Biofuel Policy

Biofuel Policy

How Sensible is it Use Food Grains to Produce Ethanol?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bioethanol, Ethanol blending

Mains level : Read the attached story

India is planning to use surplus rice, besides sugarcane, to meet its biofuel target of blending 20% ethanol with petrol.

Could this impede India’s crop diversification goals or worsen nutritional indicators? Let us see!

Govt’s plan to promote ethanol

  • India is estimated to achieve about 8.5% blending with petrol by this year, which it plans to increase to a mandatory 20% blending by 2025.

Sources for ethanol

The plan is to divert its excess sugar production to produce ethanol, 3.5 million tonnes in 2021-22 and 6 million tonnes the next year, in addition to grains like rice, corn, and barley.

  • Using surplus rice: The government’s food department revealed its plans to divert 17 million tonnes of surplus rice from its food stocks of 90 million tonnes to produce ethanol.
  • Sugarcane: This is in addition to the 2 million tonnes of sugar which is already being diverted to produce ethanol.

How would this benefit the country?

  • Cost saving: A successful biofuels programme can save India $4 billion or about ₹30,000 crore every year by lowering import of petroleum products.
  • Emission cut: Ethanol is also less polluting and offers equivalent efficiency at a lower cost than petrol.
  • Biofuel’s policy boost: Rising production of grains and sugarcane and feasibility of making vehicles compliant to ethanol-blended fuel makes its biofuels policy a strategic requirement.
  • Early rollout: Towards this, govt has put in place interest subsidies for distilleries to expand capacity while auto firms have agreed to make compatible vehicles.

What are the unintended effects of the policy?

  • Unsustainability of cash-crops: Increasing reliance on biofuels can push farmers to grow more water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice.
  • Huge water requirement: Currently use 70% of the available irrigation water, negating some positive impact on the environment of using more ethanol.
  • Food and nutrition security: The move could impact India’s hunger situation by limiting the coverage of the food security schemes.
  • Food inflation: Diversion of mass consumption grains can also push food prices up.

How will it impact crop diversification?

  • Monotonous crops: Although the biofuels policy stresses on using less water-consuming crops, farmers prefer to grow more sugarcane and rice due to price support schemes.
  • Water stress: Growing more of them can lead to an adverse impact in water-stressed areas in states.

What about food security?

  • It is unethical to use edible grains to produce ethanol in a country where hunger is rampant.
  • India is already a poor performer in Global Hunger Index.
  • Although about 80 crore people are now receiving subsidized food grains, calculations show that over 10 crore eligible households are still excluded.


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Biofuel Policy

[pib] First supply of UCO-based Biodiesel flagged off


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Generations of biofuels

Mains level : Paper 3- Used Cooking Oil based biofuel

Eco-system for collection and conversion of UCO into Biodiesel

  • Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas flagged off the first supply of UCO (Used Cooking Oil) based Biodiesel blended Diesel under the EOI Scheme.
  • To create an eco-system for collection and conversion of UCO, Expressions of Interest had been initiated for “Procurement of Bio-diesel produced from Used Cooking Oil” on the occasion of World Biofuel Day on 10th August 2019.
  • Under this initiative, Oil Marketing Companies (OMC) offer periodically incremental price guarantees for five years and extend off-take guarantees for ten years to prospective entrepreneurs.


  • This is a landmark in India’s pursuance of Biofuels and will have a positive impact on the environment.
  • This initiative will garner substantial economic benefits for the nation by shoring up indigenous Biodiesel supply, reducing import dependence, and generating rural employment.

Biofuel Policy

E20 Fuel to Cut Vehicular Emissions


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : E20 fuel

Mains level : Ethanol blended petrol programme

The government has proposed the adoption of E20 fuel — a blend of 20% of ethanol and gasoline — as an automobile fuel in order to reduce vehicular emissions as well as the country’s oil import bill.

E20 Fuel

  • E20 is a blend of 20% ethanol with gasoline (petrol) and can be used as an alternative to the fuels currently available.
  • The government is looking at the adoption of mass emission standards for this fuel for transport application.
  • Additionally, it also wishes to facilitate the development of E20 compliant vehicles.
  • The government believes that the E20 blend will not only curb vehicle emissions but help reduce the country’s oil import bill.

Ethanol – Pros and Cons

  • Ethanol is a common by-product that comes from agricultural feedstock like corn, hemp, potato, etc. It can be used as a bio-fuel in Flexi-fuel vehicles.
  • It is greener than gasoline because the corn and crop plantations absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow.
  • While the fuel still releases CO2 when you burn it, the net increase is comparatively lower.
  • However, ethanol is less efficient as a fuel. It has lower energy content than energy-rich gasoline and diesel.
  • The rule delivers less power when burned, which in return results in more fuel consumption and lower mileage.
  • Additionally, blends over E20 (20% ethanol) is highly corrosive for older vehicles as the alcohol can break down old rubber seals and can damage engines.

