Bioenergy route

India is hugely dependent on petroleum imports (about 90 per cent of its requirements). India with a paradigm and planned shift from petroleum fuels can leverage biofuels and bio-based chemicals and polymers, which are nearly carbon neutral, offering the best way forward for energy security, and reducing imports of petroleum.

Bioenergy route

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India is hugely dependent on petroleum imports (about 90 per cent of its requirements). India with a paradigm and planned shift from petroleum fuels can leverage biofuels and bio-based chemicals and polymers, which are nearly carbon neutral, offering the best way forward for energy security, and reducing imports of petroleum. India’s energy security needs planning based on its inherent strengths. India is an agricultural economy with over 50 per cent of the population involved in this sector.

Bioenergy will play a key role for energy security, agriculture growth, and green transition for MSMEs to reduce pollution in major cities. Bioenergy sources are generally considered renewable and carbon-neutral, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing to climate change goals. India has the right policies in place and aims to achieve all sustainable goals of net zero by 2070. India contributes only a small amount of total global carbon emissions (below 10 per cent, despite having nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population) but it is growing with fast industrialization. The contribution of bioenergy, as the world’s primary energy supply, is expected to substantially increase in the future.

It holds significant potential for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Clean-burning, high-octane liquid biofuels can play a crucial role in hard-to-abate transport sectors like automobiles, shipping, and aviation, providing a sustainable and non-polluting alternative to fossil fuels while ensuring energy security. The bioenergy sector presents numerous opportunities to enhance energy access across various applications. Recognizing the significance of bioenergy, the Prime Minister took the lead during G20 by announcing the Biofuel Alliance. The formation of the Global Biofuel Alliance was a priority during India’s G20 Presidency, aimed at fostering cooperation and intensifying the use of sustainable biofuels, especially in the transportation sector.


The Union Government, under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, has initiated numerous policies and programmes to promote bioenergy in the country. The National Bioenergy Programme, encompassing sub-schemes like waste-to-energy, biomass, and biogas programmes, stands as one of these initiatives. Biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are produced through biochemical processes. Ethanol is typically made by fermenting sugars from crops such as corn or sugarcane. Biodiesel is produced through the transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats, where glycerine is separated from the fat or oil, leaving behind methyl esters (biodiesel) and glycerine.

Advances in biofuel production include the development of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues and woody biomass, which significantly increases the feedstock base. Genetic engineering of microbes to improve fermentation yields and the use of novel catalysts for biodiesel production are also notable advancements. These innovations enhance biofuel production’s efficiency, reduce costs, and improve environmental sustainability. India needs ethanol for the E20 and E30 target. Ethanol blend to partly decarbonize diesel is also being adopted creating sizable additional demand.

Ethanol is also a basic and main feedstock for Sustainable Aviation Fuel and renewable diesel. There is scope for over 50 large biorefineries (1000-1500 KLPD standard size in the USA and EU) to reach the E30 programme and meeting diesel and SAF demand. To reach the Government’s target of E30 by 2030, we would need 18 million tons of ethanol for blending in gasoline and more ethanol if 5 per cent blending in diesel and SAF is adopted. The current production is around 4 million tons, leaving a wide gap. India’s gasoline consumption would reach 60 million tons/year by 2030.

Biofuels alone will not replace other energy sources but will have a major role. Being high-octane and clean burning, they would cut down PM2.5 emission and pollution in India’s major cities. Biogas can generate huge opportunities, with the least investment as compared to other energy generation options and because of the easy availability of raw materials. Bioenergy/ Biogas in principle, has the potential to replace fossil fuels completely, especially to decarbonize the transport sector.

There is a need to set up Bio Compressed Plants and worldclass biorefineries in almost all states of India. Over 800 biomass power projects have been installed with a combined capacity of 10,632 MW for power generation and 140 tons/ day for compressed biogas production. The country is also developing a market for bio-products like biomass pellets. Government initiatives, with a mandate for a minimum 5 per cent utilization of biomass in thermal power plants, and the STAT scheme, which promotes the use of CBG in transportation, along with amendments to the National Policy on Biofuels in 2018, contribute to this growth. The national policy on biofuels now allows a wider range of feedstocks for biofuel production with immediate aims for a 20 per cent blending of ethanol in petrol by 2025-26. The 2023 budget proposed the establishment of 500 new waste-to-wealth plants under the Goverdhan Scheme, including 200 CBG plants.

The focus is on diversifying to advance feedstocks to minimize land use for price and other environmental factors. Technologies like cellulosic ethanol and biomass waste Fischer-Tropsch are being developed to expand non-food crop biofuel production. MSMEs adopting bioenergy can enhance their environmental footprint and appeal to ecoconscious consumers. Bioenergy plays a crucial role in the growth and sustainability of the micro, small, and medium enterprises sector in several ways. Bioenergy sources like biogas, biodiesel, and biomass offer MSMEs an alternative to conventional fossil fuels. This can lead to energy independence, reduced dependence on volatile fuel prices, and cost savings in the long run. Bioenergy technologies like biogas plants and biomass gasifiers can be implemented at the local level, empowering MSMEs to generate their own electricity or heat.

This decentralizes power generation, reduces reliance on large grids, and improves energy security. Many bioenergy technologies utilize organic waste generated by MSMEs such as food processing units, agricultural farms, and textile mills. This not only solves waste disposal challenges but also creates valuable energy products like biogas or compost. The bioenergy sector offers significant potential for rural development and job creation. MSMEs can set up bioenergy plants in rural areas, promoting entrepreneurship, generating income for local communities, and creating new employment opportunities. Biogas plants generate electricity or heat from food waste, agricultural residue, or animal manure. Biogas gasifiers power industrial processes in sectors such as textiles, ceramics, and brick making. Biodiesel is produced from waste cooking oil or non-edible oils for use in transportation or generators. Biomass briquettes or pellets are used for industrial boilers and heating systems.

Farmers being the backbone of society are benefitted with agriculture growth. Bioenergy initiatives offer rural farmers a pathway towards enhanced livelihoods by providing opportunities for additional income streams. Through the cultivation of biomass feedstock such as agricultural residues, energy and protein rich crops, and organic waste, farmers can diversify their revenue sources while contributing to the renewable energy sector. Moreover, the establishment of bioenergy facilities in rural areas stimulates local employment and entrepreneurship, thereby uplifting rural communities and reducing migration to large cities, thus augmenting their standard of living.

(The writer is Chair, Environment & Green Hydrogen Committee, PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry and former Chairman, EAC (Industry 2), Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. He can be reached at jpglobalconsultinggroup@gmail.com)