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Science Bytes: (Generations of Biofuels)

Generations of Biofuels

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What are Biofuels? (Generations of Biofuels)

  • Any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from an organic matter (living or once living material) in a short period of time (days, weeks, or even months) is considered a biofuel.
  • Biofuels may be solid, liquid or gaseous in nature.
    1. Solid: Wood, dried plant material, and manure
    2. Liquid: Bioethanol and Biodiesel
    3. Gaseous: Biogas
  • These can be used to replace or can be used in addition to diesel, petrol or other fossil fuels for transport, stationary, portable and other applications. Also, they can be used to generate heat and electricity.
  • Some of the main reasons for shifting to biofuels are the rising prices of oil, emission of the greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and the interest for obtaining fuel from agricultural crops for the benefit of farmers.


Categories of Biofuels: (Generations of Biofuels)

  1. First generation biofuels:
    • Sources: sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats.
    • Process used: conventional technology.
    • Process of conversion is easy.
    • Examples: Bio alcohols, Biodiesel, Vegetable oil, Bio ethers, Biogas.
    • Concern: the use of food sources in the production of biofuels creates an imbalance in food economy, leading to increased food prices and hunger.
  2. Second generation biofuels:
    • Sources: non-food crops or portions of food crops that are not edible and considered as wastes, e.g. stems, husks, wood chips, and fruit skins and peeling.
    • Process used: Thermochemical reactions or biochemical conversion.
    • Production is quite complicated.
    • Examples: cellulose ethanol, biodiesel.
    • Advantage: these fuels do not affect food economy, these biofuels emit less greenhouse gases when compared to first generation biofuels.
  3. Third generation biofuels:
    1. Sources: micro-organisms like algae
    2. Process used: Micro-organisms like algae can be grown using land and water, unsuitable for food production.
    3. Example: Butanol
    4. Advantage: micro-organisms can be grown easily thereby reducing the strain on already depleted water sources.
    5. Concern: fertilizers used in the production of such crops lead to environment pollution.
  4. Fourth Generation Biofuels:
    • Sources: GM crops to take in high amounts of carbon are grown and harvested as biomass.
    • Process used: crops are converted into fuel using second generation techniques. The fuel is pre-combusted and the carbon is captured. Then the carbon is geo-sequestered, meaning that the carbon is stored in depleted oil or gas fields or in unmineable coal seams.
    • Advantage: Some of these fuels are considered as carbon negative as their production pulls out carbon from environment.


Major Biofuels: (Generations of Biofuels)

  1. Bioethanol:
    • Derived from corn and sugarcane using fermentation process.
    • A litre of ethanol contains approximately 2/3rd of the energy provided by a litre of petrol.
    • When mixed with petrol, it improves the combustion performance and lowers the emissions of carbon monoxide and sulphur oxide.
  2. Biodiesel:
    • Derived from vegetable oils like soybean oil or palm oil, vegetable waste oils, and animal fats by a biochemical process called “Transesterification”.
    • Produces very less or no amount of harmful gases as compared to diesel.
    • Can be used as an alternative for the conventional diesel fuel.
  3. Biogas:
    • Produced by anaerobic decomposition of organic matter like sewage from animals and humans.
    • Major proportion of biogas is methane and carbon dioxide, though it also has small proportions of hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and siloxanes.
    • Commonly used for heating, electricity and for automobiles.
  4. Biobutanol:
    • Produced in the same way as bioethanol i.e.through the fermentation of starch.
    • Energy content in butanol is the highest among the other gasoline alternatives.
    • Can be added to diesel to reduce emissions.
    • Serves as a solvent in textile industry and is also used as a base in perfumes.
  5. Biohydrogen:
    • Produced using a number of processes such as pyrolysis, gasification or biological fermentation.
    • Can be the perfect alternative for fossil fuel.


Advantages of Biofuels:

  1. They are renewable, can be manufactured from a wide range of materials including crop waste, manure, etc..
  2. They do not release as much carbon as fossil fuels do.
  3. They can help in managing the municipal solid wastes i.e. the waste can be converted into fuel.
  4. Decreases the nation’s dependence upon foreign energy.
  5. Countries can protect the integrity of their energy resources and make them safe from outside influences.
  6. Creating new jobs in rural areas.
  7. Economic stimulation to the agriculture industry.

Disadvantages of Biofuels:

  1. Biofuel produces less energy than fossil fuel.
  2. Production of biofuels can also lead to loss of biodiversity.
  3. Possibly lead to food shortages.
  4. Proper irrigation of biofuel crops could strain local and regional water resources.


Recent Initiatives in India: (Generations of Biofuels)

  1. Initiatives by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology:
    • Successfully developed 2G Ethanol and transferred the technology to Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs).
    • Developed Indigenous Cellulolytic Enzyme for the production of biofuels.
    • Demonstrated micro algae based sewage treatment technology.
    • Training & encouraging young researchers
  2. Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana, 2019: The objective of the scheme is to create an ecosystem for setting up commercial projects and to boost Research and Development in 2G Ethanol sector.
  3. Ethanol blending:
    • The 2018 Biofuel Policy has the objective of reaching 20% ethanol-blending and 5% biodiesel-blending by the year 2030.
    • The Government has reduced GST on ethanol for blending in fuel from 18% to 5%.
  4. GOBAR (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources) DHAN scheme, 2018:
    • It focuses on managing and converting cattle dung and solid waste in farms to useful compost, biogas and bio-CNG, thus keeping villages clean and increasing the income of rural households.
    • It was launched under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).
  5. Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO) launched by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) aims for an ecosystem that will enable the collection and conversion of used cooking oil to biodiesel.
  6. National Policy on Biofuels, 2018:
    • The Policy categorizes biofuels as “Basic Biofuels” viz. First Generation (1G) bioethanol & biodiesel and “Advanced Biofuels” – Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels, Third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc. to enable extension of appropriate financial and fiscal incentives under each category.
    • Ethanol production by sugarcane juice, sugar beet, sweet sorghum, starch containing materials like corn, cassava, damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, rotten potatoes, unfit for human consumption for ethanol production.
    • Use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol for blending with petrol
    • A viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries of Rs. 5000 crore in 6 years in addition to additional tax incentives, higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels.
    • Production from non-edible oilseeds, Used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops.
    • Roles and responsibilities of all the concerned Ministries/Departments w.r.t biofuels


Way Forward:

  • Promotion of the use of biofuels in transportation in the countries like India will help in reducing the crude import bill.
  • Biofuels can help in rural and agricultural development in the form of new cash crops.
  • Efforts for producing sustainable biofuels should be made by ensuring use of wastelands and municipal wastes that get generated in cities.
  • A properly designed and implemented biofuel solution can provide both food and energy.
  • A community-based biodiesel distribution programme that benefits local economies, from the farmers growing the feedstock to local businesses producing and distributing the fuel to the end consumer, can be tried.


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