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Fuelling a change

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | KATHELENE ANTONY
Published Aug 11, 2018, 12:58 am IST
Updated Aug 11, 2018, 12:58 am IST
Is Chennai ready to make the shift to biofuels as a more cost-effective and sustainable option?
The Government has approved the National Policy on Biofuels in June 2018. According to it, prices of molasses-based ethanol and sugarcane juice-based ethanol has been fixed at Rs 47.40. The Government has reduced the GST on ethanol for blending in fuel from 18 percent to 5 percent. Biomass pellets for cooking costs Rs 15 a kilogram while LPG costs Rs 70.
 The Government has approved the National Policy on Biofuels in June 2018. According to it, prices of molasses-based ethanol and sugarcane juice-based ethanol has been fixed at Rs 47.40. The Government has reduced the GST on ethanol for blending in fuel from 18 percent to 5 percent. Biomass pellets for cooking costs Rs 15 a kilogram while LPG costs Rs 70.

Chennai: World Biofuel Day is observed to create awareness about the importance of non-fossil fuels as an alternative to conventional fossil fuels by the ministry of petroleum & natural gas. The ministry has observed an increase, but a major change needs to happen, they believe. Costs on cooking gas, on an average, are about 5 percent of a household’s spending.

There are three key factors that affect the efficiency of fuel emissions, cost and its effect on the environment. In case of on non-renewable energy sources like petroleum and its by-products, at least one factor outweighs the other two. Researchers began working on alternative sources to balance the disparity. For a country like ours that does not extract a lot of crude oil and must then import it, government spending factors in too.

 

Biofuel emerged as a solution only recently. For Harish Kothari of Kothari Biofuels, business is picking up. “We use agri-waste to manufacture pellets or sticks which can be used as an alternative to firewood. It is smokeless and also cost-effective,” he says adding that a kilogram of the biomass pellets costs Rs 5 whereas LPG costs around Rs 80. Since agricultural production is more and therefore the amount of waste generated is also more, it is a sustainable source, he believes. 

Biomass pellets are easy to procure, but in a country like ours, where a majority of the population is rural, the shift to modern stoves and LPG is faster, says Rajiv Reddy, a distributor for Indane Gas. “Government of India is implementing schemes on supplying subsidized LPG gas cylinders and stoves to all villages.

In fact, districts are being deemed ‘smokeless’ which means that all households have functional LPG gas cylinders for cooking,” he says. Even in cities, associations at high-rise buildings are negotiating to have LPG pipelines at their doorstep, making the supply more seamless and efficient. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, an initiative which began in May 2016 targeted the provision of LPG connections to more than eight crore families, and has added to this movement. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) has also been holding auctions across cities for distribution of gas for cooking through PG. Government's preference in promotion has affected the use of cleaner, safer, cost-effective and locally available options.

The shift to biofuels, Rajiv says, is more tangible as fuel for vehicles. “We are spending crores of rupees on importing crude oil. An alternative source is more urgent for vehicles and the solution can be found both in biofuels and also electric-powered vehicles,” he says.

Biofuels are an easy shift for all vehicles in the market today, says Damodaran Arumugam, founder of an environmental consultancy firm in Chennai. Most vehicles only need small engine modification which does not cost much. “The modified engine will be put through three tests- safety, heat control while producing energy and emission. If it passes the tests, the vehicle is ready to go,” he says. 

However, a technical committee needs to approve the fuel's efficiency. For this, government needs to intervene. “They need to find alternatives and promote it. When the fuel is government approved, usage will increase,” Damodaran says. Currently, ethanol, easily extractable from bagasse, a byproduct of sugarcane is being used after being mixed with petroleum. This “biofuel” is being seen as a large opportunity to reduce the cost of crude oil imports. 

Recently, Nitin Gadkari, union minister for transport pushed for greater awareness and use of biofuels to reduce India's annual oil import bill of Rs 7 lakh crore, putting the onus on local car makers to make more vehicles that can run on fossil-fuel substitutes. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at the third World Biofuel Day event said that 12 modern biofuel refineries worth Rs 10,000 crore will be established soon.

“Biofuel will be the bridge between the environment and economic development,” the Prime Minister said, adding “government is targeting ten percent ethanol blending in petrol by 2022 and 20 percent by 2030.” 

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