IIT Madras to collaborate with ExxonMobil on Research in Energy and Biofuels


Chennai: Indian Institute of Technology Madras is going to collaborate with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) for research on Energy and Biofuels. This five-year Joint-research agreement focuses on biofuels, data analytics, gas conversion and transport, and is intended towards finding Low-Emission Solutions

EMRE is the research and engineering arm of ExxonMobil Corporation, a leading global oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals company. ExxonMobil has spent more than $9 billion since 2000 developing and deploying lower-emissions energy solutions.

A Master Research Agreement was signed by Dr. Vijay Swarup, Vice President of Research and Development, EMRE, and Prof Ravindra Gettu, Dean (Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research), IIT Madras.

Dr. Vijay Swarup visited IIT Madras on Friday (11th October 2019) and interacted with Prof A.K. Mishra, Dean (Academic Research), IIT Madras, and other researchers on campus. He also delivered a lecture on ‘Perspective on the future of energy, the role of R&D and ExxonMobil’s commitment to R&D.’

Speaking about the importance of this project, Dr. Vijay Swarup said, “The World is faced with dual challenges – Providing energy to a growing middle class while reducing the risk of Climate Change. India has a very fast-growing middle class and a strong desire to provide energy to its entire population. To achieve this, India has to develop technical solutions, which starts at the research level. We believe that collaborations between companies such as ourselves and universities like IIT Madras are the key to identifying such solutions. This Agreement expands our commitment to research at the university level. ExxonMobil works with over 80 universities around the world. This Agreement gives us a position in Indian Academia.”

One of the projects being taken up under this research collaboration is to develop novel approaches to convert Indian agro residue biomasses to sugars and high value chemicals led by Dr. R. Vinu, Associate Professor of Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras.

Speaking about his Research Project, Dr. R. Vinu, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras, said, “The objectives of this program are three-fold. We aim to effectively deconstruct rice straw, bagasse and other biomass varieties of Indian origin to produce sugars, which will directly feed into Exxon Mobil’s bioconversion platform. Secondly, we intend to convert the lignin present in biomass to valuable phenols using novel catalysts, and finally, we aim to evaluate the environmental and economic implications of performing such conversions at scale.”

The current trend is to develop fuels and fine chemicals from non-food lignocellulosic biomass and agricultural residues, known as Second Generation Biomass. Lignocellulosic biomass is the only source of renewable carbon with the ability to maintain carbon neutrality in the environment by reducing the net greenhouse gas emissions.

India is the 3rd highest producer of agro-residues globally with surplus potential of over 230 million tons/year after China and Brazil. India’s huge biofuel potential is expected to get realized in the near future with the ‘new biofuel policy’ of Government of India, which targets to convert the country’s biofuel industry into a $15.6 billion economy.