Future is green for biofuel
In the next three to four years, India is set to come up with 28 bioethanol plants. A memorandum of understanding with public-sector undertakings to set up 12 plants in 11 states is in place. This is likely to see an investment to the tune of Rs 28,000-30,000 crore, according to Y B Ramakrishna, chairman, working group on biofuels, ministry of petroleum and natural gas. The first second-generation biofuel refinery in India will be set up by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation at Bathinda in Punjab.
Biodiesel is locally produced in many countries including India. Biodiesel is mainly made from a varied mix of feedstocks that include soybean oil, recycled cooking oil, and animal fats. The fuel has many benefits because it improves air quality, increases energy security, and it also enhances the safety of the people. Biodiesel helps in reducing the risks of global warming
by decreasing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The biofuel is also helpful in thermal oil heating system where it is used in tank heating, suction heating, reactor and vessel heating, natural gas heating, jacketed vessel heating, in line gas heating, and crude oil heating among many other applications.
With the ministry of petroleum and natural gas trying to bring down the import of crude oil by betting big on biofuels as a substitute, the bioethanol industry in India is set to see investments worth about Rs 30,000 crore in the next three to four years in 28 second-generation bioethanol plants. Of the 28, 16 will be in the private sector and 12 in the public sector.
State-run companies such as Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (four), Indian Oil Corporation (three), Bharat Petroleum Corporation (three), Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals (one) and the Numaligarh refinery (one) are ready with their road map in this regard.
Private-sector companies such as CMC Biorefineries, Jab Inogi and Chempolis are also in the business.
Other private-sector companies are also in the process of setting up units. This will help in increasing ethanol blending from 4.3 per cent now to 8-10 per cent in 2020-21. India’s bioethanol programme got a push after Dharmendra Pradhan took charge as petroleum minister.
In March 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set a target of bringing down the share of imports in India’s domestic crude oil requirements by 10 percentage points to 67 per cent by 2022, India’s 75th year of Independence.
According to the ministry of petroleum estimates, the biofuel business in India is expected to touch Rs 50,000 crore by 2022, from Rs 6,000 crore now.
Public-sector oil-marketing companies, which are supplying 4.3 per cent ethanol-blended fuel now, procure 1.2 billion litres of biofuel. With a target of five per cent biodiesel blending by 2022, the industry is likely to have a demand of 6.75 billion litres with a business size of around Rs 27,000 crore.
On the other hand, for 10 per cent ethanol blending, the requirement is likely to be 4.5 billion litres with a business size of Rs 23,000 crore.
Currently, 3,700 outlets in the country supply biodiesel, and the ministry aims to have 10,000 outlets by August. India has an installed capacity of 1.2 million tonnes of biodiesel. In order to boost investment in the sector, the government is planning viability gap funding, pump in money to support supply chains, and provide 15-20 years of offtake guarantees to the companies setting up biofuel plants.
Biodiesel is used in the usual diesel engines substituting the traditional petroleum diesel. Poly diesel fuel tanks are manufactured to provide fuel in prime conditions because they are resistant to gasoline and diesel fuel. Biodiesel can be pumped, stored, and even burned like petroleum diesel fuel. It can be utilized as its pure form or when blended with petroleum diesel fuel.
The use of biodiesel reduces the greenhouse gas emission because the carbon dioxide that is produced during burning is balanced by the carbon dioxide that is absorbed while cultivating the crops used in the manufacture of the biodiesel. The vehicle engines that rely on biodiesel are clean on the road compared to those that use petroleum products. During the production of the biodiesel, once the glycerin has been removed, the fuel can be used as fuel for heating in diesel engines or oil burners.
Biodiesel is safe during handling, storing, and when transporting. It is safer than petroleum because it is less combustible. In case of spillage, biodiesel causes far less harm when compared to petroleum fuel. Bunded diesel fuel tanks
are used for the storage of fuel safely and efficiently.
Biodiesel fuel boosts the lubricity of the engine. When various parts of the engine are properly lubricated, they do not wear and tear easily. Lubricity is the degree in which fuel provides proper lubrication to the engine. Biodiesel provides excellent lubricity to the fuel injection system. By blending biodiesel with little amounts of low-sulfur diesel, it can significantly improve the lubricity and extend the life of a fuel injection system.
Because it is derived from vegetable oils, biodiesel fuel is non-toxic. Research has shown that table salt is more toxic than biodiesel. In water and soil, biodiesel is known to degrade at a faster rate when compared to regular diesel fuel. The carbon composition of the fuel is converted by living organisms. In water, biodiesel is less toxic to species of aquatic life.
Biofuels are being championed as the eco-friendly alternative to oil, gas and coal, which could revive India’s farming industry. But how green are they? And is it right to grow crops for fuel instead of food?
Biofuels are crops intended to replace oil, gas and coal in the world's power stations, industrial boilers and fuel tanks. There are three sorts. Some, like Green's elephant grass, are burnt in conventional industrial or power-station boilers. Others like corn and sugar are distilled into liquid ethanol to replace petrol in transportation. Still others - mostly vegetable oils such as soya, rape and palm oil - are refined to make a substitute for diesel.
For now, cars cannot run on either neat bioethanol or biodiesel. But much of the fuel for sale at filling stations across India is already blended with small amounts of biofuel.
We have always had biofuels - wood, hay and charcoal among them. In 1892 Rudolf Diesel ran the demonstration model of his engine on peanut oil; and the Model T Ford first hit the road burning ethanol rather than petrol. For most of the past century, cheap crude oil has eclipsed the biological alternatives. But for more than two decades now, biofuels have been among the fastest growing sectors in the global energy economy.
The new enthusiasm has two origins. The first is the growing uncertainty about supplies of oil. Whether or not analysts are right in saying that oil is starting to run out, it is certain that the majority of what remains is in the hands of potentially unstable regimes, and that prices are rising steeply.
The most toxic charge against biofuels is that they will starve people by taking scarce land and water supplies that should be used to grow food.
Biofuels boom is also being blamed for the recent surge in world food prices.
In truth, greens have got themselves in a huge tangle over biofuels. Some are in favour of biofuels because they will help fight climate change; others are vehemently against them because they could cause hunger and trash the environment. Surf the net and you find that Friends of the Earth 'warmly welcomes' the Government's new rules requiring biofuels at the forecourt. But another environment group called Biofuelwatch, which helped instigate the Newark protests, says those same rules 'will cause starvation'.
In theory burning biofuels is carbon-neutral because they emit the same amount of carbon they absorbed while growing. In practice, things aren’t so simple. The problem is that it takes a lot of energy to grow, transport and process biofuels – energy that probably comes from burning coal or oil. Manufacturing fertiliser, for instance, requires a lot of energy and if the biofuel is made into a liquid to put in petrol tanks, that process is energy-intensive, too. A critical question to ask, to establish the green credentials of all biofuels, is how much energy does it take to grow and process them?
The energy requirement for processing palm, soya or rape oil is more modest than for bioethanol. And while rape requires fertiliser, soya and palm oil require very little.
So should we all switch to diesel cars burning biodiesel? Not so fast. The issue is that most of the world’s palm oil is grown on former rainforest land in Malaysia and Indonesia, and huge areas of forest continue to be burnt to make way for new plantations. With the prospect of booming demand for palm oil to make biodiesel, the Indonesian government alone is planning to establish another three million hectares of plantations in its rainforest provinces.