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The Complex Path to Biofuel Sustainability

Why is it in the news?

  • Biofuels face challenges despite the growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Transition to EVs requires replacing existing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and infrastructure, which is a capital-intensive process.

Challenges in India

  • In India, biofuels primarily refer to first-generation (1G) ethanol, sourced from food crops.
    • The policy aims to achieve 20% ethanol blending with petrol (E20) by 2025-26, relying on 1G ethanol from sugarcane and foodgrains.
  • Second-generation (2G) ethanol, made from crop waste, faces challenges related to feedstock supply and scaling up.
  • Groundwater depletion and food security concerns arise from diverting surplus produce towards energy production.
  • Agriculture is a significant source of direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making it counterproductive to increase emissions for fuel production.
Promoting Sustainable Biofuels
  • Sustainable biofuels are produced from crop residues and waste with low water and GHG footprints.
    • The Global Biofuels Alliance aims to promote sustainable biofuels and support India’s climate action.
  • To achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050, sustainable biofuel production must triple by 2030.
  • Decentralized 2G ethanol production is a potential sustainable solution but presents challenges in balancing economies of scale with biomass collection and transport.
  • Biomass should be prioritized for sectors with limited low-carbon alternatives like long-haul aviation and road freight.
  • The Global Biofuels Alliance can drive innovation in efficient biomass supply chains and smaller-scale decentralized biofuel production.
  • Any hydrocarbon fuels produced from organic matter in a short period of time is a biofuel.
  • Types: Solid (e.g., wood, dried plants, manure), Liquid (e.g., bioethanol, biodiesel), Gaseous (e.g., biogas)
  • Used as alternatives or supplements to diesel, petrol, and other fossil fuels.
  • Utilized in transportation, stationary, portable applications, heat, and electricity generation.
  • Motivated by rising oil prices, greenhouse gas emissions, and agricultural crop-based fuel production.

Different Categories of Biofuels

First Generation Biofuels:

  • Made from food sources (sugar, starch, vegetable oil, animal fats).
  • Examples: Bio-alcohols, Bio-diesel, Vegetable oil, Bio-ethers, Biogas.
  • Easy conversion but competes with food production, causing price increases.


Second Generation Biofuels:

  • Produced from non-food crops or inedible portions of food crops (e.g., stems, husks, wood chips).
  • Examples: Cellulose ethanol, Biodiesel.
  • Complex production processes, lower impact on food economy, lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Third Generation Biofuels:

  • Derived from micro-organisms like algae.
  • Example: Butanol.
  • Grown on land and water unsuitable for food production, reducing water strain.
  • Fertilizer use may lead to environmental pollution.


Fourth Generation Biofuels:

  • Crops genetically engineered to absorb high carbon levels.
  • Grown, harvested, and converted into fuel using second-generation techniques.
  • Carbon capture and geo-sequestration used (carbon storage in depleted oil/gas fields or coal seams).
  • Considered carbon-negative as they remove carbon from the environment.


Global Biofuel Alliance

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 India-led initiative.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Aims to develop an alliance involving Governments, International organizations, and Industry to promote biofuel adoption.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Comprises 19 countries and 12 international organizations.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Founding members: India, Brazil, and the US.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Focuses on enhancing the use of sustainable biofuels, particularly in the transportation sector.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 India, the US, and Brazil collectively account for 85 percent of global ethanol production.

路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 US holds the largest share at 55 percent, followed by Brazil at 27 percent, and India at 3 percent.

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