Biofuel Policy

[op-ed snap] Why ethanol blending in petrol might not work for Indiaop-ed snapPriority 1


Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Food processing & related industries in India

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Biofuels, Crops from which biofuels can be generated

Mains level: India’s current biofuel policy and its unsustainability


Context

India’s ethanol blending plans

  1. It is being increasingly suggested that India should increase the use of biofuels to reduce dependence on oil imports
  2. Among biofuels, ethanol appears to be the most viable alternative, and the government intends to raise ethanol blending in petrol to 20% by 2030 from the current 2-3%

Why this is not a good idea

  1. Increasing the production of biofuels can strain India’s water resources and affect food availability
  2. Biofuels, such as jatropha, have often proven to be commercially unviable

Analysing water usage

  1. Water footprint, that is water required to produce a litre of ethanol, includes rainwater at the root zone used by ethanol-producing plants such as sugarcane, and surface, groundwater, and fresh water required to wash away pollutants
  2. India’s water footprint is not only high in overall terms, but India also uses more surface and groundwater than the US and Brazil
  3. India has the least internal surface and groundwater compared with both countries
  4. Most of our daily uses of water come from this source and therefore it needs to be used judiciously

Another major problem:  Land resources

  1. Sugarcane currently accounts for around 3% of India’s net sown area
  2. To raise the petrol-ethanol blend rate to even 10%, India will have to devote another 4% of its net sown area to sugarcane
  3. In order to achieve 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for sugarcane production
  4. Any such land requirement is likely to put a stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices

Biofuel policy mandate

  1. India’s biofuel policy stipulates that fuel requirements must not compete with food requirements and that only surplus food crops should be used for fuel production
  2. Producing ethanol from crop residue will be a good alternative but the annual capacity of required bio-refineries is stipulated to be 300-400 million litres, which is still not enough to meet the 5% petrol-ethanol blending requirement

Way Forward

  1. Increasing petrol-ethanol blending does not seem viable in the current scenario
  2. Concerted efforts need to be made to either increase sugarcane yield and decrease water usage through better irrigation practices, or increase the ethanol production capacity of bio-refineries
  3. Trying to increase blending without these efforts can encroach upon land and water available for food production

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