Prof Ashok Pandey is the top scientist who is having h-index at 117, 2nd highest in India. His major research
and technological development interests are in industrial and environmental biotechnology, which span over biomass to fuels & chemicals, waste to wealth/energy, industrial enzymes, solid-state fermentation, etc. Professor Pandey is currently Distinguished Scientist at Centre for Innovation and Translational Research, CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), Lucknow, India and Honorary Executive Director at the Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability- India. Formerly, he was Eminent Scientist at the Center of Innovative and Applied Bioprocessing (CIAB), Mohali and Chief Scientist & Head of Biotechnology Division at CSIR’s National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) at Trivandrum.
Here are the excerpts of talk about bioenergy in India with Professor Ashok Pandey…
When India took initiatives toward biofuel?
Early 2000, there has been global resurgent, especially with focus on biofuels, primarily for energy and environmental sustainability. Early leads were taken by CSIR institutes, mainly NIIST Trivandrum together with IIP Dehradun. NIIST team was led by me with team which worked as India Country Consultant for International Energy Agency for developing biofuels in India.
What was this consultation all about?
The report – based on scientific findings from the study conducted by us- strongly advocated bioethanol from lignocellulosic biomass (chiefly crops residues) but did not support going for biodiesel production in India due to non-availability of feedstock (vegetable oils). My co-workers and I prepared the position paper on biofuels for the Technology Forecasting, Information and Assessment Council (TIFAC, DST, Govt of India) and also brought out the Biomass Availability Report in India (published by TIFAC, DST), which identified major crop residues availability in different regions of India. This has been a unique source of such information- first of its kind in India, which was a great contribution to bioenergy research and policy in the country.
Why this report did not support biodiesel, what other biofuels it considered to go forward?
The report clearly brought out the fact that there was no surplus feedstock, i.e., vegetable oil in our country to use them for the production of biodiesel. In fact, almost 50% of our vegetable oil requirement for food application itself needed import from other countries. Our report was very clear that there was no possible of using any food material for fuel production (which became later the part of National Biofuels Policy also), hence, we strongly recommended not to go for biodiesel production as part of biofuels but gave clear scientific basis and perspectives for the production of bioethanol from surplus available feedstocks to meet the requirement of 10% blending in gasoline (as was proposed that time). We identified some major crops residues (rice straw, sorghum biomass, sugarcane trash/bagasse, bamboo waste, etc) available in different parts of the country and suggested to undertake techno-economic feasibility studies and scale up.
So why India is lagging behind USA and Brazil even after more than two decades of research and development?
Interestingly, due to pseudo-scientism, there have been a group of wasted interest people who were too keen to take forward biodiesel program in the country. But, bogus science and fake claims do not survive in science. This was well proven here. DBT which is the key department under Govt of India and for biofuels policy in the country withdrew the biodiesel policy after some years- the reason was what same as stated by our report to IEA- non-availability of feedstock to produce biodiesel. Crores of rupees were wasted in the name of biodiesel research and technology development when it was ample clear that there was not enough feedstock available in India for biodiesel production. As far as bioethanol is concerned, substantial work has been carried out by several institutes and universities. NIIST, Trivandrum undertook several major initiatives and project in collaboration with other organizations. These were chiefly supported by TIFAC, New Delhi and CSIR. What is very clear that while there has been substantial achievement in the development of technology, primarily focussed on biochemical platform, the cost of the production of bioethanol is far more high than the cost of ethanol produced from the conventional sources, i.e., primary molasses. It is a flawed approach to consider the cost of ethanol produced from molasses and lignocellulosic biomass identical or almost identical. However, here also some people (academicians and others) made a hype that they have developed technology to produce bioethanol cheaper/equivalent to thecost of molasses ethanol. Claims were fake but they enjoyed getting appreciation, funds in crores of rupees, awards, etc for several years, chiefly with the huge support from a govt department and its manager9s) but ultimately truth was to come out one day and that came. I am not interested in telling you what happened to such people and projects, but to sum-up, it is the high cost of production of bioethanol which is prohibitive currently for its popular commercialization. I must also emphasis here that in this regard, the weightage for sustainability benefits to the environment considerations have not been duly given, and also, there is lack of policy enforcement.
|BOX: About Professor Ashok Pandey
Prof Pandey has ~1600 publications/communications, which include 16 patents, 108 books, ~850 papers and book chapters, etc. with h index of 117 and >59,000 citations (Google scholar). He is highest cited Indian scientist in Biotechnology.
