SATAT Initiative : An Alternative Fuel by K. Siddhartha

As a part of its “Swachhata Hi Seva” campaign, the Government of India, on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, 1st October 2018, launched the “Sustainalble Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT)” initiative.

As a part of this initiative the Union Petroleum Minister, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan along with PSU Oil Marketing Companies (IOC, BPCL and HPCL) invited Expression of Interest (EoI) from entrepreneurs for setting up of Compressed Bio Gas (CBG) production plants. The move is aimed at making CBG available for use in automotive fuels and there by achieve the following goals:

  • Bring down the cost of transportation fuel, by enabling better use of agricultural residue, cattle dung and municipal solid waste.
  • Incentivise efficient solid waste management systems and bring down the fossil fuel consumption in the country and as a consequence of it, tackle the problem of polluted urban air.
  • Generate additional source of income for farmers.
  • Open another avenue towards self-sufficiency for entrepreneurs.
  • Bring down the import of crude oil and relive the country’s dependency on it.
  • Gain traction towards designing a “Zero Waste” industrial ecology.


How is compressed Biogas Produced?

Bio-gas is produced naturally through a process of anaerobic decomposition from waste / bio-mass sources like agriculture residue, cattle dung, sugarcane press mud, municipal solid waste, sewage treatment plant waste, etc. After purification, it is compressed and called CBG, which has pure methane content of over 95%. Compressed Bio-Gas is exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas in its composition and energy potential. With calorific value (~52,000 KJ/kg) and other properties similar to CNG, Compressed Bio-Gas can be used as an alternative, renewable automotive fuel.

When biogas is purified or upgraded to natural gas quality (then mostly referred to as “biomethane”), it can be used in the same manner as fossil gas for natural gas vehicles (NGV) or so called Dual fuel vehicle.


BIOGAS (also raw biogas): The product of anaerobic digestion (AD) of biomass, without upgrading (CO2-removal); 50% to 70% CH4.

BIOMETHANE: Upgraded biogas to natural gas quality, with a high CH4 content (at least 90%, commonly 96% to 99%) and low share of impurities.

Given the abundance of biomass in the country, Compressed Bio-Gas has the potential to replace CNG in automotive, industrial and commercial uses in the coming years.

Note: Earlier this year the Government of India had launched the GOBAR-DHAN (Galvanising Agro Resources) scheme, to convert cattle dung and solid waste in farms to CBG and Compost. The scheme proposes to cover 700 projects across the country in 2018-19.

What technological changes would the existing automotive population has to go through?

Since biomethane has a similar quality to natural gas, it is in fact a “drop-in” substitute for fossil natural gas. It can be used in a NGV without specific requirements. Both light and heavy duty natural gas vehicles can be filled with biomethane.

A petrol car can quite easily be converted into bi-fuel gas operation by adding a second fuel supply system and storage cylinders for methane. A bi-fuel vehicle can be operated on either petrol or methane. For a new factory-built passenger car the bi-fuel option means an additional cost of about 1.5 lakh, the major part of the additional costs coming from the gas cylinders. Vehicles can also be retrofitted for bi-fuel operation.

As for performance, methane delivers almost the same performance and efficiency as petrol. Typical range for a bi-fuel vehicle in gas mode is 400 km to 500 km.

A dedicated gas engine means a spark-ignited engine that is converted to run on gas only. Methane has, compared to petrol, higher knock resistance.


Potential of biogas is estimated to be 48,382 Million m3/year. When assumed that 50% of total upgraded biogas contributes towards transport sector, and 50% for cooking sector, then as per Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Statistics 2011-2012, bottled biogas could cater to 43.4% of total transport sector demand, and about 41.7% of cooking sector needs.

Global Scenario

The global biogas production reached slightly less than 600 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2013. The countries with the largest biogas production by far have been China, the US and Germany. In China almost 100% of biogas is produced in small-scale biodigesters and used for domestic cooking. In the US, in contrast, almost half is used for electricity and half for heat production. In Europe (including Germany, Italy and the UK) more than 90% is used for electricity generation.

The worldwide share of biogas use as vehicle fuel, although still very low (<1%), is growing steadily. Countries that showed a growth in biogas production after 2013 have been, for example, France and the UK.

The country with the most biogas upgraded to biomethane is Germany, with about 7.2 TWh in 2013. But only 1.4% of Germany’s biomethane, amounting to 103 gigawatt-hours (GWh), has been used as vehicle fuel.

Other countries with much lower biomethane production in total have a greater focus on biomethane use as fuel. Sweden for example used 97% of its produced biomethane as vehicle fuel. Due to the fact that the gas grid is limited only to the west coast of Sweden, 75% to 80% of the biomethane is transported by trucks from the locations of production to the fuelling stations. Although its total biomethane production is relatively low, Italy also uses its biomethane almost completely as vehicle fuel. Due to the country’s extensive gas grid, large NGV fleet and considerable number of NG fuelling stations, biomethane-as-fuel producers and sellers benefit from a very good NGV infrastructure.

