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India is set to announce a policy on flexible-fuel cars, cars that can run on bio-ethanol and petrol, or a blend of both.

Biofuel production would help farmers by supporting the diversification of agriculture into energy, power and bio-plastics.

What are Biofuels?

Simply put, fuels produced directly/indirectly from organic material i.e. biomass including plant materials and animal waste.

Biofuels can be solid, liquid or gaseous.

Primary Biofuels

Those organic materials which are used in an unprocessed form such as fuel wood, wood chips and pellets, primarily for heating, cooking, electricity production.

Secondary Biofuels

Those materials which result from processing of biomass.
Example: Liquid fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel

What are different generations of Biofuels?

First Generation

The first generation fuels are conventional biofuels made from sugar, starch or vegetable.
Issue: They come from a biomass that is also a food source, so it requires a lot of land to grow at a time when there is food shortage in the world.

Let’s learn about some of the famous examples in this category.

Ethanol – It is a type of alcohol which can be produced by any feedstock containing significant amount of sugar. It can be blended with petrol or burned in nearly pure form in slightly modified spark-ignition engines.

1 litre of ethanol produces energy equivalent to two-third of energy produced by 1 litre of petrol.

Is there any benefit of blending except providing an alternative to sugar industry? Of course, it improves combustion performance and lowers the emissions of Carbon Mono-oxide and Sulfur Di-oxide.

Biodiesel – It is produced by combining vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. It can be blended with traditional diesel fuel or burned in its pure form in compression ignition engines.

Source – rapeseed, soyabeen, palm, coconut or jatropha oils.

Energy content is 88-95 % of diesel

Second Generation

They come from non-food biomass such as wood, organic waste, food waste, specific biomass crops.
Issue: The second-generation fuel sources compete with food production for land.

Third Generation

They are specifically engineered crops such as algae as the energy source. These algae are grown and harvested to extract oil within them.

Fourth Generation

They are aimed at not only producing sustainable energy but also a way of capturing and storing carbon-dioxide. They are carbon-negative i.e. it takes away more carbon-dioxide than it produces.

National Policy on Biofuels 2015

The Policy endeavors to facilitate and bring about optimal development and utilization of indigenous biomass feedstocks for production of bio-fuels.

  • It envisages that biofuels will be produced using non-food feedstock on waste lands
  • Encouraged the use of renewable energy resources as alternate fuels to supplement transport fuels
  • Proposed an indicative target of 20% biofuel blending by 2017
  • Major thrust for development of second generation biofuels
  • A Biofuel Steering Committee will be set up to oversee implementation of the Policy

Criticism – Govt launched National Biodiesel Mission identifying Jatropha as the most suitable tree-borne oilseed for bio-diesel production, which failed miserably. The policy is also criticized for being largely sugarcane centric.

What is the proposal under flex-fuel policy?

It aims at decreasing pollution by adopting cleaner alternatives against fossil fuels. It encourages a diversion in the sugar industry’s output away from sugar towards ethanol.

Sugar industry has an excess supply problem and it helps farmers because of diversification of agriculture into energy, power and bio-plastics.

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
Published with inputs from Pushpendra 

Any doubts?

  1. Aakash Reddy

    to what extent did this policy work and what is it’s current status

Cabinet approves new biofuels policy


Mains Paper 2: Government policies

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Bio-Fuel Categorization, UNFCCC

Mains Level: Particulars of the Policy, India’s initiative towards reducing its carbon footprint


India’s Commitment to reducing its Carbon Footprint

  1. India, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030
  2. This is being done as part of its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted by 195 countries in Paris in 2015.

New Bio-Fuels Policy for Procurement of Raw Materials

  1. The Union Cabinet approved a national policy on biofuels that seeks to not only help farmers dispose of their surplus stock in an economic manner but also reduce India’s oil-import dependence.
  2. The policy expands the scope of raw material for ethanol production by allowing the use of 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 that are unfit for human consumption for ethanol production.
  3. The policy also provides for a viability gap funding scheme of ₹5,000 crore in six years for second generation (more advanced) ethanol bio-refineries in addition to tax incentives and a higher purchase price as compared to first-generation biofuels.

