergo Exergy would be in helping GAIL overcome the technical and financial challenges using their propreitary Exergy UGC Technology. A wider range of areas for cooperation have been identified.

A small step towards energy security for the nation!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

India Petroleum Update

India is seeking a stake in the giant Kashagan oil field (which has variuosly been touted as the second to fifth largest oil field in the world).

In Astana (capital of Kazakhstan) Mani Shankar Aiyar furthered his hunt for oil capital via comprehensive partnerships by saying India could buy stakes in Kazakh oil fields like the giant Kashagan and Kurmangazy, as well as help build pipelines that would carry the oil to China. This is a very significant expansion of horizons by Aiyar.

From the second biggest oil field to the second-biggest producer - Russia. Aiyar's next stop was Russia where he furthered the agenda of stake acquisition in Yuganskneftegas, Rosneft's Vankor oil field and the Sakhalin-3 projects. He also made a strong case for Russian participation in the Indian oil scene.

BTW, what happenned with Yuganskneftegas? I thought ONGC was already selected for the 15% stake. Well, apparently this:

Rosneft chairman Sergei Bogdanchikov said on February 6 that ONGC may acquire a stake in Yuganskneftegas, but Russian media have reported that no decision on the move would be taken until a US court in Houston, Texas rules on Yukos' request for US bankruptcy protection.
On the domestic front, ONGC is finally opening up the Sunderbans front for oil and gas exploration with a Rs 600 crore investment.
To a question about the possibility of finding oil and gas, Raha said, "unless we get positive data, we would not have invested so much funds there."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Akash SAM comes of age?

The Acorn reports that the Akash surface-to-air missile has been cleared for export to friendly countries. The Akash missiles together with the Rajendra phased-array radar has been touted as "The poor man’s Patriot missile". Interestingly the price looks a killer.

Each missile is capable of carrying a 50kg payload over 25km, and only costs about US$260,000. India’s Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) is pitching the system as a budget Patriot-1 type air defence system. Both the Indian army and air-force have already placed orders.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Europe's most powerful rocket launched successfully

The Ariane 5-ECA first flew in 2002. The maiden outing was a disaster - a left-over variable, from Ariane-4 software, overflowed causing the control system to malfunction. The rocket veered over the ocean and had to be destroyed.

Last Saturday, it flew again. This time it was a "perfect launch on a perfect day".

The Ariane 5-ECA is Europe's most powerful rocket to date. It can put upto 10 tonnes into geostationary orbit (ISRO is still struggling with a 1 tonne payload). Moreover the costs of putting spacecraft into orbit should come down from between $30-40,000 per kg to $15-20,000 per kg - half!

Saturday's mission, described as a qualification flight, orbited two satellites: the Spanish XTAR-EUR military communications payload and an experimental spacecraft, called SloshSat, which will study how fluids behave in orbit.

India Petroleum Update

GAIL is going places - both geographically and business-wise! After announcing a stake purchase in DPC and a new agreement of cooperation with China Gas Holdings, GAIL is now investing Rs 1,500 crore ($300 mn) in an LPG plant in Burma. As part of a rather larger gameplan, it serves to reduce India's LPG deficit with Burma by 250,000 tonnes a year (from over 2 million tonnes). GAIL also launched an initiative to develop IT solutions jointly with Infosys.

Mani Shankar Aiyar meanwhile carries on from where he left, and now suggests an Asian Gas Grid.
The grid would connect gas-rich nations in the Gulf and Siberia to consumption centres in India, China and Japan.

The proposed Iran-India pipeline via Pakistan could be extended to South China via Burma, while a network of pipelines could link former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with East Russia on the one hand and demand centres, India and China, on the other. Gas-rich Myanmar and Indonesia could also form part of the grid.
Finally one big win for India over China in the oil great game - Rosneft is about to sell 15% in the Yugansk oil field to ONGC instead of China's CNPC. The deal valued at $6 billion, "will be India's biggest overseas investment ever in any sector".

An old grouse of our overseas oil explorers, that they have to waste precious time in getting approval from (a inefficient) Cabinet, is being addressed, as OVL has been exempted from seeking Cabinet approval for overseas investments of less than Rs 300 crores. Considering the size of international upstream oil deals, this can only be called a small step.

