Follow the Rainbow! The Digest Interview: Dr. Chaudhari at Praj Industries on 2020 and what the future holds

August 30, 2020 |

Praj’s strategy has been to broaden its horizons leveraging its innovative end to end technology solutions in Bioeconomy. Its vision is to make the world a better place by deploying these solutions for sustainability and conservation of the environment.

But how will it do that? How has this crazy year of 2020 impacted their plans? Looking into a crystal ball, what do they think the next year and next 5 years will bring for Praj, for biofuels and for the bioeconomy as a whole?

In today’s Digest, a Digest exclusive interview with Dr. Chaudhari, Executive Chairman at Praj Industries for an inside look at the company, the partnerships, the strategy, the plans, and more.

The Digest: The Digest ran the top story back in mid July about your pivot to Bio-Prism – any updates since them that Digesterati would be interested in?

Dr. Chaudhari: The recent launch of Praj’s Bio-Prism platform comprises of renewable chemicals and materials solutions and promises sustainability while reimagining nature. We are witnessing strong interest from various stakeholders and some of the initial discussions have steadily progresses into serious conversations about potential partnerships in the area of technology development, market expansion, and commercialization.

Prioritization under RCM program comprises of ‘drop in’ chemicals and Performance advantaged chemicals that are derived from bio-based feed stocks. These have potential to directly replace petroleum derived products and having similar or better and distinct properties and functionalities.

Praj has a head start in RCM because of processing and deconstructing a diverse range of bio-based feedstocks. Our feedstock bank contains composition data of over 10,000 agri-feedstock samples from across the world. Thus, sugary, starchy and this cellulosic feedstock along with gases like biogas, methane and various non-edible oils are the starting materials for RCM. We are exploring Bio-catalytic, Chemo-catalytic & Thermo-chemical routes to convert this feedstock to the final molecule of interest.

Praj’s Bio-Prism portfolio comprises bio-industrial products, food ingredients and agri-suppliments. Bio plastics in the bio-industrial segment remain a priority because of its stated need and potential to replace fossil fuels. They are closely followed by cellulose-lignin refinery and specialty products.

The Digest: Any details on the MoU with Automotive Research Association of India that weren’t in the press release that would be of interest to Biofuels Digest readers?

Dr. Chaudhari: We are proud of our association with ARAI, India’s leading automotive R&D organization set up by the Automotive Industry with the Government of India. We are working together to design, develop and commercialize technologies that will boost the application of biofuels in the transportation sector and other industries.

It may be noted that India is the third largest automobile market in the world & transportation sector accounts for about 20-22% of total GHG emissions in India. Commercial vehicles primarily use Diesel as a transportation fuel and its consumption is 4 times more than gasoline. This is identified as major source of air pollution because of harmful SoX and NoX emissions, besides being major contributor to FOREX outflow because of crude imports. Although ethanol blending in gasoline has reached around 5.4% in 2019, its technology for ethanol blending in diesel is yet to be developed for commercial uses.

As a part of this MOU, Ethanol blending in diesel is identified as a priority program and project blueprint is being drawn up to develop technology solution. This breakthrough technology will have positive impact on environment, economy, energy and society.

Some of the other promising opportunities that we are evaluating include:

  1. Reduction in tail pipe emissions from mobility sector while reducing its dependency on fossil fuels (GHG and mandate)
  2. Use of BioCNG in Diesel engine through dual fuel kit
  3. Use of Renewable Gas, bio-methanol in ICE engines

Detailed Project report comprising of resource requirement, Timelines, Commercialization potential, etc  for each opportunity is being put together for executive decision making

This win-win collaboration will redefine renewable transportation in India and abroad and we look forward to taking to the fruits of this alliance to the global market.

The Digest: Any details on the Lygo’s MoU here from June and the May collaboration with Sekab that would be of interest to Biofuels Digest readers?