Helping Double the Farmer’s Income

  1. Farmers are at a risk of not getting appropriate price for their produce during the surplus production phase.
  2. Taking this into account, the policy allows use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol for blending with petrol with the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee

Categorization of Bio-Fuels

  1. The policy, which aims to provide financial and fiscal incentives specific to a biofuel type, categorized biofuels as first generation (1G), second generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) fuels
  2. The first generation category of biofuels includes bioethanol and biodiesel. The second generation comprises ethanol and municipal solid waste. The third generation includes bio-compressed natural gas (CNG)

Benefits of Biofuels

  1. One crore litres of E10 [petrol with 9-10% ethanol blended in it] saves ₹28 crore of forex at current rates
  2. 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 ₹4,000 crore of forex.
  3. One crore litres of E10 reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 20,000 tonnes
  4. For the ethanol supply year 2017-18, there will be lesser emissions of CO2 to the tune of 30 lakh tonnes
  5. By reducing crop burning and conversion of agricultural residues/wastes to biofuels there will be further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  6. The other benefits include a reduction in 62 million metric tonnes of municipal solid waste generated in the country, infrastructure investment in rural areas and job creation

[op-ed snap] Biofuels: an opportunity for India


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The article discusses the importance of biofuel, as a short-term solution against pollution. It also cites some other possible benefits of using biofuel in the transport sector.


Short-term solution to the current problem of pollution in the North India

  1. The short-term solution exists in the quick and scaled-out expansion of biofuel-powered public transport across the country

Government announcement to incentivize and go all-electric by 2030

  1. First, this is a very aggressive goal for a middle-income country like India and
  2. Second, even assuming that this were to happen, do we all need to suffer the ill-effects of pollution for another 12 years?
  3. India’s transport policy needs to prioritize renewable vehicular fuels for large transport
  4. e-mobility alone will not achieve the ambition of creating a sustainable transport sector

Solution: Biofuel

  1. 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
    Raw material for biofuel production
  2. We can use 170 million tonnes of agricultural waste out of the 800 million tonnes generated to be used for ethanol production in the current situation
  3. This could easily be ramped up to 250 million tonnes per year, to produce between 31-47 billion litres of ethanol by 2020
  4. 31-47 billion litres is a radical increase from the current production of 2 billion litres
    Solution to stubble burning
  5. 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

Sewage treatment plants (STPs) can also contribute

  1. India generates around 70 billion litres of waste water every day
  2. By building biogas generation and upgrading facilities at the STP 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

Ongoing biofuel powered projects

  1. We have started with some encouraging pilots for biofuel-driven buses in cities like Nagpur
  2. In Nagpur, 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

Possible benefit on employment front

  1. According to a study, the increase in ethanol production alone has the potential to create over 700,000 jobs when targeting only the base potentia
  2. 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

Inspiration from other countries

  1. countries like Sweden and a developing country like Brazil have used ethanol in a big way to achieve their environmental and economic objectives

The way forward

  1. We need measures which are available today and at affordable costs
  2. This one measure of pushing for biofuel buses for public transport within a specific timeline like 2020, would help transform our public transport services, improve the health of our citizens, provide economic impetus and create jobs
  3. Surely a win-win proposition at a fraction of the cost associated with the subsidy-driven push being planned for E-mobility

Govt plans to set up bio-CNG plants and allied infrastructure


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Bio-CNG

Mains level: India’s rising energy requirements and ways to ensure adequate availability


Promoting the use of clean fuel

  1. To promote the use of clean fuel, the oil ministry plans to set up bio-CNG (compressed natural gas) plants and allied infrastructure
  2. The oil ministry will be working with state-run oil and gas retailers to set up the plants over the next two years


  1. Bio-CNG is a purified form of biogas with over 95% pure methane gas
  2. It is similar to natural gas in its composition (97% methane) and energy potential
  3. While natural gas is a fossil fuel, bio-CNG is a renewable form of energy produced from agricultural and food waste
  4. A typical bio-CNG station comprises a biogas purification unit, a compressor, and a high-pressure storage system
  5. Bio-CNG is being looked at as an environment-friendly alternative to diesel

Plan to make India a gas-based economy

  1. The government’s plan is to make India a gas-based economy
  2. The government aims to increase the contribution of gas in India’s energy mix to 15% from the current 6.5%
  3. India currently imports one-third of its energy requirement
  4. The world’s third-largest crude oil importer is targeting halving its energy import bill by 2030

[pib] Methanol Economy for India: Energy Security, Make in India and Zero Carbon foot print


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Green House Gas Emissions, Methanol, COP21

Mains level: India’s energy needs and alternative fuel options


  • India needs around 2900 cr litres of petrol and 9000 cr litres of diesel per year currently, the 6th highest consumer in the world and will double consumption and become 3rd largest consumer  by 2030
  • Hydrocarbon Fuels have also adversely affected the environment with Green House Gas Emissions (GHG).
  • India is the third highest energy-related carbon dioxide emitter country in the world
  • India aims to reduce the import bill by 10% by the year 2022
  • Crude oil imports drain our foreign exchange, putting enormous pressure on our currency & thereby weakening our bargaining power with the rest of the world
  • We need to have our own “Indian Fuel of global relevance”

Why Methanol?

