THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 12 October 2018 (Turning dirty coal into clean energy)

Turning dirty coal into clean energy

Mains Paper: 3 | Environment 
Prelims level: Clean energy resources 
Mains level: Using Indian coal to produce methanol can generate a huge positive impact on the Indian economy and environment


  • India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to have grown at 6.7% in 2017-18, which could rise to 8% in the future depending on the effectiveness of economic reforms. 
  • As GDP growth is positively correlated to energy requirement, we can expect strong energy demand in the coming years.
  • Given that India is rich in coal reserves, there could be a way in which we can create clean energy security through coal to meet our growing demand.

Highlight of the India’s energy consumption predictions 

  • India’s energy consumption is projected at 33,899 Terawatt hours (TWh) by 2047.
  • The energy consumption is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.87% from the current 8,133 TWh. 
  • The worrying part is that energy consumption growth is weighted towards fossil fuel (coal + crude oil) consumption, which is an environmental challenge. 
  • The challenge is greater because of our excessive dependence on the import of crude oil (81% of total crude oil consumption).
  • Indian coal comprises mostly of inferior non-coking coal (67% of total coal deposits) which causes more air pollution. 

Coal to methanol will help reduce the air pollution 

  • India’s energy security needs are at odds with her Conference of the Parties 21—Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (COP21-INDC) targets
  • We can achieve clean energy security by adopting technological advancements in converting coal to methanol, a liquid fuel. 
  • Methanol, which can be derived from coal, can be blended in petrol. Dimethyl ether (DME), which can be further derived from methanol can be blended in diesel, as well as in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking. 
  • China produced 42.919 million metric tons of methanol (in 2016) as feedstock for manufacturing various polymers. 
  • India could adopt this approach to meet her energy requirements. 
  • Niti Aayog has laid out its vision to blend 15% methanol in petrol (M15) and 20% DME in diesel (DM20).
  • The Union minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, announced this at the recent coal summit.
  • There is recognition that using Indian coal to produce methanol can generate a huge positive impact on the Indian economy and environment. With the reduction of import dependence of crude oil and utilization of our own resources, we will enhance our self-reliance in the energy sector.

Focus on protecting the environment 

  • Coal to methanol will also help reduce the air pollution that our cities battle with. 
  • According to the World Health Organization’s Global Urban Ambient Air Database, nine out of the 20 most polluted cities are in India for PM2.5. India’s current focus on upgrading to Bharat Stage-VI fuels will require significant technology improvement in automobiles.
  • There will hardly be any impact on air quality. 
  • Another initiative shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) will take significant time as it is not a mainstream technology either globally or in India. 
  • Implementing M15 and DM20 blends can enable the existing fleet of automobiles to reduce emissions with minimal retrofit modifications, thereby making a much bigger impact than any prospective technologies.
  • The conventional burning of coal in thermal power plants releases particulate matter, whereas particulate matter emission is almost eliminated in case of converting coal to liquid fuels.


  • Liquid fuels (methanol and DME) can be stored economically over a long time and command a higher value in the commodities market.
  • The rising focus on renewable energy, the average plant load factor across states and private thermal power plants has gone below 60% and resulted in poor offtake of coal.
  • The future of over 300,000 personnel working directly or indirectly in the coal sector. 
  • Coal-to-methanol fuels could potentially turn around the dwindling fortunes of the coal industry and save it from obsolescence. 

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UPSC Prelims Questions: 

Q.1) Which of the following can be used to manufacture methanol fuel?
1. Carbon dioxide
2. Coal
3. Natural Gas
Select the correct answer using the code given below.
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Answer:  D

UPSC Mains Questions:
Q.1) What are the impacts of using methanol on the Indian economy as well as on environment too?