Vehicle compatibility

  • It added the compatibility of vehicles with the percentage of ethanol in the blend would be defined by the vehicle manufacturer, which would have to be displayed on the vehicle with a sticker.
  • Ethanol is a biofuel and a common by-product of biomass left by agricultural feedstock such as corn, sugarcane, hemp, potato, etc.

Biofuel Policy

Bioethanol Blending in Petrol


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bio-ethanol

Mains level : Ethanol blended petrol programme

The government has set targets of 10 per cent bioethanol blending of petrol by 2022 and to raise it to 20 per cent by 2030 to curb carbon emissions and reduce India’s dependence on imported crude oil.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Given below are the names of four energy crops. Which one of them can be cultivated for ethanol?(CSP 2010)

(a) Jatropha

(b) Maize

(c) Pongamia

(d) Sunflower

What is Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Program?

  • Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme was launched in January 2003 for the supply of 5% ethanol blended petrol.
  • The programme sought to promote the use of alternative and environment-friendly fuels and to reduce import dependency for energy requirements.
  • OMCs are advised to continue according to the priority of ethanol from 1) sugarcane juice/sugar/sugar syrup, 2) B-heavy molasses 3) C-heavy molasses and 4) damaged food grains/other sources.

Bio-ethanol blend in India

  • 1G and 2G bioethanol plants are set to play a key role in making bio-ethanol available for blending but face challenges in attracting investments from the private sector.
  • 1G bioethanol plants utilise sugarcane juice and molasses, byproducts in the production of sugar, as raw material, while 2G plants utilise surplus biomass and agricultural waste to produce bioethanol.
  • Currently, domestic production of bioethanol is not sufficient to meet the demand for bio-ethanol for blending with petrol at Indian Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs).
  • Sugar mills, which are the key domestic suppliers of bio-ethanol to OMCs, were only able to supply 1.9 billion litres of bio-ethanol to OMCs equating to 57.6 per cent of the total demand of 3.3 billion litres.

Hurdles in meeting the demand

  • Lack of infrastructure: Many sugar mills are best placed to produce bioethanol do not have the financial stability to invest in biofuel plants. There are also concerns among investors on the uncertainty over the price of bio-ethanol in the future.
  • Lack of raw materials: Presently there is no mechanism for depots where farmers could drop their agricultural waste. The central government should fix a price for agricultural waste to make investments in 2G bioethanol production an attractive proposition.
  • Rigid pricing mechanism: Sugars mills have to pay high prices for sugarcane set by the government even when there have been supplying gluts. The prices of both sugarcane and bio-ethanol are set by the central government.

Way ahead

  • The government should provide greater visibility on the price of bioethanol that sugar mills can expect by announcing a mechanism by which the price of bio-ethanol would be decided.
  • 2G bioethanol not only provided a clean source of energy but also help provide greater income to farmers and prevent them from having to burn agricultural waste which can be a major source of air pollution.

Biofuel Policy

The evergreen debate of Food versus Fuel


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Provision of biofuels policy 2018

Mains level : Paper 3- Trade offs involved in making fuels from food grains.

The article discusses the recent decision of the government to make alcohol from rice. The move was bound to trigger the debate over food security of the country with a population ravaged by hunger and poverty. While the 2009 biofuel policy had stressed the use of non-food resources, the 2018 updated policy allowed using excess grains. We all want to make a shift towards a green economy but is this the right time? Let’s find out.

What decisions did the government take?

  • The National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC) chaired by the Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas decided to use “surplus” rice available with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for conversion to ethanol.
  • The objective is to make alcohol-based hand-sanitisers and for the blending of ethanol with petrol. 
  • This decision is not only audacious but also an affront to the millions of people who are deeply affected by food insecurity.

The food question

  • In 2009, the National Policy on Biofuels stressed on the use of non-food resources to avoid a possible conflict between food and fuel.
  • Take the US’s example: In 2018-19, an astounding 37.6 per cent of the corn produced in the US is used for making ethanol.

  • In addition to cereals, oilseed crops like rapeseed, soybean and sunflower were used for biofuel production.
  • Rise in food prices: Such diversion of food crops to produce biofuel was considered one of the reasons for the rise in food prices globally.

What should be India’s strategy in this debate?

  • There is rampant poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in India.
  • India’s position in the Global Hunger Index has slipped nine places, ranking 102 among the 117 countries in 2019.
  • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16, found that 38.4 per cent of children under five years are “stunted” (height for age) and 21 per cent are “wasted” (low weight for height).
  • In fact, over a period of 10 years, wasting has increased from 19.8 per cent in NFHS-3 to 21 per cent in NFHS-4.

The dictums of 2018 Policy

  • The 2018 National Policy on Biofuels had a target of 20 per cent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 per cent blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030.
  • This was to be achieved by increasing production using second-generation bio-refineries and developing new feedstock for biofuels.
  • It allowed the production of ethanol from damaged food grains like wheat and broken rice, which are unfit for human consumption.
  • The new policy allowed the use of excess food grain for ethanol in a bounty crop year, if endorsed by the Union Ministry of Agriculture.

