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Tell us about yourself

Mr. Karthikeyan Natarajan recently received a Fortum Foundation scholarship to continue his doctoral research at the School of Forest Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. Mr. Natarajan is developing an optimisation modelling approach, a decision tool for cost-effective CO2 emissions reduction through bioenergy production. We asked him how he ended up studying bioenergy technologies in a Nordic country.

 How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career? What did you study?

“I was born and raised in a small town called Dharapuram in Tamil Nadu State, India. From early on in my childhood, I was attracted to nature and wildlife. Eventually, I ended up studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry (BSc Forestry) at Mettupalayam,” he explains.

“During my final year at the college, I was selected for the two-year Erasmus Mundus Master’s Programme in European Forestry with a prestigious European Commission scholarship. The programme was offered at six universities; I chose the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu Campus to conduct my theses.”

“I decided to stay in Finland because my research results are useful to many energy companies wanting to extend their bioenergy business. Plus, Finland is a pioneer in the energy business in Europe. Moreover, the School of Forest Sciences has strong expertise and an internationally recognised research group in biomass production and bioenergy utilisation.”

Can you tell us about your research and how it helps the industry?

“My expertise includes optimisation modelling, bioenergy supply chain design, facility location analysis and resource allocation. During my stay at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), in 2008-2009, we investigated the potential of biodiesel production from Jatropha grown in the wastelands of India. The results were published in the Applied Energy journal titled Optimizing biodiesel production in India.”

“Since then, our collaboration with IIASA has been successfully growing. It is clear that research cooperation and networking are very important in finding an optimal solution to real-world problems.”

“My research results, such as resource assessments, bioenergy facility location optimization and uncertainty analysis, are of great interest to decision makers in efficient geographical energy planning. In particular, the results could help energy companies both in Europe and India to make investment decisions, for instance.”

Mr. Natarajan continues on by noting that many research studies (including his) prove that the cost-efficient and environmentally sound way to burn biomass is through CHP (Combined Heat and Power) production. CHP has a higher total conversion efficiency, above 80%, and thus further reduces CO2 emissions.

“However, my vision is second-generation bioenergy technology, which should be integrated to be economically feasible and competitive against fossil fuels. An example is CHP with pellet production, with heat from the CHP plant used for biomass pre-treatment. CHP with liquid biofuels production like pyrolysis could be interesting as well.”

What are the opportunities in India for Biomass?

“Although India is highly advanced in renewable energy production, such as wind, hydro and solar, I can see a huge gap in biomass-based energy production when compared to Europe or Finland. CHP production could work well in India if the CHP technology’s power-to-heat ratio and potential use of heating and cooling could be improved.

“Self-sufficiency in energy production is imperative for all nations. India imports more than 70% of its total oil consumption. It has an adverse impact on the local energy markets.

India needs strong renewable energy policies as well as technological advancements to stimulate new energy plant installations that will bring about energy security in India.”

“Energy is directly related to politics and the economy, but the big players like Fortum should try to bring more stability to the energy market and energy services. Investments in developing and underdeveloped countries would not only bring business opportunities, they would also bring the services that society needs. One good example is my home state of Tamil Nadu:  the people there are willing to pay more for electricity, but there is a big shortage of electricity production.”

What are your future plans?

Karthikeyan Natarajan concludes with his visions for the future: “My dream is to make my country energy sufficient. I will strive for ’access to energy for all’. I would like to use my research skills and contacts to establish cooperation between India and Finland, cooperation that would facilitate technology transfer and bring new energy investment opportunities to my country, eventually transforming the existing fossil fuel-based economy into a bio-economy.”


Fortum Foundation’s purpose is to support research, education and development in natural, technical and economical sciences within the energy industry. The Foundation’s focus areas within the energy industry are energy production and use, as well as clean energy solutions for traffic.

To fulfil its purpose, the Foundation can grant scholarships, honorary awards or other such financial support for activities related to the achievement of its objective and for carrying out communications and publication activities. Multi-annual scholarships may also be granted as a fixed-sum commitment for clearly defined purposes. In 2011, the amount of scholarships was about EUR 700,000, including the multi-annual scholarships granted in previous years.