UPSC MAINS 2019: Biofuels in India

Biofuels in India


Topic: Biofuels in India

  Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 3: Science & Technology


Biofuels in India

About Biofuels:

  • Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels primarily produced from biomass, and can be used to replace or can be used in addition to diesel, petrol or other fossil fuels for transport, stationary, portable and other applications.
  • Crops used to make biofuels are generally either high in sugar (such as sugarcane, sugarbeet, and sweet sorghum), starch (such as maize and tapioca) or oils (such as soybean, rapeseed, and coconut, sunflower).


Biofuels in India

  • According to British Petroleum (BP), by 2035, India will have the largest growth in energy consumption amongst all the major economies and it will remain dependent on energy imports to meet its needs.
  • BP predicts that India’s need for natural gas will increase by 162 per cent that of oil by 120 per cent, coal by 105 per cent renewables by 699 per cent, nuclear by 317 per cent and hydro by 97 per cent.
  • This will need to be met by a 165 per cent increase in oil imports, a 173 per cent increase in gas imports and a 105 per cent increase in coal imports.
  • Renewables will become the second largest fuel produced in India by 2035, surpassing oil.
  • Indian biofuel initiatives began in 2003.40 To promote biofuels, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has undertaken measures like setting up a Steering Committee for biofuels and creating a dedicated Biofuel Cell within the Ministry
  • With the recent implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), an 18 per cent tax is now levied on both biodiesel and ethanol.
  • This has resulted in biodiesel becoming more expensive than diesel and has almost brought the sale of biodiesel to a “halt”.59 Ethanol, on the other hand, which is a bigger industry, could survive the GST.


Categories of biofuels:

Biofuels are generally classified into three categories. They are

  • First generation biofuels – First-generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats using conventional technology. Common first-generation biofuels include Bioalcohols, Biodiesel, Vegetable oil, Bioethers, Biogas.
  • Second generation biofuels – These are produced from non-food crops, such as cellulosic biofuels and waste biomass (stalks of wheat and corn, and wood). Examples include advanced biofuels like biohydrogen, biomethanol.
  • Third generation biofuels – These are produced from micro-organisms like algae.


Biodiesel and its benefits:

Bio-diesel is an eco-friendly, alternative diesel fuel prepared from domestic renewable resources ie. Vegetable oils (edible or non- edible oil) and animal fats. These natural oils and fats are primarily made up of triglycerides.

The benefits of using biodiesel are as follows:

  • It reduce vehicle emission which makes it eco-friendly.
  • It is made from renewable sources and can be prepared locally.
  • Increases engine performance because it has higher cetane numbers as compared to petro diesel.
  • It has excellent lubricity.
  • Increased safety in storage and transport because the fuel is nontoxic and bio degradable (Storage, high flash pt)
  • Production of bio diesel in India will reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, thus helpful in price stability.
  • Reduction of greenhouse gases at least by 3.3 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of biodiesel.


Various Biofuels;



  • Jatropha curcas is multipurpose non edible oil yielding perennial shrub.
  • This is a hardy and drought tolerant crop can be raised in marginal lands with lesser input.
  • The crop can be maintained for 30 years economically.



  • Sugarbeet (Beta vulgaris Var. Saccharifera L.) is a biennial sugar producing tuber crop, grown in temperate countries.
  • Now tropical sugarbeet varieties are gaining momentum in tropical and sub-tropical countries, as a promising alternative energy crop for the production of ethanol.



  • Sorghum (S. bicolor) is the most important millet crop occupying largest area among the cereals next to rice.
  • It is mainly grown for its grain and fodder.
  • Alternative uses of sorghum include commercial utilization of grain in food industry and utilization of stalk for the production of value-added products like ethanol, syrup and jaggery and bioenriched bagasse as a fodder and as a base material for cogeneration.



  • There is several non-edible oil yielding trees that can be grown to produce biofuel.
  • Karanja (Pongamia) is one of the most suitable trees.
  • It is widely grown in various parts of the country.


Cabinet approves National Policy on Biofuels – 2018:

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved National Policy on Biofuels – 2018.
  • The Government has unveiled a new National Biofuel Policy (2018) that incentivises biofuel generation through multiple measures.
  • Major steps include encouragement of biofuel generation from excess crop production and setting apart Rs 5000 crores viability gap funding to establish second generation ethanol refineries.
  • For providing specific fiscal incentives, the policy categorises biofuels into several groups: 1G (First Generation), 2G, 3G, and bio-CNG.
  • The Policy widens the range of feedstocks that can be used for producing ethanol and allows the use of damaged grains that is unusable for food purposes for ethanol production.
  • As per the policy, besides sugar molasses, beet, sorghum, corn, damaged grains etc. can be used for ethanol production.