Possible dangers

  • The quantity of rice from which ethanol will be produced has not been announced, nor do we know the price at which such rice will be sold by the FCI.
  • About 85 per cent of rice is Kharif crop, heavily dependent on monsoon.
  • Despite the prediction of a normal monsoon, What happens if the monsoon predictions go wrong? Will we be able to import grain?
  • Less damaged grains: Despite the commonly held belief of a lakh of tonnes of rotting grains, the FCI’s storage practices are actually quite good.
  • Damaged grains as a percentage of total quantity issued by the FCI has been just about 0.01 per cent to 0.04 per cent in the last five years.
  • Hardly any ethanol can be made from such a small amount of damaged grains.
  • Making ethanol from sound quality grains deprives food to humans as well as livestock.
  • At the time when uncertainties are looming large, it is imperative that food security and food price stability be given the highest priority.

Way forward

  • Ethanol can be produced from other ingredients such as B and C heavy molasses, sugar, sugar syrup, and sugarcane juice.
  • Ethanol has also been blessed with a low GST and enjoys relaxed conditions for inter-state movement if used for blending with petrol.
  • Since the economy faces a bleak prospect due to the impact of COVID-19, the government should first use the food grains to meet the requirement of about 10 to 20 crore people without ration cards.

The UPSC could ask a question on the following lines “Diverting food grains for making fuels has always been a contentious issue from the food security angle. At the same time reducing India’s dependence on import for fuels is as much a serious concern. The National Policy on Biofuels-2018 sought to strike the balance between the two. Critically analyse the various provisions of National Policy on Biofuels-2018 which were different from 2009 policy.”


The government must ensure the food safety of the country first and if it still has surplus rice, it must facilitate export to friendly countries which are suffering an adverse impact of COVID-19 on their economies.

Back2Basics: Generations of biofuels

  • There are three types of biofuels: 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels.
  • They are characterized by their sources of biomass, their limitations as a renewable source of energy, and their technological progress.
  • The main drawback of 1st generation biofuels is that they come from biomass that is also a food source.
  • This presents a problem when there is not enough food to feed everyone.
  • 2nd generation biofuels come from non-food biomass, but still compete with food production for land use.
  • Finally, 3rd generation biofuels present the best possibility for alternative fuel because they don’t compete with food.
  • However, there are still some challenges in making them economically feasible.

Important Provision of ‘National Policy on Biofuels, 2018

  • The government aims at increasing the utilization of biofuels in the energy and transportation sectors of the country by promoting the production of biofuels from domestic feedstock in the coming decade through this policy.
  • Larger goals such as the adoption of green fuels, national energy security, fighting climate change, generating employment, etc. would be facilitated through this policy. Along with that, technological advancements in the field of biofuels will also be encouraged.
  • MNRE has set an indicative target of 20% blending of ethanol in petrol and 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel to be achieved by 2030.
  • The percentage of the same currently stands at around 2% for petrol and less than 0.1% for diesel.

Biofuel Policy

Biojet fuel that powered the IAF aircraft


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : An-32, Biojet Fuel

Mains level : Biojet Fuel and its feasiblity


In his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address, PM hailed the use of biofuel in an Indian Air Force transport aircraft.

What did PM cite?

  • IAF’s An-32 aircraft successfully used a 10% blend of Indian biojet fuel and took off from Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport on January 31.
  • This was the first time that this mix was used in both engines of an aircraft.
  • Leh is at an altitude of 10,682 ft above mean sea level and is among the world’s highest and most difficult operational airfields.
  • Even during clear weather, operating an aircraft at Leh is a challenge, given the reduced power output of the engines in the rarefied atmosphere, turbulent winds, and proximity of the mountains.

What is Biojet fuel?

  • Biojet fuel is prepared from “non-edible tree borne oil” and is procured from various tribal areas of India.
  • This fuel is made from Jatropha oil sourced from Chattisgarh Biodiesel Development Authority (CBDA) and then processed at CSIR-IIP, Dehradun.
  • Generally, it is made from vegetable oils, sugars, animal fats and even waste biomass, and can be used in existing aviation jet engines without modification.
  • Jatropha oil is suitable for conversion to jet fuel. This biojet fuel has received wide acceptance from the airline industry.

Why it matters?

  • Evaluating the performance of biojet fuel under conditions prevalent in Leh was considered extremely important from an operational perspective.
  • The success of the flight validated the capability of the aircraft’s engines to operate smoothly with biojet fuel at the extremities of the operational envelope.
  • The tests were conducted by a team comprising test pilots from the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), Bengaluru and pilots from the operational squadrons.
  • The successful test flight also demonstrated the IAF’s capability to absorb newer technology, while sponsoring indigenization.

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 
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