Offsetting Carbon

Role of biofuels in achieving India’s net zero emission goals

Arun Kumar, Consultant, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas
Ranjith P.C., Research Associate, Zonal Technology Management, Business Promotion and Development Unit, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute

India will have to reduce net emissions by an average of 0.2 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year over the next 30 years in order to reach net zero emissions. For carbon offsetting and carbon footprint reduction, it is important to find and switch from fossil fuels to clean alternatives in the form of biofuels. Net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from biofuels are significantly lower than from the combustion of conventional petroleum-derived fuels.

Over the past few years, India’s oil and gas demand has been steadily increasing. By 2045, India’s oil demand is expected to in­c­rease by two times, reaching 11 million ba­rrels. Diesel and gasoline will co­v­er 58 per cent of the country’s oil demands by 2045, with diesel demand ex­pected to do­u­ble to 163 mt by 2029-30. Also, the cons­um­ption of natural gas is projected to in­crease by 25 billion cubic metres with an annual growth rate of 9 per cent until 2024. Thus, for developing a country like India, it is difficult to balance the growing energy demand, burden on the exchequer and compliance with emission reduction targets.

About 10 per cent of India’s total GHG emissions come from its transportation sector. India’s per capita CO2 emissions have skyrocketed over the past four decades, shooting up from 0.39 metric tonnes in 1970 to 1.87 metric ton­n­es in 2019. In spite of this, with the outbreak of Covid-19 in India, the total CO2 emissions plummeted in 2020, resulting in a per capita emission level of 1.74 metric ton­n­es. Grappling with climate change ov­er the decades, the world is now moving to­wards cleaner and safer energy, and India has been actively promoting cleaner fuels for the past several years.

India’s efforts to accelerate towards renewables and make its overall energy basket cleaner with soft power and green energy are not only enhancing the country’s image globally, but also giving it a chance to be a leader in the realm of global clean energy. Among the various clean fuels available for viable harvest, biofuel is most commonly used for fuelling the growing vehicle fleet in the country while improving farmers’ inco­mes and rural prosperity. By 2050, there will be a significant reduction in the use of conventional biofuels, which are made from food crops. The path to ensuring bio­energy sustainability is challenging, but not im­possible in the NZE scenario.

Biofuel production status

As crude oil import bills rise, the Indian government is switching to domestic fuel alternatives such as biodiesel, which is serving as the key game changer. It is the right time to focus on the long term to achieve the 2070 objective of zero carbon emissions. Ethanol production in India stood at around 3,350 million litres in 2021. This re­sulted in around 9 per cent ethanol bl­en­ding in petrol. The global biofuel consumption between 2010 and 2019 ex­pan­ded by 5 per cent annually. As per Minis­try of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) data, the target of ethanol blen­ding with petrol by oil marketing companies during 2020-21 was 4.5 per cent. A total of 2,216 million litres of ethanol was blended in the country during the year 2020-21 as compared to 169.97 million litres in 2019-20.

Oil marketing companies (OMCs) have issued tenders for a requirement of 4,576.4 million litres of ethanol in financial year 2020-21. The OMCs have also been en­han­cing their ethanol storage capacity, which increased from 53.9 million litres in November 2017 to 267.2 million litres as of June 2020, thereby providing an etha­nol storage cover of 25 days at 10 per cent blending levels at their depots.

Biofuel production promoters

  • The MoPNG also issued a Long Term Ethanol Procurement Policy under the EBP Programme on October 11, 2019. To promote the ease of doing business, the OMCs have incorporated ma­ny changes in the expressions of inte­rest for ethanol procurement released by them for 2020-21.
  • In line with this decision, oil PSUs are establishing 2G ethanol biorefineries in different parts of the country. Projects in Bathinda (Punjab), Panipat (Har­yana), Bar­garh (Odisha) and Numali­garh (Ass­am) are at advanced stages of construction.
  • In order to improve the financial viability of 2G ethanol projects, the government has launched the Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN (Jaiv Indhan-Vatavaran Anukool Fa­sal Awashesh Nivaran) Yojana for providing financial assistance to provide an initial thrust to the creation of 2G ethanol capacity in the country and attract investments in this sector. The scheme will provide financial support to 12 integrated bioethanol projects using lignocellulosic biomass and other renewable feedstock with a total financial outlay of Rs 19,695 million for the period 2018-19 to 2023-24. This am­ount will be provided along with support to 10 demo projects for 2G tech­no­logy. Financial assistance to commercial projects at Bathin­da, Pa­nipat, Bargarh, Numaligarh and a de­mo­n­­s­tra­tion plant at Panipat has been already approved under the scheme.
  • The Sustainable Alternative towards Affordable Transportation or SATAT initiative is a developmental effort that wo­uld benefit vehicle users as well as farmers and entrepreneurs. This initiative holds great promise for efficient municipal solid waste management and tackling of the air pollution pro­blem in urban areas due to stubble burning and other carbon emissions.

Potential growth sectors

To increase domestic petrol availability via ethanol blending, it is necessary to intensify all efforts to increase biofuel production:

  • Biodiesel is mainly manufactured from the oil-bearing seeds of the Jatropha cur­cas plant, which is cultivated by In­dian farmers. However, due to a shortage of Jatropha seeds, other feedstock technologies are being used to produce biodiesel. For example, used cooking oils, animal fats and imported crude ve­getable oils (such as palm oil) are also being used by several produ­cers for manufacturing biodiesel.
  • Farmers and other biomass producers are unlikely to see a significant, susta­ined demand for cellulosic feedstock (such as switch grass or corn stover) until more refineries begin producing ce­llulosic biofuels on a commercial sc­ale for Indian markets.
  • Their investment risk is even greater in the case of crops that may need more than one season to become establish­ed and begin producing profitable yie­lds. On the other hand, energy crops can often grow on marginal land and in harsh weather conditions.
  • In addition to the huge potential of agricultural and forestry waste, waste stre­a­ms include sewage sludge, commercial and residential food waste, livestock ma­nure, and biogas. Urban waste str­eams contain a variety of potentially useful biomass materials, including construction and demolition wood waste.

Policy suggestions

  • The net zero emissions by 2050 scenario requires a much higher annual av­e­rage growth of 14 per cent by 2030. However, achieving this will require considerably stronger policies.
  • Governments can employ a combination of regulatory measures such as ma­n­dates, low-carbon fuel standards and GHG intensity targets, combined with carbon pricing and financial incentives, to help raise the biofuel demand.
  • Biofuels are currently consumed throu­gh blending at low percentages with fossil fuels (typically less than 10 per cent by volume or unit of energy). The automobile sector would be best pla­ced to encourage the use of flexible fuel vehicles to allow high shares of sustainable biofuels in altered gasoline or diesel.
  • It is crucial to ensure that greater biofuel consumption is accompanied by tangible social, economic and environ­me­n­tal benefits, including a reduction in life ­cycle GHG emissions.
  • The transition to advanced bioenergy mu­st be facilitated, and it must be po­ssi­­ble to maximise the efficiency of the production and use of bioenergy.


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