  • Methanol is a clean burning drop in fuel which can replace both petrol & diesel in transportation & LPG, Wood, Kerosene in cooking fuel.
  • It can also replace diesel in Railways, Marine Sector, Gensets, Power Generation and Methanol based reformers could be the ideal complement to Hybrid and Electric Mobility
  • Methanol Economy is the “Bridge” to the dream of a complete “Hydrogen-based fuel systems”.

What Can India do?

  • India has an installed Methanol Production capacity of 2 MT per annum
  • As per the plan prepared by NITI Aayog, using Indian High Ash coal, Stranded gas, and Biomass India can produce 20MT of methanol annually by 2025

NITI Aayog’s roadmap for Methanol Economy comprises

  • Production of methanol from Indian high ash coal from indigenous Technology,  in Large quantities and adopting regional production strategies and produce Methanol in large quantities @ Rs. 19 a litre
  • India will adopt Co2 capturing technology to make the use of coal fully environment-friendly and our commitments to COP21
  • Bio-mass, Stranded Gas & MSW for methanol production. Almost 40% of Methanol Production can be through these feedstocks
  •  Utilization of methanol as well as DME in transportation – rail, road, marine and defence. Industrial Boilers, Diesel Gensets & Power generation & Mobile towers  are other applications
  •  Utilization of methanol and DME as domestic cooking fuel-cook stoves
  • Utilization of methanol in fuel cell applications in Marine, Gensets and Transportation

Methanol Benefits in

  • Transportation sector
  • Marine Sector
  • Railways
  • Methanol & DME in Cooking fuel program (Liquid fuel and LPG – DME blending program)

Way Forward

  • India by adopting Methanol can have its own indigenous fuel at the cost of approximately 19 Rs./litre
  • Methanol fuel can result in great environmental benefits and can be the answer to the burning Urban pollution issue
  • At least 20% diesel consumption can be reduced in next 5-7 years and will result in a savings of 26000 Crores annually
  • Make in India program will get a further boost by both producing fuels indigenously and the associated growth in automobile sector adding engineering jobs and also investments in Methanol based industries (FDI and Indian)

[op-ed snap] From waste to health



Mains Paper: 3| Environment: Pollution, Agriculture

Prelims: Incineration, composting, NGT

Mains level: The article can be tagged to GS 3 paper topic Environmental pollution. The article provides  important fodder  which could be utilized by an candidate while writing an answer to question related to Solid waste management



This article talks about how city compost can help in making cities cleaner, increasing agricultural productivity and also replenishing nutrient depleted soil.

 Problems in Current solid waste management strategy

  1. Waste management to keep cities clean is also being given attention in Swach Bharat Abhiyan . But the attention begins and stops with the brooms and the dustbins. The collected mixed waste is transported not to distant places but just taken out of sight.
  2. The challenge of processing and treating the different streams of solid waste, and safe disposal of the residuals in scientific landfills, has received much less attention in municipal solid waste management.
  3. But, one of the major problem that comes in our endeavor to create clean cities is we focus on waste for energy rather our focus should be waste management for health.
  4. In process we opt for financially and environmentally expensive solutions such as incineration plants which are highly capital-intensive.
  5. While the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not allow incineration of mixed waste, nor of any compostables or recyclables, enforcement is a challenge, and the danger to health from toxic emissions looms large.
  6. The biodegradable component of solid waste (close to 60 per cent of the total) should not be mixed with the dry waste rather it should be used for composting and biomethanation.
  7. The management of dry waste can be done through recycling and processing and incineration of non-recyclables can be done with appropriate filters to check emissions. The need for scientific landfills will be very less then.


Advantages of Compost

  1. It is an alternative to farmyard manure (like cowdung) which has been valued for its rich microbial content that helps plants to take up soil nutrients.
  2. It provides an opportunity to simultaneously clean up our cities and help improve agricultural productivity and quality of the soil.
  3. The water holding capacity of the soil increases and it also helps with drought-proofing.
  4. By making soil porous, use of compost also makes roots stronger and resistant to pests and decay.
  5. There is also evidence to suggest that horticulture crops grown with compost have better flavour, size, colour and shelf-life.
  6. Chemical fertilisers when used by themselves pollute surface water with nitrogen runoff because only 20 per cent to 50 per cent of the nitrogen in urea is absorbed by plants. The rest runs off into streams and lakes. The addition of compost or organic manure reduces nitrogen wastage, as its humus absorbs the nitrogen and acts like a slow release sponge.


Advantages of City Compost

  1. It is weed free.
  2. It is rich in organic carbon. Fortification of soil with organic carbon is an essential element of integrated plant nutrient management as it increases the productivity of other fertilisers.
  3. City compost can also be blended with rock phosphate to produce phosphate-rich organic manure.