He has transferred several technologies to industries and has completed large number of industrial consultancy/sponsored projects from Indian/International industries.
Prof Pandey is Editor-in-chief of Bioresource Technology, Honorary Executive Advisor of (i) Journal of Energy and Environmental Sustainability, (ii) Journal of Systems Microbiology and Biomanufacturing (iii) Journal of Environmental Sciences and Engineering; Subject Editor, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, India; Associate Editor, (i) Biologia – Section Cellular and Molecular Biology and (ii) Biotechnology Research and Innovationand editorial board member of several international and Indian journals. Professor Pandey is the recipient of many national and international awards and honours, which include Distinguished Professor of Eminence with global impact in the area of Biotechnology, Precious Cornerstone University, Nigeria (2020), Highest Cited Researcher (Top 1% in the world), Clarivate Analytics, Web of Science (2019); IconSWM Life-time Achievement Award 2019, International Society for Solid Waste Management, KIIT, Bhubaneshwar, India (2019); Yonsei Outstanding Scholar, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea (2019), Highest Cited Researcher (Top 1% in the world; Top 10 in India), Clarivate Analytics, Web of Science (2018); Life-Time Achievement Award from the Biotech Research Society, India (2018); Life-Time Achievement Award from Venus International Research Awards (2018), Most Outstanding Researcher Award from Career360 (2018), Life-Time Achievement Award from the International Society for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (2017); Academician of European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Austria (2015); Honorary Doctorate degree from Univesite Blaise Pascal, France (2007); Thomson Scientific India Citation Laureate Award, USA (2006); UNESCO Professor (2000); Raman Research Fellowship Award, CSIR (1995); GBF, Germany and CNRS, France Fellowships (1992) and Young Scientist Award (1989), etc. He is Fellow of various academies, which include Royal Society of Biology, UK (2016); International Society for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (2016); National Academy of Sciences, India (2012); Association of Microbiologists of India (2008), International Organization of Biotechnology and Bioengineering (2007) and the Biotech Research Society, India (2005).
Professor Pandey is Founder President of the Biotech Research Society, India (www.brsi.in); Founder & International Coordinator of International Forum on Industrial Bioprocesses, France (www.ifibiop. org), Chairman of the International Society for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (www.isees.in), Editor-in-chief of Bioresource Technology (http://ees.elsevier.com/bite/), Honorary Executive Advisor of Journal of Energy and Environmental Sustainability (www.jees.in), Journal of Systems Microbiology and Biomanufacturing (https://www.springer.com/journal/43393), Journal of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (http://neerijese.org/editorial-board/), Subject Editor, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, India (https://www.springer.com/life+sciences/journal/40011) and Associate Editor, Biologia – Section Cellular and Molecular Biology (https://www.springer.com/journal/11756/editors) and editorial board member of several international and Indian journals.
What other consultancy on biofuel have you provided to Indian science community?
With my team, I also prepared position paper on biofuels for CSIR which has been the flag carrier for the bioethanol in CSIR/ India and our efforts led to the establishment of first pilot plant on this in NIIST, Trivandrum- the only pilot plant in public sector in the country. We brought the concept of biorefinery with zero waste generation and also established a pilot plant for the production of biomass hydrolysing enzymes. Note that both the pilot plants are national facilities and available to anyone for use.Without any hesitation I can share with you that I led to develop several national and international networks and collaborations on energy and environment program, where sustainability has been given a major thrust.
What are the current suggestions for the bioenergy sector?
