Biofuels and Climate
Human race since time immemorial have been involved in
trying to improve their lives by continuously innovating. In the process civilization
has seen multiple changes, from discovery of fire to discovery of internet. In
this respect, discovery of steam engine in mid-18th century led to industrial
revolution, which has completely changed the way production process has been
carried out. In this respect, environment had taken a backseat. Major events
have been witnessed since then which threaten the environment. Extensive use of
chlorofluorocarbons led to degradation of stratospheric ozone layer and thereby
ozone hole over Antarctica. This led to a global alarm and hence an agreement
in form of Montreal protocol.
In the similar manner, greenhouse gases
(GHG) levels have been on the rise since industrial revolution of mid-18th
century due to the burning of fossil fuels majorly so as to gain energy in
different production processes which has accelerated the normal process of
global temperature. This anthropologically induced accelerated climate change
has created wide variety of disparities and affecting the climate in form of
weather variability, sea level rise, melting of glaciers, vulnerability to
vector borne diseases, coastal erosion, flooding of island countries. This has
taken global cognizance in United Nations Sustainable Development summit in
early 1990s which led to establishment of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change). This was an environmental treaty adopted on 9th may 1992, and
was opened for signature to various countries on Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio
in 1992(June). The major objective for the treaty was ‘stabilize greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic
interference with the climate system’1 This gradually
culminated in Kyoto Protocol.
This protocol and various research
articles advocated for newer innovations to reduce GHGs and at the same time
satisfy the development needs of the countries which invariably depended on
energy. In this respect, biofuel were thought to be a viable alternative.
Biofuel by definition means those ‘fuels which are derived
from biomasses. National Policy on Biofuel by Ministry of New and Renewable
Energy, Government of India defines Biofuel as ‘liquid or gaseous fuels produced
from biomass resources and used in place of, or in addition to, diesel, petrol
or other fossil fuels for transport, stationary, portable and other
applications’2.These biofuels may be derived from agricultural
crops, including conventional food plants or from special energy crops. Even,
wood chips, fuel wood, organic dung, which provide household energy, come under
These biofuels can be solid, liquid,
or gases, but usually in academic circles and global arena, biofuel refers to
liquid fuel majorly used for transport purposes. There are various distinctions
for biofuel which include:
this includes all the unprocessed organic material. So, energy is produced from
energy is produced from processed organic material.
Also, there is categorization based on raw material used to
produce Biofuel which includes,
include the biofuel which have been derived from food crops. These biofuels
triggered a food vs. fuel debate as the raw material used to produce is food
crops which can be given for human consumption.
include the biofuel which have been derived from non-food crops. This includes
a major crop called Jatropha. This category of biofuel settled the food vs.
fuel debate. Furthermore, these crops can be grown on wasteland and there is
less requirement of water.
include the biofuel which have been derived from algae and is a recent
phenomenon. This is a newer phenomenon whereby the algae also fixes a lot of
carbon dioxide and thereby counters the climate change effects.
and Transport Sector
India is a growing economy and with the growing population
and urbanization, transport needs are very essential. In order for the
transport sector to be reliable, affordable, sustainable biofuel can be an
alternative. India imports 80% of its crude oil needs from abroad. This raises
the import bill. Further, the biofuels come with an inherent advantage of being
more environmental friendly. In the current era of climate change and air
pollution, biofuels can be a savior.
Biofuels are majorly related to transport sector which
include two types of fuel viz. Ethanol and biodiesel.
Ethanol, ‘Any feedstock
containing signi?cant amounts of sugar, or materials that can be converted into
sugar such as starch
can be used to produce ethanol’3.
It is currently produced from sugar and starchy crops, sugar crops include
sugarcane, sugar beet and starchy crops include maize, wheat. However, it is
much easier to produce ethanol from sugar crops. In Brazil, sugarcane is the
major source of biofuel and in OECD countries it is starch. However, starch
plants are a very minority in the plant kingdom and majority of the plants are
composed of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.
litre of Ethanol provides 66% of energy provided by a litre of petrol but it
has a higher octane rating1. This enhances the
productivity when blended with petrol. Also, ethanol contains a very less
amount of sulphur as compared to petrol so lesser sulphur dioxide and thereby
lesser carcinogen and acid rain pollutant.
India, under the Ethanol Blending Program (EBP), 5% of Ethanol blending is
desired across the country as per BIS (Bureau of Indian Standard) regulations.
The estimated blending in India in 2014-15 fiscal stands at 2.3%4.
