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The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines biofuels as liquid fuels derived from biomass, which provide alternatives to conventional fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuels.

What are Biofuels?

A biofuel is any hydrocarbon fuel that comes from organic matter, like living or once-living materials, and people produce it within a relatively short timeframe, ranging from days to months.

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Biofuels may be solid, liquid or gaseous in nature.

  • Solid: Wood, dried plant material, and manure
  • Liquid: Bioethanol and Biodiesel
  • Gaseous: Biogas

Categories of Biofuels

First Generation biofuels
  • Traditional methods create these fuels from everyday ingredients like sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats.
  • Bio-alcohols, biodiesel, vegetable oil, bio-ethers, and biogas are all types of first-generation biofuels that come from these sources.
  • While the process to make them is straightforward, relying on food for biofuel production disrupts the food supply chain, leading to higher food prices and exacerbating hunger issues.
Second Generation biofuels
  • Humans craft these fuels from leftovers of non-edible parts of plants like fruit peels, hus
  • Some fuels are considered carbon-negative because their production involves extracting carbon from the environment.
  • ks, stems, and wood chips, which they typically consider as waste.
  • They undergo chemical reactions or conversion processes to become usable fuels, examples being biodiesel and cellulose ethanol.
  • Despite not competing with food production, their production poses challenges.
  • Furthermore, proponents argue that they emit fewer greenhouse gases compared to traditional biofuels made from edible crops.
Third Generation biofuels
  • These are produced from micro-organisms like algae. Example:- Butanol.
  • Humans can cultivate algae on land and in water unsuitable for food production, thereby easing pressure on already-depleted water supplies.
  • One disadvantage is that fertilizers used in the production of such crops lead to environmental pollution.
Fourth Generation Biofuels
  • Farmers cultivate and harvest genetically modified crops that absorb large amounts of carbon to create these fuels.
  • Farmers then use second-generation techniques to convert the crops into fuel.
  • Before burning the fuel, we initiate pre-combustion processes and capture the carbon.
  • Then, we store the carbon in coal seams that cannot be mined or in depleted oil or gas fields, a method known as geo-sequestration.
  • Some fuels are considered carbon-negative because their production involves extracting carbon from the environment.

Major Types of Biofuels

  • Humans ferment corn and sugarcane to produce this fuel.
  • One liter of this fuel contains about two-thirds of the energy found in one liter of gasoline.
  • When mixed with gasoline, it improves the burning process of fuel and lowers emissions of harmful gases like carbon monoxide and sulfur oxide.
  • Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) have internal combustion engines and can run on either gasoline or any blend of gasoline and ethanol-based fuel.
  • Humans derive it from vegetable oils such as soybean oil or palm oil, vegetable waste oils, and animal fats through a biochemical process known as “Transesterification“.
  • It produces very little or no amount of harmful gases as compared to diesel.
  • You can use it as an alternative to conventional diesel fuel.
  • Humans and animals create it through the anaerobic breakdown of organic materials, like sewage.
  • Methane and carbon dioxide make up the majority of biogas, while it also contains minor amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
  • People often use biogas for heating, generating electricity, and powering transportation.
  • Similar to how bioethanol is produced, humans ferment starch to make butanol.
  • Among gasoline alternatives, butanol boasts the highest energy content, making it a promising option for reducing emissions from diesel.
  • Biohydrogen, like biogas, can be produced using several processes such as pyrolysis, gasification, or biological fermentation.
  • It can be the perfect alternative to fossil fuels.

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.
  • We can use more stuff to make ethanol: sugarcane juice, sugar beets, sweet sorghum, corn, cassava, damaged grains like wheat, broken rice, and even rotten potatoes that humans can’t eat.
  • 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.
  • The government is boosting advanced biofuels with a Rs. 5000 crore funding scheme over 6 years for 2G ethanol bio refineries. It also offers extra tax benefits and better purchase prices compared to 1G biofuels.
  • Encourages setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops.