On the domestic front, Euro-III (ultra low sulphur) petrol will be available in 11 cities in India from April 05. Not all of the same 11 cities may not be able to keep that date with Euro-III diesel (the erring ones will catch up by June), but 65 percent of the country will have Euro-II grade diesel by then, while the rest of the country will be covered by August 1.

At the recently concluded Chemtech 2005 (an international chemical and pharma exhibition and conference), IOC Chairman, M.S. Ramachandran reiterated that IOC is committed to emerging a global player in petrochemicals. The stress is on forward integration with a Rs 25,000 crore ($ 6bn) over a period of 5 years.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Pipeline Progress

Negotiating with other countries on laying pipelines to get oil or gas into India has now been entrusted to the oil ministry. The foreign affairs ministry thus has been effectively elbowed out of the process.

The foreign affairs and oil ministries' stands represented the two main concerns of Indians on the oil pipeline deals - especially the ones coming in through Pak. One represented the fear that we were giving Pak a major stranglehold on our economic lifelines, while the other represented the salivation at the thought of massive new steady sources of oil/gas coming into the country. With the caution-advising ministry out of the frontlines, progress will definitely be more steady on this fron.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Water body revival plan

The President spoke about it during the Republic Day address under the topic water harvesting. The water resource ministry it seems has already become active on the issue.

The ministry intends to start a pilot this year for a project which will eventually "bring back two million hectares of farm land lost to drying up and misused water bodies".

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Research into 'Sumo' rats at Hyderabad

'Sumo' rats are the result of a joint project between US and Indian scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition at Hyderabad.

The rats are said to contain an as yet undiscovered obesity gene that could lead to an understanding of human obesity.

The rats, believed to contain hitherto undiscovered obesity genes, weigh as much as 1.4 kg -- about four times the normal size.

"If, as we believe, this is a new obesity gene, it could have major implications," says Nappan Veettil Giridharan, deputy director of NIN, the key scientist responsible for developing the 'sumo' rats.

These rats also develop cataracts and tumors and their infertility is fully reversible by diet restriction. The rats have kinky tails, not seen in any other obese models.

Some information on the NIN is available here.

Friday, February 04, 2005

More nano transistors per chip

"The current method for making faster silicon chips is expected to reach a technical dead-end in about a decade."

Moore's Law has been facing challeges for a while now as exemplified by the shelving of the 4 GHz Tejas processor in the recent past by Intel. Scientists have been working on various longer-term alternatives, including biological and optical computers. There has even been a suggestion to build multi-layered processors (dont ask how those layers are to be cooled though!).

Nanotech presents what looks like a much more feasible solution. Though the given date for commercial availability of the technology is only in 2012, that is still much earlier than the 2020-2030 being touted for some of the other alternatives.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A tale of two helicopters

The HAL has just fitted the Chetak helicopter with a Snecma TM 333 2B2 engine. The re-engined Chetak, now renamed Chetan, made it first successful flight in Bangalore recently. The Snecma engine has been in use in Dhruv, the Advanced Light Helicopter.

Speaking of the Dhruv, despite the fact that it involves HAL collaborating with the Israel Aircraft Industries, it looks like the Israel may prefer US equipment over it, as it will over the Lakshya.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Biodiesel - disagreement between champions

Wired carries a story on the rather prickly status of a relationship that one would assume is symbiotic - that between soyabean growers who want to promote soyabean for bio-diesel, and the environmentalists who have been promoting bio-diesel for years. Here is a synopsis.

The rather well-to-do Soybean growers face brutal competition and are looking to bio-diesel in the US as a big new market. Their concerns are purely commercial.

The environmentalists' lobby includes some celebrities and is generally far more capable in glorifying/promoting the product. They however have a larger environmental agenda and are concerned about GMO. For example Monsanto has a GM soybean variety that is resistant to a herbicide only it develops. Naturally such an arrangement would be considered harmful by the naturalist environmentalists, but the farmers love it.

The environment lobby wants to also promote cheaper sources like "waste cooking oils and fats from restaurant kitchens, and see the development of other sources of oils and fats, such as mustard seed and algae."

The growers however fear that such an approach could affect the quality of the end-product and kill the market.