In order to further
promote ethanol government has taken the following steps:
to improve the availability of ethanol and encourage ethanol blending, the
Government has taken following steps:
Government has fixed the delivered price of ethanol in the range of Rs.48.50 per
litre to 49.50 per litre.
Ethanol produced from other non-food feed stocks besides molasses, like
cellulosic and lingo cellulosic materials including petrochemical route, have
been allowed to be procured.
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, on 1st September, 2015, inter-alia has
asked OMCs to target ten percent blending of ethanol in Petrol in as many
States as possible.
procedure of procurement of ethanol under the EBP has been simplified to
streamline the entire ethanol supply chain.
Excise duty has been waived on ethanol supplies to OMCs for EBP by sugar mills
Biodiesel; is produced by combining vegetable
oil and animal fat with an alcohol by a process of transesterification. The
required oil can be produced from any oil seed crop like coconut, Jatropha in
tropical countries, rapeseed in Europe, soyabean in USA and Brazil. A small
amount of animal fat is also mixed. The production process typically yields additional by-products such as
crushed bean “cake” (an animal feed) and glycerin. Because biodiesel can be
based on a wide range of oils, the resulting fuels can display a greater
variety of physical properties, such as viscosity and combustibility, than ethanol.
can be blended with traditional diesel fuel or burned in its pure form in
compression ignition engines. Its energy content is 88–95 percent of that of
diesel, but it improves the lubricity of diesel and raises the cetane value,
making the fuel economy of both generally comparable. The higher oxygen content
of biodiesel aids in the completion of fuel combustion, reducing emissions of
particulate air pollutants, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
In India, the focus is gradually
shifting on biofuels and being a multi varied field, the National biofuel
policy recommends constitution of a National Biofuel Coordination Committee
headed by the Prime Minister. For, effective implementation of the policy, it
is suggested to create ‘Biofuel Steering Committee’ headed by the Cabinet
India is a tropical country in which agriculture has a major
role for economic stability. Further, the Indian Agriculture is dependent on
south west monsoon. The level of irrigated land has not yet increased. Also,
the agricultural productivity and crop demand is such that in bumper harvests
the price of the crops fall. There is variable demand for crops across years.
Another fact about Indian agriculture is that over the years its share in
Indian economy has reduced but the people employed under agriculture have not
proportionately reduced. For example, the share of agriculture in GDP of India Agriculture and Allied Sector
Contributed approximately 13.9% of India’s GDP (at constant 2004-05 prices)
during 2013-146 but it continues to employ 57% of the population.
In this regard, biofuel
can be a savior.
The second generation
biofuel can help the Indian Agriculture in the following way:
It can provide a sustain demand for crops. As, the transport
segment is continuously rising in India and thereby the fuel demand and
simultaneously the pressures of climate change is mandating countries to
shift over to newer mode for fuel. This will ensure a sustained income for
farmers. Further, a global market for crops can also develop.
Since, the requirements of growth of the crops are not extensive
and these crops are able to grow in harsh conditions like Jatropha grows
in tropical, subtropical regions. Its deep roots allow it to tide over
harsh conditions in semi-arid regions. It requires alkaline soil but it
has been documented that it can grow on that soil which has salinity.
Also, due to insecticidal and pests characteristics of all parts of the
plant it is tolerant to pests and diseases. Due to these advantages the
need for fertilizers and pesticides reduce thereby the money requirement
on the plant.
It will help boost India’s image at global stage by being the
harbinger of biofuel plants and thereby help reduce environmental hazards.
Biofuel is one of the best source of energy after solar as
conventional sources of energy is being exhausted day by day. The conventional
energy sources is the prime pollutant of therefore each country is moving
towards biofuel. At the one hand it is like engine of the economy as without
energy we could not imagine of country’s growth on the other it is made of
crops and food grains that is used by human for their feeding.
too much focus on biofuel may lead the farmers move towards it and in the
process, there might occur scarcity of food crops which is also a major
necessity for human race.
Therefore, biofuel may
be a boon for a lot of the sectors in the economy but it should be carefully
thought about and implemented by weighing all the risks with benefits.
Article 2″ (PDF). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Retrieved 23 May 2016.
National Policy on Biofuel, Ministry
of New and Renewable energy, Government of India
1 octane is the measure of how much
compression a fuel can withstand before igniting. So, higher the octane rating
less likely is the fuel to undergo pre ignition combustion, so it will have
more power efficiency and lesser emissions.