Let us first agree that clean energy reforms are inevitable world-wide, and India is very much a part of this drive. Fossil fuels such as crude oil and coal are the most widely used energy sources and are not only polluting, but are responsible for greenhouse gases, which have proven to result in climate change and health hazards. These side effects were not taken seriously till the glob-al researchers warned that if this is not curtailed, then the world may face severe repercussions. This consensus was formalised after the famous Paris accord which was signed by 196 countries in 2015.
Most participants pledged to reduce or eliminate the greenhouse gas generation with a definitive timeline. US President Joe Biden re-entered the US in the Paris accord effective February 19, 2021. Emerging economies such as India and Africa have greater pressure to limit greenhouse gas emission. India has been a strong crusader of the clean environment drive and has launched National Clean Air Programme in 2019, a time-bound national level strategy to tackle increasing air pollution.
Historically in India, power and transportation have been the largest environment polluting segment followed by industrials and agriculture. Coal and crude oil derivatives have been the fuel of choice, and their emission norms were well accepted, or rather overlooked. It would be interesting to discuss these user segments to understand the limitations and achievements to contribute to clean energy.
A big relief came to Metro city life when India enacted a mandatory switch for mass transit system to use CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). We can call it a major success when we look back and imagine how would these cities be in absence of CNG. This has percolated to many tier-II cities too, but lack of gas transport infrastructure and injection system alteration has restricted its adoption.
While gas became fuel of choice for Public transport, Government has also been pushing for liquid biofuels to be used along with Petrol and Diesel. With Brazil doing it successfully, India too has achieved up to 10 percent mixing and expected to do more. Ethanol success can be attributed to large sugar manufacturing industry which has profitably adapted to ethanol production as a bi-product.
The emergence of Electric Mobility is a possible game changer, with every automaker planning for it. All these alternates have greatly contributed to lower pollution from transportation over the past few decades and are expected to reduce it further. The next promising area is Bio CNG, i.e producing gas from biomass using 2G technology. This is successful on a small scale, but its viability is not yet tested commercially.
India has always been a power deficit country and hence capacity addition was an ongoing activity. Thermal energy, mainly using coal was preferred for its economic viability and availability. Although power generation has seen a strong growth under NTPC and many private players, the pollution levels have worsened. This rising emission can be curtailed by co-firing with biofuels. This is an ongoing project by NTPC and has been followed by a few private players for their captive power plants.
The most talked about sources of renewable and clean energy and rightly so are hydro, wind and solar. Despite the Government support and initiatives hydro and wind have limitations to growth and viability due to capex, geographical restrictions and are thus plateaued in capacity addition. Solar has seen an unprecedented growth at multiple levels, be it rooftop power for home use or commercial level. Biofuels based power generation has failed despite government incentive for obvious reasons such as distributed source of biomass and logistics related shortcomings.
To accelerate the adoption of clean energy, the most beneficial and socially advantageous move would be promoting the use of biofuels replacing fossil fuels
Ashvin Patil, Director, Biofuels Junction
India is witnessing a sea change in clean environment efforts from the industrial segment in the past decade. Except for the cement and steel, all other industries have opted for biofuels replacing the traditional polluting fossil fuels. This drive has been a combination of cost savings for furnace oil users, better adherence to pollution for coal users and stricter implementation of pollution norms defined by the Government. Biofuels are made from agri residue and are thus carbon neutral and produce almost nil greenhouse gases. Additionally, they augment farmers income and generate rural employment, hence contributing to CSR initiatives for a corporate.
This clearly offers a win-win and is reflected in the growing popularity of biofuels. Agri residue (parali) burning is an ongoing problem in the North India. Of the many ways to dispose this residue, the most viable and relatively easy to implement would be converting it into biofuels to be used in industrial boilers. Recent phenomenon is even more interesting as pellets – a refined form of solid biofuels, is replacing diesel and LPG at small applications ranging from frying, roasting to plastic moulding. The cost benefit of using pellets is to the tune of 50 percent.
Increased Reforms to Lead in Acceleration of Growth in Clean Energy
For greater ethanol usage, India should allow ethanol making directly from sugarcane - like Brazil. The bio CNG needs more participation and resource allocation from private players for research & development.
As we have seen above, most user segments have adopted clean energy in various forms, the drive needs to be stronger, and the Government must play the role of an enabler. To accelerate the adoption of clean energy, the most beneficial and socially advantageous move would be promoting the use of biofuels replacing fossil fuels. Apart from stricter implementation of pollution norms and restriction on use of polluting fuels such furnace oil and raw wood, the Government also needs to support the biofuels supply side.
Biofuels manufacturing is deeply attached to the rural economy, and any support directly leads to its strengthening. This can be directly achieved by promoting entrepreneurship in biofuels by way of capital subsidy and many other ways such as procedural relaxations to set-up manufacturing. A bold step can be waiving-off GST on biofuels to make it lucrative alternative to coal.
We strongly believe that with proliferation of biofuels, most industrial areas would emit lower SOx, NOx and thus definitely improve the quality of air we breathe in nearby cities. We at Biofuels Junction are crusaders of use of biofuels and work towards as partners in greener tomorrow.