Biofuels policy serves many goals

A fuel nozzle from a bio diesel fuel pump is seen in this photo illustration taken at a filling station in San Diego, California January 8, 2015. With gas pump prices lingering near their lowest levels in five years, greener, cleaner alternative fuels are

The new national biofuels policy, approved by the Union cabinet recently, has an economic rationale and an environmental dimension. The policy is aimed at expanding the sources of biofuels and increasing their production when conventional fuels like oil are becoming costly. The policy will help to boost the production of biofuels like ethanol by allowing their production from a wider range of raw materials. Till now, only molasses derived from sugarcane could be used for ethanol production. The new policy allows it to be produced from sugar beet, corn, damaged food grains, vegetables like potatoes and crop residue such as wheat and rice stubble and urban and rural solid waste. Farmers can sell their excess produce to ethanol-making units with permission from a committee specially set up for the purpose. Ethanol is blended with petrol so that the consumption of petrol can be reduced. Biodiesel is also produced to cut down on the use of diesel.

Most of the raw material that can be used as feedstock for biofuels is going waste now. Farmers can gain additional income by selling them to biofuel producers. Biofuels can also be produced at less cost than now. At present, oil companies find it difficult to get ethanol at economical prices because sugar factories sell it to alcohol producers at higher prices. The use of solid waste and crop stubble for biofuel production will benefit the environment as it will reduce pollution. The hazards of burning crop stubble and the problems of solid waste management are well-known. It is estimated that the availability of ethanol, which is about 2 billion litres now, can be increased to over 40 billion litres in a few years if production is scaled up with multiple feedstock. There is a plan to set up 12 major biofuel refineries which will sell ethanol to oil companies. 

While the policy and the plans based on it are welcome, they may face major challenges. The technology to make ethanol from feedstock other than sugar molasses is still under development. High investments are needed for setting up biofuel refineries. The logistics of and the infrastructure for collection of feedstock from farms, homes and other places are formidable. There is also the likelihood of misuse of the policy. Sugarcane may be diverted for production of ethanol instead of sugar when sugar prices are low. Similarly, food grains may be used for ethanol production instead of surplus or damaged food grains. The same possibility exists with vegetables also. This will have serious consequences on food security. So, the implementation of the policy should be monitored to avoid unintended and undesirable consequences.  

 

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Biofuels policy serves many goals

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