Adeela Hameed

Biofuels: These New Age Fuels Can Pilot Our Planet

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Combustible fuels created from biomass are called biofuels. In simple terms, these are fuels created from living plant matter as opposed to dead remains of ancient organisms – that are the life-force of fossil fuels. Biofuels are generally used to reference ethanol and biodiesel – which act as replacements for transportation fuels such as petroleum, diesel, jet fuel etc.

Biofuels also include solid fuels like wood pellets and biogas or syngas (synthesis gas). Two main types of biofuels – as mentioned before are – ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is formed by fermentation and can be used as a replacement – or additive – to gasoline. Biodiesel is produced by extracting naturally occurring oils from plants and seeds in a process called transesterfication, and is combusted in diesel engines.

National Biofuel Policy 2018

Like Make in India, Skill Development, and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan programs of the current government, biofuels blend well with ongoing novel drives – leading to approval of 2018 National Policy on Biofuels by the Prime Minister.

Types of Biofuels under National Policy 2018

Biofuels have been classified – as per the National Biofuel Policy 2018 – into:

  1. Basic Biofuels – First Generation such as bioethanol and biodiesel.
  2. Advanced Biofuels – Second Generation such as Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels and ethanol.
  3. Third Generation biofuels such as bio-CNG.

Raw Materials Used

Organic matter unfit for human consumption can be utilized as raw materials for ethanol production. Examples are – sugar containing materials like sugar beet, sweet sorghum, cassava, sugar cane juice, and food grains like damaged wheat and rotten potatoes. With the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee, surplus food grains can be utilized to produce ethanol for blending with petrol.

Estimation of Improvements in the Environment

  1. 1 crore litre of E-10 (this number refers to the percentage of bioethanol in fuel) saves around 20,000 ton of CO2emissions.
  2. By reducing crop burning, and converting agricultural residues and wastes to biofuels, greenhouse gas emissions will be further reduced.
  3. The Ministry of Power issued a policy to help tackle air pollution using 5-10 % of biomass pellets – alongside coal – for power generation in thermal power plants across the nation.

How the new biofuel policy is of use to India?

  1. Biofuels offer a great opportunity to incorporate the ambitious goal of doubling farmers’ income, waste-to-wealth creation, employment generation, and import reduction.
  2. Due to continuous non-availability of domestic feedstock, the biofuels program in India has witnessed a setback, which needs proper attention. The new policy on biofuels will help change this trend.
  3. The policy indicates a viability gap funding program for 2G (second generation) ethanol bio refineries of Rs. 50 billion in 6 years – with an obvious thrust on Advanced Biofuels. This comes in addition to extra tax incentives and higher purchase price as compared to 1G (first generation)  biofuels.
  4. Biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, used cooking oil, and short gestation crops will be encouraged for setting up of supply chain mechanisms.

Advantages of Using Biofuels

Biofuels are not as energy dense as conventional transportation fuels. The following statement provides the necessary justification:

‘1 gallon of biodiesel has 93% of the energy of 1 gallon of diesel, and 1 gallon of ethanol (E85) has 73% of the energy of 1 gallon of gasoline’

Minimal changes to infrastructure are needed as biofuels can be used in existent combustion engines. These provide an alternative to foreign fuel imports in areas that don’t have hydrocarbon resources but have suitable agricultural conditions. To top it off, biofuels come from an extensive variety of sources and can be produced in many regions.

It is generally accepted that crops used to produce biofuels can be replenished much faster than fossil fuels – although there is some dispute over just how renewable they are. But biofuels are currently the only feasible replacement to hydrocarbon transportation fuels.

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