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Increasing production efficiency in Biofuels - Essential for securing India’s energy balance

Abhijeet Banerjee
Abhijeet Banerjee

What is a biofuel: 

Bio-fuel in simple terms is any fuel that is derived from biomass. Source of biomass may be plant or algae material or even animal waste. Bio-fuels are considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas. This is because these feedstock materials can be replenished readily. Biofuels are transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials. These fuels are usually blended with petroleum fuels i.e. gasoline and diesel fuel. However they have their own uses as well.  

Biofuels are also known as an alternative to diesel fuel. Most are of the notion that a bio-fuel is used just for transportation. But there are other uses also. Biofuels are useful in providing hydrogen, clean up oil, work as cooking oil, for charging electronics, cleaning oil spills and grease, lubrication and much more. Biofuels are derived from renewable biomass resources and wastes such as Plastic, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), waste gases etc. As such there is need for scaling up bio-fuel supply in order to supplement conventional energy resources, reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and offset the energy needs of India’s urban and vast rural population.  

Importance of biofuels:

Globally, importance of Biofuels is growing because of increasing energy security and environmental concerns. It is also considered by many governments as effective tool for rural development and generating employment, In India the primary approach for bio-fuels is to promote indigenous feedstock production. Besides, India needs to promote domestic production in order to reduce its soaring crude import bills. It may be noted that domestic crude oil production offsets not more than 18 % of local demand, while the rest is met from imported crude. Therefore India has to balance more than 80 per cent of its oil requirements through imports.  

Fluctuating crude oil prices in the world market are quite concerns for developing countries like India. In 2019 crude oil consumption in India averaged near 5.01 million barrels per day, which is quite high. Road transport sector accounts for 6.7% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Provisional estimates indicate that that crude oil required for indigenous consumption of petroleum products may surpass 250 MMT by 2020. All these factors convey the necessity to explore for other substitutes like Biofuels.  Biodiesel has the advantage over other alternative fuels in reducing emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulfates, quite reasonably, versus petroleum diesel fuel. In comparison to petro-diesel, Biodiesels are able to reduce emissions of carcinogenic compounds by as much as 85%. Another plus point for Biodiesel is that it less toxic than table salt. Also, Biodiesel like petroleum diesel fuel can function effectively in cold weather.

Scaling up bio-diesel supply – need of the hour: 

The future lies in improving production efficiency in production of Biodiesel in the country and this can prove to be a game changer for the energy security of India as well. In 2018, our government had even introduced National Policy on Biofuels 2018, which includes focus on biodiesel production in order to meet the energy security of India. The major objective of the policy is to increase availability of Biofuels, thereby increasing its blending percentage. At present the ethanol blending percentage in petrol is around 2.0% in India, while biodiesel blending percentage in diesel is less than 0.1%. The government has given a proposal few years back that by 2030, target will be increased to 2% blending of ethanol in petrol and 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel.

There lies tremendous potential of producing Biodiesel from any edible/ non-edible oil, for India. At present biodiesel coming under the blending program is being manufactured from imported sources like palm stearin. Even In-house produced Used/Waste cooking oil (UCO/WCO) also has been considered as a potential source of biodiesel production.  There is huge scope for  proper collection and processing of UCO, from the edible stream through various small eateries/vendors & traders in near future.  

Reports say that India could replace over 40% of the projected demand for diesel in coming years if consistent efforts are made to substitute diesel fuel. The energy generated from Biofuels is equivalent to 340 million barrels of oil or over $22 billion. Energy consumption is increasing at more than 5 per cent per annum, while reserves of petroleum are decreasing day by day. India’s share of crude oil production is about 1 per cent of global crude oil production, but consumption is as high as 3.1 per cent of global consumption, Therefore seeking Biofuels as an alternative supply is a rational option at present. Lots of private and Government organizations are involved in production and distribution biofuel in India, such as D1 Oil Plc, Reliance Industries Ltd, Godrej Agrovet, Emami Group, Aatmiya Biofuels Pvt Ltd., Gujarat Oelo Chem Limited (GOCL), Jain Irrigation System Ltd., Nova Bio Fuels Pvt. Ltd., Sagar Jatropha Oil Extractions Private Limited etc.  

According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance study, “increase in ethanol production alone has the potential to create over 700,000 jobs when targeting only the base potential. States with a combination of high agricultural activity and large fuel consumption like Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh would be the best positioned to exploit this opportunity.” Biodiesel in India is of strategic importance for preserving India’s energy balance. Additionally the emphasis on enhancing production of Biofuels will be in line with the ongoing initiatives of the Government such as “Make in India” and the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”. It will also raise hopes of the government in achieving the ambitious targets of doubling of farmers’ income, reducing import expenses, employment generation, and waste to wealth creation. Surely, increasing supply of Biofuels in the country is the need of the hour.  

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