Indian Institute of Technology Madras Researchers are using Artificial Intelligence tools to study the processes involved in conversion of biomass to gaseous fuel. Gaining such understanding through hands-on experiments is time-consuming and expensive. 

Computer simulations and modelling studies can provide quicker insights that can be used to build the processes and plants for biomass processing.
With increasing environmental concerns associated with petroleum-derived fuels, biomass is a practical solution, not in the conventional sense of directly burning wood, cow dung cakes, and coal, but as a source of energy-dense fuel. Researchers all over the world are finding methods to extract fuel from biomass such as wood, grass, and even waste organic matter. 

Such biomass-derived fuel is particularly relevant to India because the current availability of biomass in India is estimated at about 750 million metric tonnes per year and extracting fuel from them can tremendously help the country attain fuel self-sufficiency. 

The research was led by Dr. Himanshu Goyal, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras and Dr. Niket S Kaisare, Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras. 

A video byte of Dr Himanshu Goyal explaining this research can be viewed and downloaded from the following link - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LUPLaH1RV7iypV9EaIY2llvrdWen0O-F/view?usp=sharing
Recent results of their modelling studies were published in the prestigious peer-reviewed Royal Society of Chemistry journal Reaction Chemistry and Engineering (DOI: 10.1039/d1re00409c). 

The paper has been co-authored by Dr. Himanshu Goyal, Dr. Niket Kaisare and Mr. Krishna Gopal Sharma, Fourth Year B.Tech. Student, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Madras.
Explaining the importance of such studies, Dr. Himanshu Goyal, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras, said, “Understanding the complex mechanisms involved in the conversion of raw biomass into fuel is important for designing the processes and optimizing reactors for the purpose.”

Further, Dr. Himanshu Goyal said, “There is an urgent need to train the next generation of engineers on high-performance computing and machine learning skills so that they can address some of the biggest challenges before us, such as developing zero-emission technologies to tackle climate change. This work is one such example.”

While models are being developed all over the world to understand the conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals, most models take a long time to become operational. Artificial Intelligence tools such as Machine Learning (ML) can hasten the modelling processes. 

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The IIT Madras research team used an ML method called Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN) to study the reactions that occur during the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into energy dense syngas (gasification of biomass). 

Elaborating further, Dr. Niket S Kaisare, Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras, “The novelty of our ML approach is that it is able to predict the composition of the biofuel produced as a function of the time the biomass spends in the reactor. We used a statistical reactor for accurate data generation, which allows the model to be applied over a wide range of operating conditions.”

Dr. Himanshu Goyal’s Research Group uses AI tools not only for biomass-biofuel conversion studies but also for socially relevant and environmentally beneficial processes such as carbon capture (the capture of CO2 to prevent climate change) and the of electrification of the chemical industry.

The team believes that the rapid advancements in computational methods must be integrated with core engineering for faster development and deployment of deep tech solutions. Such developments cannot be constrained by specialities and departments.

While the lead researchers, Dr Goyal and Dr Kaisare are from the Department of Chemical Engineering at IITM, the student researcher, Krishna Gopal Sharma, is a computer science undergrad and Young Research Fellow of the institute.

ABOUT IIT MADRAS

Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) was established in 1959 by the Government of India as an ‘Institute of National Importance.’ The activities of the Institute in various fields of Science and Technology are carried out in 16 academic departments and several advanced interdisciplinary research academic centres. 

The Institute offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes leading to B.Tech., M.Sc., M.B.A., M.Tech., M.S., and Ph.D., degrees in a variety of specialisations. IITM is a residential institute with more than 600 faculty and 9,500 students. Students from 18 countries are enrolled here. IITM fosters an active entrepreneurial culture with strong curricular support and through the IITM Incubation Cell.

IITM has been ranked No.1 in the ‘Overall’ Category for the third consecutive year in India Ranking 2021 released by National Institutional Ranking Framework, Ministry of Education, Govt. of India. The Institute has also been ranked No.1 in the ‘Engineering Institutions’ category in the same Rankings for six consecutive years – from 2016 to 2021. It was also adjudged as the ‘Top innovative Institution’ in the country in Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) in 2019, 2020 and 2021. 

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