Salient Features:

  • Categorization of Biofuels: Biofuels will be categorised into ‘Basic Biofuels’ viz. First Generation (1G) bioethanol &biodiesel and ‘Advanced Biofuels’ – Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels, Third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc. for providing appropriate financial and fiscal incentives under each category.
  • Expansion of the scope of raw materials for ethanol production: The Policy expands the type of bio-raw materials for ethanol production by including Sugarcane Juice, Sugar containing materials like Sugar Beet, Sweet Sorghum, Starch containing materials like Corn, Cassava, Damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, Rotten Potatoes etc. which are unusable for human consumption.
  • Surplus food grains can be used for ethanol production: During excess production, crop prices fall. Here, the Policy allows use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol with the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee.
  • Viability Gap Funding: For the generation of Advanced Biofuels, the Policy proposes a viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries with Rs.5000 crore in 6 years. In addition to this, additional tax incentives, higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels will be given for 2G ethanol generation.
  • Supply chain for biodiesel production: The Policy encourages setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, Used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops etc.


Expected Benefits:

  • Reduce Import Dependency: One crore lit of E10 saves Rs.28 crore of forex at current rates. The ethanol supply year 2017-18 is likely to see a supply of around 150 crore litres of ethanol which will result in savings of over Rs.4000 crore of forex.
  • Cleaner Environment: One crore lit of E-10 saves around 20,000 ton of CO2 emissions. For the ethanol supply year 2017-18, there will be lesser emissions of CO2 to the tune of 30 lakh ton. By reducing crop burning & conversion of agricultural residues/wastes to biofuels there will be further reduction in Green House Gas emissions.
  • Health benefits: Prolonged reuse of Cooking Oil for preparing food, particularly in deep-frying is a potential health hazard and can lead to many diseases. Used Cooking Oil is a potential feedstock for biodiesel and its use for making biodiesel will prevent diversion of used cooking oil in the food industry.
  • MSW Management: It is estimated that, annually 62 MMT of Municipal Solid Waste gets generated in India. There are technologies available which can convert waste/plastic, MSW to drop in fuels. One ton of such waste has the potential to provide around 20% of drop in fuels.
  • Infrastructural Investment in Rural Areas: It is estimated that, one 100klpd bio refinery will require around Rs.800 crore capital investment. At present Oil Marketing Companies are in the process of setting up twelve 2G bio refineries with an investment of around Rs.10,000 crore. Further addition of 2G bio refineries across the Country will spur infrastructural investment in the rural areas.
  • Employment Generation: One 100klpd 2G bio refinery can contribute 1200 jobs in Plant Operations, Village Level Entrepreneurs and Supply Chain Management.
  • Additional Income to Farmers: By adopting 2G technologies, agricultural residues/waste which otherwise are burnt by the farmers can be converted to ethanol and can fetch a price for these waste if a market is developed for the same. Also, farmers are at a risk of not getting appropriate price for their produce during the surplus production phase.


What are the challenges to implement this policy?

  • Additional sugarcane cultivation or it can be met by improved farm practices/HYV canes
  • Installing special dispensing units at petrol pumps across the country
  • Automakers need to be given adequate time to comply
  • Oil marketing companies will have to augment storage capacity for ethanol
  • Reforming tax structure so that transport of ethanol across state boundaries is not expensive.


Food vs Fuel:

  • The food versus fuel debate is, in short, a dispute over the impact of biofuel production on food security.
  • According to the FAO, the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050.
  • This rise in population will be accompanied by rapid urbanisation, increase in income levels and changing dietary habits.
  • A 70 per cent increase in agricultural output is needed to meet the future projected demand for food.
  • It is alleged that biofuel production from first generation sources are in competition with food production over land and other resources like water and increases food prices.



The future of biofuels is a hotly debated topic. Views of researchers vary on almost every issue but one thing is for sure and that is that biofuels are here to stay and conflict can arise from several fronts. Even though GHG mitigation from first generation biofuels varies, second, third and fourth generation biofuels hold more opportunities for unlocking the potential of biofuels and help achieve climate mitigation targets but they are not yet commercially viable and the technology is still being developed.


Sample Question:

What are biofuels? Are biofuels the solution to the impending energy crisis? Examine.

Biofuels in India Infographics