THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 27 September 2018 (Biofuels are a sensible option for India)

Biofuels are a sensible option for India

Mains Paper: 3 | Science & Technology 
Prelims level: Biofuels 
Mains level: They are practical, given India’s agricultural scenario, efficient in terms of cost and good for the environment


  • The Indian government has set a target to increase energy efficiency in transport and, at the same time, abating the impact of energy on the environment.
  • This is an objective shared by many other countries around the world. 
  • The first Global Mobility Summit held in New Delhi during the first week of September, discussions concentrated on the best ways to achieve this goal.

Importance of using biofuels 

  • The logical and immediate solution was to invest intensively in mass public transport, shared vehicles and general habit changes.
  • Beyond that, it was widely recognized by the scientific community that electrification was the way forward to reach higher efficiency levels.
  • However, there are at least three forms of electrification: 
  • With electric power stored in batteries, 
  • With hydrogen, and
  • With high-density, low-carbon liquid fuels. 
  • Batteries have an intrinsic limitation related to their low energy density, currently less than 200 Wh per kg. 
  • The industry goal is to reach 330 Wh, and in the future, with new material, it is believed that it could reach 700-800 Wh.
  • The low energy density restrains the range and determines the cost of this option. 
  • Batteries require the use of power, and are environmentally sound only if the source of power is clean. 
  • There is still the issue of availability and sourcing of metals used in their manufacturing, their limited lifespan, and the economic and environmental costs of discard. 
  • A new infrastructure for power distribution is also needed and India must make massive investments in new forms of power generation, as 75.1% of its current generation is derived from coal, and another 4.2% from other fossil-based fuels such as gas and diesel.
  • Electrification with hydrogen is costly and risky to produce, store and distribute.
  • Electrification with low-carbon liquid and gaseous fuels, such as bioethanol and bio-CNG (compressed natural gas), takes advantage of their high energy density, 6,200 Wh per kg in the case of ethanol. 
  • Biofuels must be perceived as high-density solar energy, or hydrogen, captured, stored and distributed in an efficient, economical and reliable manner. 

Importance of using ethanol 

  • The advantages of this route are the possibility of its immediate implementation as a blend component to petrol using the current distribution infrastructure.
  • It provides a sizeable positive impact on agriculture, increasing farm income, providing diversification and greater price stability.
  • Brazil has saved more than 700 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from ethanol used and over $420 billion in avoided petrol imports.
  • Ethanol and bio-CNG can be the source of energy for electrification adopted in hybrid, e-electric and fuel cell vehicles.
  • In urban areas, ethanol reduces emissions of carbon monoxide, reactive hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, formaldehydes and particulate matter. 
  • It greatly contributes to reduction of cancer-related toxic emissions. 
  • On a global scale, it’s very low carbon intensity provides a very efficient solution to mitigate global warming. 


  • By 2030, India’s urban population will grow to more than 600 million people. 
  • Urgent policies must be implemented now to increase the efficiency of energy in transport, mitigate environmental impact at local and global scale, and control migration to large cities with a sensible farming strategy.
  • India has enormous potential for electricity generation with bioethanol and biogas.
  • The same holds true when it comes to bio-CNG or biomethane from farming and agrindustrial residues for substitution of diesel fuel. 
  • It is a natural solution for India to produce and use more ethanol as the economy continues to grow 7% a year. In addition to affecting the economy, air pollution remains on the rise.
  • Electrification with biofuels is the sensible, modern and long-term strategy for India and many other countries in similar circumstances.

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UPSCPrelims Questions: 

Q.1) With reference to sources of energy, the term 2nd generation biofuel usually refers to the biofuels
(a) which are made from non food feedstocks.
(b) which are made from feedstocks used for human consumption.
(c) where algae is used as primary energy source for its production.
(d) which are designed to capture large amounts of carbon, with genetically synthesized microbes.

UPSC Mains Questions:
Q.1)  Is biofuels are optimal solutions for India’s fuels requirement?