What are Biofuels?

Any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from an organic matter (living or once living material) in a short period of time (days, weeks, or even months) is considered a biofuel.

Biofuels may be solid, liquid or gaseous in nature.

  1. Solid: Wood, dried plant material, and manure
  2. Liquid: Bioethanol and Biodiesel
  3. Gaseous: Biogas


Classification of Biofuels:

1st generation biofuels are also called conventional biofuels. They are made from things like sugar, starch, or vegetable oil. Note that these are all food products. Any biofuel made from a feedstock that can also be consumed as a human food is considered a first-generation biofuel.

2nd generation biofuels are produced from sustainable feedstock. The sustainability of a feedstock is defined by its availability, its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, its impact on land use, and by its potential to threaten the food supply. No second generation biofuel is also a food crop, though certain food products can become second generation fuels when they are no longer useful for consumption. Second generation biofuels are often called “advanced biofuels.”

3rd generation biofuels are biofuel derived from algae. These biofuels are given their own separate class because of their unique production mechanism and their potential to mitigate most of the drawbacks of 1st and 2nd generation biofuels.

4th generation biofuels In the production of these fuels, crops that are genetically engineered to take in high amounts of carbon are grown and harvested as biomass. The crops are then converted into fuel using second generation techniques.


Government of India initiatives to promote the use of Biofuels:

Since 2014, the Government of India has taken a number of initiatives to increase blending of biofuels.

  1. The major interventions include administrative price mechanism for ethanol, simplifying the procurement procedures of OMCs, amending the provisions of Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 and enabling lignocellulosic route for ethanol procurement.
  2. The Government approved the National Policy on Biofuels-2018 in June 2018. The policy has the objective of reaching 20% ethanol-blending and 5% biodiesel-blending by the year 2030.
    • Among other things, the policy expands the scope of feedstock for ethanol production and has provided for incentives for production of advanced biofuels.
  3. The Government has also increased the price of C-heavy molasses-based ethano


Salient features of the National Biofuels policy 2018

  • Categorisation of biofuels to enable extension of appropriate financial and fiscal incentives under each category. The two main categories are:
    • Basic Biofuels- First Generation (1G) bioethanol & biodiesel
    • Advanced Biofuels – Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels, third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc.
  • Expands the scope of raw material for ethanol production by allowing use of Sugarcane Juice, Sugar containing materials like Sugar Beet, Sweet Sorghum, Starch containing materials like Corn, Cassava, Damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, Rotten Potatoes, unfit for human consumption for ethanol production.
  • Allows use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol for blending with petrol to ensure appropriate price to farmers during surplus. However, it needs the approval of the National Biofuel Coordination Committee.
  • Thrust on Advanced Biofuels: Viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries of Rs.5000 crore in 6 years in addition to additional tax incentives and higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels.
  • Encourages setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops.
  • Synergising efforts by capturing the roles and responsibilities of all the concerned Ministries/Departments with respect to biofuels in the policy document itself.



Potential Benefits

  • Reduce Import Dependency: The large-scale production of biofuels would reduce import dependency on crude oil and save forex.
  • Cleaner Environment: By reducing crop burning & conversion of agricultural residues/wastes to biofuels there will be reduction in GHGs emissions and other particulate matters.
  • Municipal Solid Waste Management: It is estimated that, annually around 62 MMT of Municipal Solid Waste gets generated in India. The policy promotes conversion of waste/plastic, MSW to drop in fuels (hydrocarbon fuels from solid waste).
  • Infrastructural Investment in Rural Areas: addition of 2G bio refineries across the Country will spur infrastructural investment in the rural areas.
  • Employment Generation: the establishment of bio-refineries would create jobs in Plant Operations, Village Level Entrepreneurs and Supply Chain Management.
  • Additional Income to Farmers: Farmers can capitalize on agricultural residues /waste which otherwise are burnt by them. They can sell their surplus output to ethanol making units when price dump, thus, ensuring appropriate price.


Critical analysis

  • Abuse of policy especially when prices of crude oil soar as farmers would find it economically more rewarding to convert farm produce into ethanol for doping with petrol.
  • Need of improvement in technological and financial feasibility with respect to production of biofuels. Thus, industry academic collaboration should be enhanced in an integrated manner.
  • Inadequate supply-chain infrastructure to deliver biofuels to the final consumer. Hence, improved investment should be done in building robust infrastructure.
  • Limits on private investment: The government should also take steps to remove policy barriers that have discouraged private investment in building supply chains for tapping India’s huge biofuel potential.


Way Forward

  • The government has set some ambitious goals for the energy sector which include electrification of all census villages by 2019, 24×7 electricity and 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022, reduction in energy emissions intensity by 33%-35% by 2030 and producing above 40% electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030.
  • These goals clearly exhibit the Centre’s push towards strengthening the energy infrastructure of the country while promoting the agenda of sustainability.
  • Additionally, in the official gazette of the National Policy on Biofuels, 2018, MNRE has also discussed the government’s five-point strategy to curb the country’s dependency on foreign imports in the oil and gas sector.
  • The strategy involves increasing domestic production, adopting biofuels and renewables, energy efficiency norms, improvement in refinery processes and demand substitution.