Dr. Chaudhari: The primary Objective of Praj’s collaboration with Lygo’s is to develop technology for production of renewable chemicals. The focus is on development of a no gypsum producing green process for production of lactic acid (LA) and polylactic acid (PLA) significantly improving the sustainability attributes of LA and PLA production. Praj already has a traditional process to produce LA and is developing an end to end process for the production of PLA. Lygos has worked on the base organism that can produce LA. We believe the partnership should be able to effectively demonstrate critical milestones as they work together over time, beginning with the development of Lygo’s organism and Praj’s development and integration into PLA technology. Bioplastics present a very large global opportunity and this Innovative end to end PLA process development will help Praj & Lygos to secure Pole-position.

As a part of the overall product development and commercialization plan, Praj & Lygos have laid the foundation for success in the form of an R&D blueprint to an innovative process that is in the advanced stages of completion.

Praj has always endeavoured to expand his global presence by forging strong partnerships with leading organizations. Nordic countries, USA and Canada have favourable market outlook for advanced biofuels and abundance availability of residue from snow forest.

With the objective of exploring advanced biofuels opportunities in these markets, Praj has teamed with Sekab.

Under this collaboration, Praj will leverage its enfinity 2G platform to optimize, integrate, scale-up and commercialize Sekab’s CelluApp technology that uses softwood as a feedstock for production of advanced biofuels. This collaboration is a strong strategic fit, leveraging the two leading companies’ respective strengths.

Ever since Partnership announcement, number of potential customers in the Nordics region who are planning to set up advanced bioethanol facilities (ranging from 50 to 75 KTA ethanol) from softwood forest residue have expressed interests and have initiated the discussion.

The Digest: What do all these MoU’s, partnerships and activities mean for Digesterati, for the industry as a whole?

Dr. Chaudhari: Praj is the torch bearer for bioeconomy in India. The onus is therefore on us to lead the way through innovative technology and breakthrough solutions in developing this fledging industry.

We are nurturing an ecosystem across the value chain in the areas of biofuels and renewable chemicals & materials to grow the industry.

In my capacity as a mentor of CII Task Force on Bio-Energy, I am working closely with Govt. Ministries to formulate the resilient policy framework for establishing India as a preferred destination in global bio-economy. At Praj, we are proponent of Department of Biotechnology, GOI’s vision- India $ 100 bln Bioeconomy by 2025 by being in the forefront of making it happen.

I believe, India presents great opportunity to stakeholders of global Bioeconomy to participate in realizing this vision.

This is an era of alliances to achieve what I like to call, 3AAppropriate, Affordable Answers, to preserve environment while growing economy, I welcome potential partners from around the world to build synergies.

The Digest: Let’s look back and reflect at 2020 for a moment. You have had so many impressive announcements in recent months, but what would you say Praj’s greatest accomplishments have been in the past year?

Dr. Chaudhari: You will appreciate that it is never easy to single out accomplishments from number of milestones we achieved in the past year. We introduced several new technologies, expanded new geography, added marquee customers to our fold harnessed advances in digital technologies besides focussing on operational excellence and delivery.

Specifically, we have been progressing as planned in executing 4 nos commercial scale 2G biorefinery based on propriety enfinity technology. We have commissioned first of its kind RNG demo facility based on in-house development to instil stakeholder confidence. Importently, to help combat pandemic, we are helping our customers around the world to quickly set up Pharma alcohol plants to meet demand spike. This is supporting self-reliance movement of Government of India.

To my mind, one accomplishment that stands out is being ranked No. 1 among the Best Places to Work in the advanced bioeconomy 2020 by Biofuels Digest – world’s most widely read daily in bioeconomy. I say so because this comes as a validation and reinforcement of strong people centric culture we have built over past 3 decades where we pay unwavering attention to growth of individuals to help them realise their potential. Being chosen from over 200 global organizations, is a recognition of our immensely talented people, meritocracy principles and inspiring leaders, who are living our vision of making the world a better place, every day.

This is truly reflected in our endeavours beyond business in the socio-economic spheres. Through our corporate social responsibility program, we work in rural Maharashtra state, dedicating significant time and efforts in water conservation in villages, skill development among rural youth and preventive healthcare for women.

The Digest: While we understand how hard it is to predict the future, especially during these times, where do you see Praj in a year/short term?

