Bio-fuels

An interim arrangement for reducing the effects of global warming both economically and ecologically

Bio-fuels
Bio-fuels

Bio-fuels are fuels produced from biomass like plants, animals, food crops, non-food crops, algae etc. It is a renewable source of energy because raw materials from which it is derived i.e. biomass is replenished within a short span of time. On the basis of raw materials from which they are derived, bio-fuels can be divided into different generations-

  1. 1st generation bio-fuel- The main raw materials used are food crops grown on cultivable land. This is also called conventional bio-fuel because techniques used in its formation are conventional. For example wheat, sugarcane etc are used for ethanol production.
  2. 2nd generation bio-fuel- The main raw material used are food crop residues, agricultural wastes and even municipal solid wastes. These prevent diversion of agricultural land for specific purpose of fuel crop growth. Example- molasses can be used to produce ethanol.
  3. 3rd generation bio-fuel- The main raw material used is algae. It is independent of food crops and hence can be a viable alternative for 1st and 2nd generation bio-fuel which depends on food crops.
  4. 4th generation bio-fuel- this generation is relatively recent one where algae which is engineered genetically to increase efficiency and capture CO2 is used as raw material. Due to involvement of genetic modification this bio-fuel method is expensive than the rest.

Bio-fuels have been used since ages. The recent increase in use of bio-fuels is due to the various ill impacts associated with fossil fuels. In recent times due to rapid growth the demand for fuels has been increasing exponentially. Fossil fuels alone cannot meet this increasing demand and bio-fuel is looked as an alternative. Moreover, numerous oil crises like the 1973 oil crisis due to proclamation of oil embargo by Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, 1979 oil crisis due to Iranian revolution etc increased the oil prices. Fossil fuels are also non-renewable and if they are used at the present pace then certainly there would be an unfillable void left in the natural resources in the near future. Furthermore fossil fuels increase the rate f pollution. As burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 and other harmful gases, it becomes a major contributor in the increase of global warming. Apart from these drawbacks fossil fuels also adversely affect a country’s economy. This is because fossil fuels are not found in all geographical locations rather they are confined to certain specific areas on the earth. As a result majority of nations opt for oil and other fossil fuel imports. Since demand fossil fuel is massive therefore the imports required put a huge dent on the economy. Developing countries like India, China etc import oil in large quantities. According to reports of Ministry of Petroleum, India imports almost 80% of its crude from outside. This import raises pressing concerns of current account deficit and hence countries are looking for viable alternatives for fossil fuels.

Bio-fuels have proved to be a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Use of bio-fuels eliminates major issues associated with fossil fuels.

  1. Bio-fuels are derived from renewable sources and hence are helpful in preventing depletion of natural resources.
  2. Bio-fuel use does not release pollutants into the atmosphere and hence it helps in curbing pollution. Moreover, municipal solid waste, agricultural waste like stubble can also be used to generate bio-fuels which turns out to be an effective waste management technique.
  3. Bio-fuel will also help in increasing farmer’s income as they will grow more crops i.e. fuel crops along with food crops. Also the dilemma faced by farmers in terms of agricultural waste disposal can be addressed because the stubble which was earlier burnt (causing heavy atmospheric pollution in northern states of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) can be sold to bio-refineries. This will serve as a source of additional income for the farmers.
  4. The raw materials for bio-fuels are not confined to specific locations and so they can be found abundantly in any location as a result it will reduce the need of import for a country. Example- India has a large agricultural base and so it can produce bio-fuels within its territory from surplus food grains and agricultural waste in order to meet its demand for fuel. This will help in reducing the import bill significantly.
  5. Bio-fuel production on a large scale will need establishment of new industries, bio-refineries etc. Since raw for bio-fuels can be found in both rural and urban areas, so industries can be setup irrespective of the region and significant employment can be generated. India suffers from rampant unemployment and jobs created due to bio-refineries and new industries will help to reduce the magnitude of this issue.

In the global scenario countries are focussing more on bio-fuels as a source of energy. To establish a proper base for bio-fuel production numerous countries like Brazil, China, Thailand, India etc are increasingly emphasising on policies to promote a domestic bio-fuel market. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Agriculture Outlook Report the demand for bio-fuel is more in developing economies like China, Brazil, India etc. Ethanol blending in petrol is being used to reduce CO2 emissions and to serve as an alternative in fossil fuel. Brazil has shown tremendous progress in ethanol blending and reduced CO2 emission to a large extent. In 2017, Conference Of Parties-23, 19 countries announced bio-fuel targets to be achieved by 2030. India has also committed to bio-fuel targets and to achieve the targets it brought into force the National Bio-fuel Policy in 2018. Unlike Brazil and USA, India faces certain issues in ethanol production. The water requirement of India is too high compared to Brazil or USA and increasing the production of ethanol from sugarcane which requires a good quantity of water or from other food crops, will adversely affect food crop production as well as water availability. This issue can be addressed by moving for 2nd and 3rd generation bio-fuels as it will reduce dependence on food crops and water. Commercialisation and technological advancement in bio-fuel production will be needed to make bio-fuels a viable solution for India.

The National Bio-fuel Policy addressed certain core issues that were obstructing bio-fuel growth. The salient features of the policy as per the PIB report 2018 are discussed below:

  1. The policy demarcated the categories of bio-fuels and introduced financial support to each category.
  2. The policy widened the ambit of raw materials for raw materials for bio-fuel production by allowing use of corn. Sugarcane juice, sugar beet, broken rice, rotten potatoes etc.
  3. The policy aims for setting up bio-refineries to the supply chain.
  4. The policy allows use of surplus food grains to be used in ethanol production. This would help the farmers to obtain appropriate price for their surplus produce.
  5. Role and responsibilities of all concerned ministries and departments has been laid in the policy in order to ensure a combined and coordinated approach towards bio-fuel development.
  6. The policy encourages use of non-credible oil seeds, used cooking oil, short gestation crops etc for biodiesel production.

The policy is a welcome step to promote bio-fuels but still there are areas of concern remaining which need to be addressed. Heavy taxes on ethanol which is used in liquor industry deters procurement of sugar by-product at lower government rates. Further the policy does not take any necessary steps to pull down the existing policy barriers which have discouraged the entry of private players and hence is a hindrance to commercialisation of bio-fuel production which is the need of the hour. Also the issue of improper implementation exists which needs to be addressed and awareness must be created among public to opt for bio-fuel over fossil fuel. Lastly, the government must invest more in research and development so that advanced bio-fuels can be produced at a low cost.

India has a promising future in the field of bio-fuel production. The bio-fuel policy is well intended but requires few modifications and inclusion of certain issues as discussed. The policy if applied at ground level with proper supervision and taking into account the available options in future will prove to be quite beneficial for a growing economy like India. It will provide a sustainable, clean and pollution free energy source in order to meet the demands of development.

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