Biofuels are a good solution to a glaring and current problem in India of pollution which is plaguing the entire north Indian plains. The short-term solution for this issue exists in the quick and scaled-out expansion of biofuel-powered public transport across the country.
Analysing Government response –
- The government has decided to incentivise and go all-electric by 2030. It is a very aggressive goal for a middle-income country like India and even assuming that this were to happen, do we all need to suffer the ill-effects of pollution for another 12 years?
- India’s transport policy needs to prioritise renewable vehicular fuels for large transport; e-mobility alone will not achieve the ambition of creating a sustainable transport sector.
Biofuels – A desirable solution –
- A ready solution is available in the form of biofuel-driven buses, which can be easily deployed at a short notice for all public transport purposes within cities and even for inter-city travel. We can easily ramp up ethanol production by agricultural waste to 250 million tonnes per year, to produce between 31-47 billion litres of ethanol by 2020, a radical increase from the current production of 2 billion litres. This will lead to a huge reduction in stubble burning because of an economic incentive available to remove and give the crop waste to biofuel plants.
- India generates around 70 billion litres of waste water every day, which is expected to double in the next 15 years. By building biogas generation and upgrading facilities at the Sewage Treatment Plant sites, the output can potentially substitute 350 million litres of diesel, 2.3 gigawatt hours of natural gas fired power and over 8 million LPG cylinders of 14.2kg each.
- If all efforts are made to substitute diesel fuel, India could replace over 40% of the projected demand for diesel in 2020. The energy generated from biofuels is equivalent to 340 million barrels of oil or over $22 billion (assuming a landed price of $65 per barrel).
- An increase in ethanol production alone has the potential to create over 700,000 jobs when targeting only the base potential. States with a combination of high agricultural activity and large fuel consumption like Maharasthra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh would be the best positioned to exploit this opportunity.
Way forward –
We have started with some encouraging pilots for biofuel-driven buses in cities like Nagpur, where the government has allowed special purpose vehicles to own and operate these buses along with the plants and the depots required to fuel the buses. We need measures like pushing for biofuel buses for public transport within a specific timeline like 2020. It would help transform our public transport services, improve the health of our citizens, provide economic impetus and create jobs.
With a holistic approach, which includes the full potential of biofuels for vehicles, we will be able to achieve our dream of creating an environmentally and economically sustainable transport sector.
What are biofuels?
Biofuels are fuels produced directly or indirectly from organic material – biomass – including plant materials and animal waste.
Ethanol is a type of alcohol that can be produced using any feedstock containing significant amounts of sugar, such as sugar cane or sugar beet, or starch, such as maize and wheat. A litre of ethanol contains approximately two thirds of the energy provided by a litre of petrol. However, when mixed with petrol, it improves the combustion performance and lowers the emissions of carbon monoxide and sulphur oxide.
Q: India should diversify its renewable energy basket and not put all its eggs in only one basket i.e. electric vehicles in terms of transportation fuels. Suggest a suitable alternative.