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The complex path to biofuel sustainability

  • Published
    14th Sep, 2023


Recently, India has initiated the Global Biofuel alliance during G20 Summit 2023, which raises question on India’s potential for biofuel sustainability. Any strategy needs to be carefully examined in the context of the larger ecosystem to avoid negative consequences.

Biofuels vs. Electric Vehicles

  • Changing Dynamics: While electric vehicles (EVs) have gained popularity, it's clear that transitioning to EVs is not without challenges, such as the need to replace existing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and infrastructure, which is capital-intensive.
  • Burden of importing batteries for EVs: Additionally, the import of batteries and critical minerals for EVs raises environmental concerns related to mining and supply chain issues.
  • Focus on Indigenous: Biofuels offer an alternative with minimal modifications required for existing ICE engines and infrastructure, providing import independence.

Biofuel Challenges in India

  • India's Biofuel Scenario: India primarily focuses on first-generation (1G) ethanol sourced from food crops, targeting 20% ethanol blending with petrol by 2025-26.
  • Burdening Agriculture: However, this strategy relies on diverting surplus food crops to energy production, which may not be sustainable given stagnating crop yields, groundwater depletion, and the need for food security.
  • Increasing Greenhouse gas emission: The agriculture sector, responsible for motor fuel production, also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, creating a complex balance between emissions reduction and food production.

Need for Sustainable Biofuels

  • Promoting Sustainable Biomass: Sustainable biofuels, produced from crop residues and waste with low water and greenhouse gas footprints, offer a viable solution.
  • Recent Intervention: The Global Biofuels Alliance formed at the G-20 Summit aims to strengthen sustainable biofuel development and ethanol adoption.
  • Way forward: Prioritizing biomass for sectors with limited low-carbon alternatives, such as long-haul aviation and road freight, can play a crucial role in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
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