Current Scenario

  1. Farmers recognize the advantages of compost and they dump reasonably biodegradable raw garbage onto their fields for making compost onsite for their own farm use.
  2. But, uncovered and uncomposted raw waste helps breed rats and insects which carry disease, and attract stray dogs which not only carry rabies but form hunting packs that kill nearby livestock at night. Also causing dog bites and traffic accidents.
  3. If city waste was composted before making it available to the farmers for applying to the soil, cities would be cleaned up and the fields around them would be much more productive.

Way Forward

  1. It requires that delivery mechanisms be set up for the delivery of city compost to farmers.
  2. The Supreme Court had directed fertiliser companies in 2006 to co-market compost with chemical fertilizers but it was largely unheeded.
  3. The Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 make the co-marketing of compost mandatory.
  4. The payment of fertiliser subsidy to the fertiliser companies can be made conditional on the co-marketing of compost.
  5. The state agricultural departments can also help facilitate the use of city compost through their widespread extension networks.
  6. Assuming that urban India generates 70 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in a year, and assuming 15 per cent yield of compost, this would provide 10 million tonnes of city compost annually.
  7. It can be a major and sustainable contribution to improving the health of our soil.


Price determination for bio-fuels

  1. Fixed pricing: In December 2014, Govt fixed a price of ₹48.50 to ₹49.50 per litre for procurement of ethanol for blending in petrol
  2. Market pricing: However Govt emphasised on need to move away from the fixed price and move towards linking the price to market dynamics
  3. Why market based pricing? The fixed price is costlier than the cost of producing petrol
  4. Govt support: Ministry also assured the industry stakeholders all necessary policy support to biofuel manufacturers provided that the raw material or feedstock is procured in India

By 2022, biofuel will become a ₹50,000-crore business

  1. News: The biofuel business in India is expected to touch ₹50,000 crore by 2022, based on the demand of petrol and diesel in the country
  2. Currently: The bio-diesel and ethanol industry in India is worth ₹6,000 crore, however, this is mainly driven by ethanol procurement
  3. Procurement prog: Bio-diesel procurement started only in 2014 and a pilot programme started in August 2015 & now it has been extended to six States
  4. The size of the biofuels industry can rise close to ₹1.25 lakh crore by 2040, if demand for petrol and diesel grows as per the International Energy Agency’s outlook

Non-molasses based ethanol policy, coming soon

  1. The road ministry has proposed another policy for using resources other than molasses for producing ethanol
  2. Why? Shortage of molasses
  3. Ministries of renewable energy and science and technology will find a way to produce second-genration ethanol from biomass, bamboo, rice straw, wheat straw, and cotton straw, among others, to power vehicles
  4. Benefits: Ethanol production could cut the country’s crude oil import bill of about Rs 7 lakh crore per year
  5. Making ethanol from bamboo in the north-east can also create employment opportunities in the region
  6. Globally: This method is used in countries like China, South Africa, Spain etc for producing ethanol

National Biomass CookStove Programme

  1. A scheme to make India’s rural kitchen smoke-free by using less biofuel in its improved biomass cookstove.
  2. Improved biomass cookstoves will be disseminated for domestic and community cooking applications on cost sharing basis.
  3. The Ministry has strengthened three test centres for carrying out performance testing.

Algae as a future feed stock for bio-refineries

  1. Inefficient and unsustainable biofuels derived from food crops add to food security & CO2 emission issues.
  2. Algae are the most sustainable fuel resource in terms of food security and environmental issues.
  3. Further improvements with the biomass processing strategies may step up the third-generation biofuel concept. What’s that?
  4. 3rd Gen – made from algae or other quickly growing biomass sources.

The Maize utility

  1. As a cereal, maize is used as ingredient in food preparation; it is feed for poultry and livestock.
  2. It is feedstock for biofuel (ethanol).
  3. It is used as raw material in distilleries.
  4. It is also used for starch production because of its high starch content (60%).

    Discuss: These 4 points are picked up from a Hindu Businessline article. And in 2014, UPSC tested on 3 of these 4 statements. 

Know more on Jatropha Carcus

  1. It is an oil producing non-edible plant.
  2. Is a shrub which grows in Central America and parts of Asia
  3. Acts as a natural pain killer
  4. Used in generation of bio-diesel (Aviation fuel)

Discuss: Know more on the 4 categories of biofuels and their differences.

The different generations of biofuels

  1. 1st – made from sugars, starches, oil, and animal fats.
  2. 2nd – made from non-food crops or agricultural waste, like switch-grass, willow, or wood chips.
  3. 3rd – made from algae or other quickly growing biomass sources.
  4. 4th –  made from specially engineered plants or biomass that may have higher energy yields – also a way of capturing and storing CO2 in return.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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