While there is National Biofuels Policy in place, there is lack of vision and enforcement for the bioethanol (second generation) commercialization. Also, not much efforts are being put (in comparison to global efforts) on third and fourth generation biofuels and green energy in the country. There are policy contradictions; we intend to use electric vehicles very soon, but without a clear pathway from where we will produce electricity to meet the requirement of additional electricity for those vehicles. I fully endorse development and use of electric vehicles in our country; I also strongly believe that there may not be a single solution to achieve energy and environmental sustainability in our country and to meet the commitments made by our govt and we must keep our efforts to develop indigenous technologies for various kinds of energy, mainly solar energy, bioenergy (biofuels primarily), biogas (also nuclear). However, in context of electric vehicles, note that currently we do not produce enough electricity in the country to meet domestic and industrial demand. Then are we going to burn more coal to generate additional requirement of electricity? If so, will it not produce more CO2 than what we will save by not using diesel? Has there been any life-cycle and systems analysis to move on this? These all show that there is lack of scientific planning and no clear path for developing green energy. Why so? Is there lack of experts to address this in our country? Obvious answer is NO. There is no dearth of highly skilled and experienced experts in the country but the main issue is not involving right people for such developments, including policy frame-work and implementation.
Where you see yourself in green energy 2030 and then 2050 goal?
I very strongly believe that my thoughts and actions are fully dedicated and aligned to achieve these visions and plans. The (good) question is that how are we positioning ourselves for these? Obviously, these require hand-holding of experts (not fake ones) together with policy makers and (industrial) developers. As for me, I have always put the country ahead of me. I do not want to tell you about my contributions and credentials in this regard as these have been well described and mentioned by global agencies, putting meon top position in India in terms of citations of world class publications in energy and environmental areas and several other topmost credentials in the world. However, sometimes I wonder that despite all above, perhaps I have not fully contributed for my country what actually should have been the case. Is this because of nepotism in scientific community in our country? Whatever be the case, I am also confident that our government under the premiership of Sri Narender Modi will certainly see the quantum of our scientists and will break this nepotism atmosphere for the betterment of country which in turn will be simply enormous beneficial for energy and environmental sustainability.
Apart from Bioenergy research how you are advancing science in India?
I strongly believe (and have practised the same since more than four decades of my professional career) that opportunity to get a right platform to showcase one’s scientific credentials and to network and collaborate with complimentary people and team are key for doing high quality science with technological orientation. With this vision, I discussed in early 2000 with a large number of leading academicians and researchers in the country (in the area of my broad RTD, which is Biotechnology), I created and established a national professional society, the Biotech Research Society, India (www.brsi.in) in 2003 (founded on 2nd October 2003).
With great pride and extreme satisfaction I can tell you that today BRSI is one among the most respected and active professional society in India with about 3000 life-members, which has offered a most unique platform for networking and collaboration to the Indian researchers, offering potential learning opportunity for younger ones. As by this time, I had already several international collaborations, I also discussed with my international colleagues and we created a similar international forum, International Bioprocessing Association (IBA- www.ifibiop.org) which also has a similar agenda like BRSI. Both BRSI and IBA are very popular among Indian researchers working in the cross fields of Biotechnology, Microbiology, Energy Biosciences, Environmental Science and Technology, Biological Engineering, etc. including industries and policy planners.
Any message to energy science leaders and scientists?
There is no alternative to doing good science, the results of which should be disseminated by way of high quality publications but after a careful analysis for their value for technology development. Those findings which could have application potentials should be saved as patent and for further development, possibly with industrial linkages. However, it must be clear to all that everyday none can get novel or new results and that only a few could lead to develop a technology. Never indulge in a discussion or argument to do a basic/fundamental or applied research. Do good science which will be good research; good research should be known to scientific community, including industries through publications. I must share with you here that all the industrial projects, including technology transfers which I have done so far, has been based on our publications which were seen by the industries and based on these, they contacted us. I would like to appeal to those sitting on healm of affairs to not confuse the researchers, especially the younger ones by saying “we don’t want papers; we want only technologies”; also, be sober enough to not insult the knowledge by using loose phrases such as “we don’t want paper scientists’. Respect knowledge and contributions made.