How Effective Will The Global Biofuel Alliance Be?

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From environmental benefits to economic opportunities, the potential of biofuels in revolutionising our energy landscape.

India has made history by hosting the 18th G-20 summit for the first time at Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on 9th and 10th September. The greatest success of the summit came with the approval of the New Delhi Manifesto. Under this manifesto, the formation of a Biofuel Alliance was announced. The three founding members of the alliance—US, India, and Brazil—account for approximately 85 percent of the global ethanol production. In addition to India, the member countries include the US, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Italy, Mauritius, South Africa, UAE, and the United States, with Canada and Singapore as observer countries. However, China, along with oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, have opted not to join the alliance.

Q. Why was there a need for this organisation?

A. With a focus on the environment, biofuels present a promising alternative for global fuel supply. Biofuels are derived from sources such as trees, grains, algae, husks, and food waste, containing lower levels of carbon. Increasing their use can reduce the world’s reliance on traditional fossil fuels like petrol and diesel, consequently lowering environmental pollution.

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Due to the limited availability of fossil fuels and their adverse environmental impact, biofuels are being embraced worldwide. According to the International Energy Agency, biofuels accounted for over four percent of the global transportation sector in 2022. To achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050, biofuel production will need to triple by 2030. Currently, America and Brazil dominate the biofuel market, with the European Union following closely behind. Establishing a global biofuel alliance within the G-20 framework could prove beneficial for the entire world, including India.

Q. What are the objectives of the organisation?

A. The global biofuels alliance aims to foster cooperation across all sectors, particularly transportation, to accelerate the adoption of sustainable biofuels. Its primary focus is on strengthening markets, facilitating global biofuels trade, sharing policy insights, and providing technical assistance to national biofuels programs worldwide. The alliance also aims to expedite efforts to phase out coal use in alignment with national circumstances, reaffirming the commitment made in 2009 in Pittsburgh to rationalise fossil fuel subsidies.

Q. Objective of this organisation:

A. The newly formed alliance has several goals. Firstly, it seeks to create a supportive policy environment for global biofuels use. Second, member countries will commit to sharing technology for biofuel development and utilisation. Third, establishing a market for biofuel production and use will require mutual support among members. Lastly, it is essential to assess the environmental and social impacts of biofuels.

Q. What is biofuel?

A. Biofuels are naturally occurring alternatives to fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. They can be utilised for various purposes including transportation, power generation, heating, and cooking. Rudolf Diesel first used vegetable oil to power an internal combustion engine for farming back in 1890.

As India transitions towards sustainable energy sources, coordinating its diverse needs poses a challenge. These challenges include reducing energy imports, integrating grids with green energy, maintaining electricity affordability, and updating energy production methods to create job opportunities. In this context, biofuels—such as ethanol, compressed biogas, and biodiesel—have emerged as crucial tools to achieve these objectives. They can reduce oil import dependence and environmental pollution, while also generating additional income for farmers and creating employment opportunities in rural areas.

Q. How is biofuel beneficial?

A. Biofuels offer several advantages over fossil fuels. Firstly, they produce fewer carbon dioxide emissions, aiding in climate change mitigation. Secondly, they are renewable resources, likely to remain available for an extended period. Thirdly, biofuels can stimulate local economies.

In India, ethanol production primarily utilises sugarcane and its by-products, accounting for 90% of the production under the ‘Ethanol Blending Programme’. This programme not only provides farmers with an alternative income source but also injects liquidity into the sugar industry facing economic pressures. Utilising surplus rice and maize from the Food Corporation of India for ethanol production can create a new market for these products.

Unlike depletable mineral oil, the production and use of biofuels from renewable sources can continue indefinitely. It is crucial for the government and stakeholders involved in biofuels to take this goal seriously to achieve it in a timely manner.

Challenges:

Despite the advantages, biofuels also present challenges. Firstly, they are often more expensive than fossil fuels. Secondly, their production can sometimes lead to environmental issues such as soil erosion and excessive water use. Additionally, biofuel production can impact food security and raise food prices. Many crops used for biofuel production are also used directly or indirectly for human and animal consumption, affecting daily dietary needs. Increasing the cultivation of these crops for biofuel production may necessitate more agricultural land, leading to increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, which are pollutants.

Various technical challenges are associated with biofuel use, such as vehicle engine performance over time. However, the establishment of new global organisations could potentially address these challenges. There is also a risk of deforestation and increased agricultural land use for biofuel crops, which may release carbon stocks into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Government efforts to promote biofuels:

The Government of India has formulated a national biofuels policy, aiming to achieve a 20% ethanol blending target in petrol by 2025-26 instead of 2030. This policy encourages biofuel production in the country, particularly in units located in special economic zones (SEZs) and export oriented units (EOUs) under the Make in India programme. The government has expanded the membership of the National Biofuels Coordination Committee (NBCC) to ensure effective coordination and monitoring of the biofuels programme.

Under this policy, ethanol production is permitted from various sources including sugarcane juice, sugar-containing items like beetroot, sweet sorghum, starchy items like corn and cassava, and waste grains unfit for human consumption like wheat and broken rice. The policy aims to broaden the range of raw materials for ethanol production.

Q. How should India address these challenges?

A. To fully benefit from sustainability initiatives, simplifying and expediting the process of obtaining government approvals for setting up bio-refineries is crucial. The establishment of an environmental portal for granting project environmental clearances is a positive step in this regard. Additionally, realising the transformative potential of biofuels requires collaborative efforts from students, teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders.

It is essential to promote the development of dedicated biodiesel engines for the commercialisation of biodiesel. Technical support, expected to be provided by the new organisation, is necessary for this endeavour. India can learn from Brazil’s success in scaling up bio-ethanol marketing by increasing the development of flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which have engines designed for both ethanol and gasoline. Furthermore, investing in research and development of second and third-generation biofuels is crucial.

The world views biofuels as a promising solution to rising petrol and diesel prices, offering a means to alleviate the fuel crisis. With the establishment of this global organisation, cooperation is expected to yield substantial benefits in promoting biofuels.


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