International Initiatives on Sustainable Biofuels

Production of sustainable biofuels is required to reduce their impact on the environment and economy.

  • Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB):
    • This initiative unites farmers, companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and scientists who share an interest in promoting the sustainability of biofuel production and distribution on an international scale.
    • In April 2011, it launched a set of comprehensive sustainability criteria – the “RSB Certification System”. Biofuels producers that meet these criteria are able to show buyers and regulators that their product has been obtained without harming the environment or violating human rights.
  • Sustainable Biofuels Consensus:
    • It is an international initiative which calls upon governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to take decisive action to ensure the sustainable trade, production, and use of biofuels.
  • Bonsucro:
    • It is an international not for-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established in 2008 to promote sustainable sugar cane.
    • It does that through setting sustainability standards and certifying sugar cane products including ethanol, sugar and molasses.
    • Its stated aim is to reduce ‘the environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production while recognising the need for economic viability’.

National Initiatives

Initiatives by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology:

  • The department successfully developed 2G Ethanol and transferred the technology to Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs).
  • Developed Indigenous Cellulolytic Enzyme for the production of biofuels.
  • Demonstrated micro algae-based sewage treatment technology.

Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana 2019

  • The objective of the scheme is to create an ecosystem for setting up commercial projects and to boost Research and Development in 2G Ethanol sector.

Ethanol blending

  • The 2018 Biofuel Policy aims to achieve a significant milestone by 2030: 20% of ethanol-blending and 5% of biodiesel-blending in fuel.
  • To support this goal, the Government has decided to lessen the GST on ethanol for blending from 18% to 5%, making it more economically viable.
  • The Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas is actively working towards enhancing the ethanol supply for blending with petrol, demonstrating a commitment to sustainable fuel alternatives.

GOBAR (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources) DHAN scheme, 2018

  • It focuses on managing and turning solid farm waste, like as animal dung, into compost, biogas, and bio-CNG, which helps keep villages clean and boosts the income of rural people.
  • It was launched under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).

Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO)

  • RUCO launched by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) aims for an ecosystem that will enable the collection and conversion of used cooking oil to biodiesel.

National Policy on Biofuels, 2018

  • The policy categorizes biofuels into two main types: “Basic Biofuels” like traditional ethanol and biodiesel, and “Advanced Biofuels” such as next-gen ethanol and bio-CNG.
  • It broadens the scope of raw materials for biofuel production by allowing the use of sugarcane juice, sugar beet, sweet sorghum, corn, cassava, and damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, and spoiled potatoes unfit for human consumption.

Advantages of Biofuels

Availability: Biofuels utilize renewable sources such as crop waste, manure, and other leftovers, in contrast to oil, which originates from a limited number of elements and is depleting.

Environment Pollution: While biofuels emit less carbon than fossil fuels, the fertilizers used to grow biofuel crops do release greenhouse gases. However, biofuels can help manage solid waste by turning garbage into fuel.

Security: Producing biofuels locally reduces dependence on imported energy, keeping a country’s energy resources secure from outside influences.

Economic stimulation: Local biofuel production creates jobs in rural areas, with manufacturing facilities hiring hundreds or thousands of workers. This also boosts the agriculture industry by increasing demand for biofuel crops.

Disadvantages of Biofuels

Efficiency: Fossil Fuels produce more energy than some biofuels. E.g. 1 gallon of ethanol produces less energy as compared to 1 gallon of gasoline (a fossil fuel).

Cost: Fossil fuel extraction from the earth is a challenging and expensive operation, which results in high expenses. The land is needed for the production of biofuels, which has an impact on both the price of biofuels and the price of food crops. Additionally, even while farmers can benefit financially from planting transgenic biofuel crops, too many of these crops have the potential to destroy biodiversity.

Food shortages: There is a concern that using valuable cropland to grow fuel crops could have an impact on the cost of food and could lead to food shortages.

Water use: Growing biofuel crops and manufacturing the fuel require massive quantities of water, which could strain local and regional water resources.

Read also: Future of Ethanol Blending in India

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