Dr. Chaudhari: There are several prospects unfolding in both, domestic and international bioenergy landscape, and Praj is well placed to capitalize on them.

  1. Outbreak of pandemic has given rise to sudden demand spike in pharmaceutical grade alcohol that has several usages such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, hygiene and medical applications. Ethanol producers worldwide are, redrawing their focus to quickly set up pharmaceutical grade alcohol plants. Praj through its patented ‘Ecosmart’ technology solution is geared fulfil this customer requirement.
  2. On the back of Govt. announcement for expanded rage of feedstocks for production of ethanol, Ethanol blending program in India is poised for leap forward. Praj has proven expertise in processing various sugary and starchy feedstock and remains a preferred choice for customers.
  3. On the back of SATAT policy for promoting Renewable Natural Gas, market opportunities have reached a tipping point in India. Many customers are in advanced stage of discussions to deploy Praj’s proprietary technology solution.
  4. Praj is executing first batch of India’s 2G bio refinery for producing advanced biofuel and they are expected to be commissioned by end of 2021. With every Progressive milestone in execution, we are experiencing heightened interest in potential 2G customers globally. We expect opportunities to emerge from these discussions.
  5. Some of our prized innovative technology development projects such as ethanol blending in diesel will reach maturity levels and open market opportunities
  6. With water tables fast depleting and erratic monsoon patterns there is increased awareness about water conservation. Pollution control authorities at the central and state levels have prescribed strict measures for effluent treatment to mitigate and prevent contamination caused by industries. Praj is offering its Zero Liquid Discharge technologies as a part of waste water recycling solutions to help industry comply with statutory norms and minimize water footprint.

The Digest: Looking a bit further into the crystal ball, where do you see Praj in 5 years/longer term?

Dr. Chaudhari: Praj will consolidate its leadership in the Bioeconomy, through deeper penetration of Bio-Mobility platform and commencing commercialization of Bio-Prism portfolio.

India has announced 10% blending of ethanol in gasoline by 2022 and 20% blending by 2030 as a part of India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). With rising concern over energy security and greater focus towards self-reliance and environment conservation, we expect increased impetus to the blending program. In 5 year term we expect ethanol blending in diesel to take a main stage as it has winners in the form of socio-economic, energy and environment aspects. Praj with its sustained leadership position in India has advantage in capitalizing these opportunities through its differentiated technology value proposition.

Globally mandates such as RED-II, LCFS and Renova Bio among others will continue to create market growth opportunities. Leveraging our global partnerships on the technology and market side, Praj will be able to increase its global market footprint. Success of India’s first batch of four commercial 2G biorefineries will instil customer confidence and open market opportunities especially in Europe.

Under SATAT policy GOI has envisioned 5000 RNG plants across the nation in 5-year horizon. Following initial success of RNG projects in India, we believe there will be a greater interest among project developers that will pave way for large scale market opportunities.

Praj with its end to end project capabilities is well placed to collaborate with stakeholders to help achieve the objectives of SATAT policy.

Aviation sector is considered as major contributor to GHG emissions and is under pressure to curb the its carbon footprint. Several leading commercial airlines have committed to adoption of Sustainable Aviation fuel going forward. Isobutanol technology development by Praj will provide a strong platform to service emerging opportunities in aviation & defence sector, strengthening Praj’s position in the advanced biofuel market globally.”

Praj has plans to develop range of renewable molecules to produce biopolymers and bioplastic materials. Further we will work with strategic partners to establish manufacturing facilities for production of these materials on bulk scale.

There is a rising level of awareness globally for using sustainable resources so as to conserve the environment. Uses of biodegradable plastics is one such promising opportunity. Praj with its Bio-Prism portfolio of technologies for production of bio-based renewable chemicals and materials, has solution to address the environment concerns. Praj has identified specific growth industries such as Cellulose –Lignin refinery products, Speciality chemicals, Agri-supplements, Bio-industrial products and Bio-plastics that likely to present promising opportunities over medium term.  These products will find application in industry sectors such as paints and coatings, nutraceuticals, automotive, packaging, furnishing, construction, agriculture and food. With its strategic partners, Praj will formulate appropriate business models to commercialize these technologies.

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