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Biofuel- Answer to Energy Problems

Biofuel made from JatrophaRudolf diesel once very well said “My Engine today is running on Diesel but a day will come when all the fossil fuels will be over, but my engine will continue to run”. In today’s era when there is an increasing demand for fossil fuels but the level of fossil fuel is depleting at a very fast rate it is important to find an alternative fuel, which is sustainable, efficient and renewable in nature. Bio-fuel is one such alternative on which rigorous research is being done. They can be classified as first, second and third generation bio-fuel on the basis of the raw material used for their production. Bio-fuels like bio ethanol, etc. are derived from carbonaceous material of biological origin and are being currently used globally for various purposes like cooking, transportation, heating of homes and for power generation from the stationary engines. Bio-derived oil and sugar rich plants form the two most important feedstocks for bio-fuel production. Ethanol produced by fermentation of crops rich in sugar, being used as an additive or as a petroleum substitute directly are known as the First Generation Bio-fuel. The Second Generation Bio-fuel is the processed oil sourced from plants such as corn, algae, soybeans, jatropha, directly used or converted by chemical processes into high quality fuel. Algae is the main feedstock for the third generation bio-fuel, it has a lot of potential due to the higher yields derived from comparatively low resource inputs. Some important feedstocks for bio-diesel production are-

  • Virgin oil- Soybean, rapeseeds are commonly used as feedstocks for bio-diesel production. Soybean oil accounts for almost 90% of the total feedstock alone in the US. It can also be derived from jatropha, pennycress, sunflower, etc.
  • Waste Vegetable OilThe waste or refuse vegetable oil from the restraint is getting popular as a biodiesel feedstocks, many propose it to be the most suitable raw material for biodiesel production.
  • Animal fats- By-products of the production from fish oil of omega-3 fatty acid, chicken fat, yellow grease, lard, tallow are being increasingly used as a feedstock for biodiesel production.
  • Algae Algae have the capability to grow even in sewage and hence doesn’t require the procurement of the land required for food production and hence have a huge potential as a feedstock for biodiesel production in future.
  • Halophytes- Oil derived from halophytes species, which require saline water for their growth like Salicornia bigelovii can be used in coastal regions as a biodiesel feedstock as it produces yields almost equal to other oil seeds which grow in freshwater regions.

At present, global production of animal fat and vegetable oil as a raw material for biodiesel production is not sufficient enough to replace or substitute fossil fuels like diesel, petroleum, hence it is important to identify species which would give better yields and not harm the local ecology. The current proportion of feedstock usage for biodiesel production worldwide is given in figure 1.

Oil Feedstock for Bio-diesel
Fig.1, Source-

India is ranked fifth amongst the largest consumers of energy in the whole world, accounting for almost 4.4% of the total 12000 million tonnes of oil equivalent of the energy resources consumed by the world. India consumes about 47mmt of diesel. There is a huge lag between the demand and supply which is met by imports, causing the crude oil import burden to be as high as Rs. 1,10,000 crore. India has the potential to tap species like Madhuca indica (Mahua oil), Pongamia pinnata (Karanja oil), Jatropha curcas (Jatropha), etc. for bio fuel production. It was estimated by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (2011) that by the year 2017, almost 20% of India’s total energy needs would be met by biodiesel (as per National Policy on Biofuel), this would require plantation of roughly 12 to 13 million ha of biodiesel feedstock plantation. Jatropha was planned to be grown on the wastelands across India but it alone can’t meet the target of 20% and would need an additional thirty million ha of wasteland. The wastelands proposed for the plantation are community forests and grasslands which provide the local people with timber, fodder, fuel wood and thatching material. Jatropha leaves can’t serve the purpose of fodder and doesn’t yield much wood, hence jatropha plantations on the wastelands is not a beneficial alternative for the small and medium scale farmers and would increase the hardship for them. Therefore, it is important to grow a combination of different tree species and identify local species which have a good potential as a feedstock and are sustainable too. The National Bio-energy Mission was also launched by MNRE to be implemented under the 12th and 13th five year plan to utilize and harness energy, power and heat from the excess biomass sourced from agricultural, human and animal waste.

On the occasion of World Bio-fuel Day on 10th August 2015, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had announced the marketing and sale of bio-diesel mixed with high speed diesel in selected retail outlets in New Delhi, Haldia, Vishakhapatnam and Vijaywada showing the increasing interest towards bio-fuel of the country as an alternative source of energy in near future. The ministry also gave permission for the direct sale of B100 bio-diesel to bulk consumers like shipping, railways, state road transportation corporations, etc. Ethanol Blended Petrol Program (EBP) is also being promoted, wherein the ethanol blending in petrol would range from 5 to 10% based on the ethanol availability as it is more sustainable as once Mark Kennedy correctly pointed out “Ethanol and biodiesel allow people to burn a cleaner form of energy.” HPCL Biofuels Limited with the aim to contribute in the Ethanol Blended Program, revived two sugar mills located in Bihar for the generation of ethanol which could be blended in petrol as per the ambitious program of the Government of India.

Many companies are into the business of retail and manufacturing of biofuel in India like-

  • Arpit Enterprises, New Delhi
  • Indo-Bio Energy Industries, Nagpur
  • Goverdhan Energy & Petrochemical Private Limited, Nagpur
  • B. Enterprises, Mumbai
  • Rasha Petroleum Private Limited, Chennai (Bio-diesel base oil)
  • Shirke Energy, Pune

Bio-fuels are sustainable source of energy than the non renewable fossil fuels and their sustainability can be certified by different verification bodies like Roundtable of Sustainable Biofuels Certification (RSB), Bureau Veritas Certification, National Resource Defense Council, etc. They are also capable of reducing the total carbon dioxide emissions produced in its complete lifecycle. The amount of carbon dioxide produced on burning the bio fuel in the combustion engine is almost equivalent to the amount absorbed by the plant during the growth phase of its biomass hence bio-fuel is almost carbon neutral in its entire lifecycle. Furthermore, they are also comparatively less polluting with low soot and sulphur dioxide emissions due to its low impurity content like sulphur, etc. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has also issued notifications for the mass emission standards for ethanol vehicles using E85 and ED95 as the flex fuel to ascertain the efficiency and sustainability of the vehicles, also a bus using bio-ethanol as the fuel is under trial in Nagpur. Hence, bio-fuels holds great prospects in the future and need further research, monitoring and development so that the world may be gifted with a clean and sustainable energy source.

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