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Biofuels and its importance

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India is dependent on imports of petroleum, where around 82 per cent of its crude oil requirement derived from the Middle East. The rising number of automobiles has also raised the increase in consumption, where the crude oil import volume amounted to approximately 217 million metric tons during the year 2018. But it was around 203 million metric tons in 2016. This has led to fall in value of foreign reserve and also faces frequent disturbance during the rise in crude prices. In order to contain the rise, the government and other economic experts have been voiced for the biofuel as a replacement for the crude oil.

What are biofuels ?

Biofuels are liquid or gaseous components which are used as fuels. They are primarily produced from biomass, and can be used as an alternative or sometimes in addition to diesel, petrol or other fuels. The crops with higher sugar content like sugarcane, sugarbeet, sweet sorghum are most used for production of bio fuel. Even starch (such as maize and tapioca) or oils (such as soybean, rapeseed, coconut, sunflower) are also used for producing biofuels.

What are the different categories of biofuels ?

First generation biofuels – Fuels made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats using conventional technology. Some of the prevalent first-generation biofuels include Bioalcohols, Biodiesel, Vegetable oil, Bioethers, Biogas.

Second generation biofuels – Fuels produced from non-food crops like cellulosic biofuels and waste biomass (stalks of wheat and corn, and wood).

Third generation biofuels – Fuels produced from micro-organisms like algae.

What are the benefits ?

Biofuels are eco-friendly and can reduce vehicle emission. It is produced from renewable sources and can be prepared easily with dependence on imports. Bio fuels increases the performance of the engines as they contain higher energy boosters as compared to petrol and diesel. Besides, they offer good lubricity to the vehicle. Since they are from bio component, they are very safe for storage and transport along with the nontoxic. Furthermore, it helps in reduction of greenhouse gases at least by 3.3 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of biodiesel. For example, bio-diesel is an alternative diesel fuel prepared from domestic renewable resources from vegetable oils (edible or non- edible oil) and animal fats. These natural oils and fats are primarily made up of triglycerides which react while mixing with lower alcohols in presence of a catalyst produces fatty acid esters. These esters are very much similar to petroleum derived diesel and are called "Biodiesel". As India is deficient in edible oils, non-edible oil may be a material of choice for producing biodiesel. Examples are Jatropha curcas, Pongamia, Karanja, etc.

What are the kinds of biofuels ?

Jatropha : It is a multi-purpose non edible oil yielding plant. This is a hardy and drought tolerant crop can be raised in marginal lands with lesser input. The plant has the capacity to withstand 30 years.

Sugarbeet : It is sugar producing tuber crop, grown in temperate countries. Now, tropical sugarbeet varieties are gaining momentum in tropical and sub-tropical countries, since they are used as a promising alternative energy crop for the production of ethanol.

Sorghum: It is useful as component which adds value to ethanol, syrup and jaggery and bioenriched bagasse as a fodder and as a base material for cogeneration.

Pongamia: It is a non edible oil yielding tree which can produce biofuel.

What are the limitations ?

Biofuel is the new requirement of the global community, but the requirements were huge. For example, Jatropha is considered best for biofuel, high investment is required for seed productivity ratio. Besides, if many follow bio fuel yielding crops, it leads to monoculture where farmer produces the same crops year after year, rather than producing various crops over a period of time. Though it could be economically attractive for farmers, they could leave the soil without the nutrients.

What are the government initiatives ?

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the National Policy on Biofuels – 2018. Some of the important features include, setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, Used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops. It 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. With a thrust on Advanced Biofuels, the new initiative indicates a viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries of Rs 5000 crore in 6 years in addition to additional tax incentives, higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels


Bio fuels can greatly change the economic and environment positively. One among the primary benefits is reduce the import dependency. For example, 1 crore lit of Ethanol can saves Rs 28 crore of forex at current rates. With the supply of Ethanol throughout the year for around 150 crore litres of ethanol, it would result in savings of over Rs.4000 crore of forex. In terms of environmental benefits, one crore litre of ethanol saves around 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions. For just a year of supply, there will be lesser emissions of CO2 to the tune of 30 lakh tons. By reducing crop burning and conversion of agricultural residues/wastes to biofuels there will be further reduction in Green House Gas emissions.

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