“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests the temperature rise should be limited to 1.5°C by the end of this century for the world to survive, “says Dr. Karthik Rajendran, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science.  “For this, we need to reduce the emission by almost 50% of 2010 levels.” He further points out that while we may produce electric cars instead of petrol cars, electricity from solar and wind instead of coal, natural gas biologically as biogas instead of shale gas one question is at the center of these technologies – cost.

Dr. Rajendran’s quest to understand the factors influencing commercial viability of bioenergy systems began in Chennai during his bachelors’ thesis on hydrogen production leading subsequently to numerous lab simulations to understand the bottlenecks of commercialization.

On techno-economic analysis as an early indicator of commercial viability

Techno-economic analysis is an examination of various specifications of the technology at its inception stage when it is merely an experiment in a conical flask. “We analyze components on basis of all aspects of technology, economic feasibility, environmental sustainability, market realization and social integration. We can identify bottlenecks early on that hasten the technology out of the laboratory towards commercialization. This enables us to more accurately predict the fate of bioenergy/bio-based product developed out of laboratory.”

The role of institutional and government support

“In my Masters studies at UB Sweden I realized not all technologies being developed in labs are successful and that economics is not the only component that hinders commercialization. We need good institutional and governmental policy, including technical support, to advance such clean energy systems. This is when I started working on integrating technology, economics, and government policy. I compared different European technologies including biogas, electric cars, solar, and wind to understand the role of state/government subsidies towards green technology development. What I found was that electric car technologies for example do little to prevent C02 emissions, yet they receive more incentives from the government compared with other renewable energy systems. It’s about the source of electricity. Be it coal or wind plant if it’s not a green electricity source it is not a green vehicle.”

The science of energy waste conversion

Dr. Karthik Rajendran’s initial research on bioenergy production from waste looked specifically at hydrogen from algae. He currently focuses on bioenergy with carbon capture and utilization with the cost factor being the main parameter. Dr. Rajendran explains how this works. “For example, due to long term storage issues excess solar or wind energy spills over and is wasted. This excess electricity is converted to hydrogen through electrolysis. Then the hydrogen can be combined with CO2 from a bioenergy system to produce methane. This is known as Sabatier reaction. In Europe this research is happening with an aim to convert existing gas grids to a green gas grid by 2050.”

Several of Dr. Rajendran’s published papers examine electro fuels, circular bio economy and techno-economic analysis.

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