Biomethane is increasingly used for public transport or waste collecting vehicles, such as in the city of Berlin, where more than 150 waste collecting vehicles run on biogas, which is produced from the separately collected organic waste of citizens. In 1990, the city of Lille (France) had already set up an urban bus service using biogas produced by anaerobic digestion (AD) from municipal sewage sludge.

Barriers to establishment of biogas-to-fuel market, and ways to overcome them.

Barrier Solution
Decentral biomass availability, in many cases,

can lead either to relatively small production

capacities or high transport efforts. Both lead

to relatively high biomethane production

costs. This is especially the case when using

animal by-products for biogas production.

Regulations on biogas/biomethane production and use need to allow co-fermentation, especially of energy crops in order to reach a minimum production capacity. This, in turn, allows a biomethane supply at competitive production costs.
Relatively high costs for the biomethane supply as fuel, in comparison to fossil fuels under today’s conditions. In order to stimulate a biogas as vehicle fuel market, some economic incentives are needed in most cases today.
The missing awareness about the advantages

of biogas as an energy carrier is a hindrance for gaining adequate support from politicians and the people.

Advantages that should be taken into account and promoted as a minimum are:

·      the potential reduction of GHG emissions and other emissions, such as NOx, fine dust, noise for use as vehicle fuel;

·      the utilisation and treatment of waste and residues and therefore the reduction of ecological damage and closing of material cycles;

·      the production of organic fertiliser and substitution of mineral fertiliser;

·      the substitution of import fuels and reduction of import dependency;

·      the creation of national, regional and local added value (e.g. employment opportunities and local tax income);

Changing and short-lasting regulatory frameworks often do not give stakeholders a

reliable basis for investing in biogas projects

Reliable regulation (including incentives) should be guaranteed for at least 15 years, as biogas plant operators need a 10 to 20-year planning horizon to pay back the investment.
Lack of rules with regard to the access to

gas grid.

Clear rules for gas grid access are necessary and biogas should have priority before natural gas in terms of transport capacities in the gas grid.
Existing structures and stakeholders in the

waste business often do not allow for new solutions of waste treatment.

Public authorities should be open for any new solutions of waste treatment and should strongly support establishing separate collection of the organic waste fraction.
A missing NGV infrastructure (gas grid,

fuelling stations, NGV) makes biogas use as

fuel impossible for individual transport.

Political support is necessary to overcome the chicken-egg situation24, e.g. through tax reduction or investment subsidies for gas

fuelling stations and/or NGV

The economic advantages of NGV are often not known by the costumers. Transparent pricing (with comparable units) should be established at fuelling stations.


International Best Practices


Sweden has shown the strongest efforts to overcome these barriers in order to establish a biogas-as-fuel market. This is especially impressive since Sweden does not have a widely spread gas infrastructure and therefore most of the biogas used as fuel is transported in high-pressure gas cylinders on trucks instead of being injected and transported via the gas grid.

Sweden was also one of the first countries in which biogas production for vehicle fuel purposes was implemented. During the early 1990s, the development of biogas production was started in Linköping. In 1996 the city’s biogas plant was finished and since then all of the city buses – around 70 – run on biogas. In addition, many other commercial vehicles run on the fuel, as well as a large number of cars and the world’s first biogas-powered train (Swedish Biogas International, 2013). Since then biogas production and use as fuel has been steadily increasing.

Swedish authorities have been supporting this development mainly by giving financial incentives based on tax exemptions or reductions and investment grants.


In the city of Berlin in Germany, the organic waste of its inhabitants is separately collected in order to produce biogas from it. The biogas is used as vehicle fuel for the waste collecting trucks. Today more than 150 trucks are running on biogas, collecting 60% of the total waste (not only organic waste) of Berlin. The digestate from the biogas production is sold to farmers, who use it as organic fertiliser.


The government policy will have a long term impact on the biofuel industry. Where it has set the broader framework, it has also provided the initial thrust required for the development of the sector. Furthermore, the variability of petroleum prices will have immediate impact on the short term demands and investments in biofuels. . The analysis of the government plans and programmes such as SATAT, clearly points that rural development stands as major basis for government support of biofuel industry in India.

India produces only 25% of its total petroleum consumption and has to fulfil the requirement by importing oil. This excessive dependency on imported oil leads to a high strategic risk related to availability, demand and price fluctuation of petroleum. Therefore, the government’s motivation to reduce this risk is another important driver for biofuel industry in India.


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