. India currently consumes only one-third of the global average consumption of energy. As we move towards more robust energy consumption figures, the country faces the unique challenge of fusing together disparate needs: A ballooning appetite while cutting dependence on imports; greening the grid while ensuring affordability; and replacing old forms of energy production while boosting employment, and the human and economic capital of the people. Then there’s the fact that the energy sector is closely intertwined with issues related to climate change.
In this context, biofuels have become a tool for achieving these delicate balance of outcomes. In the past few years, progress made in the use of ethanol, compressed biogas and biodiesel — all different forms of biofuel — will have a direct positive impact on both farm incomes (and the prosperity of agricultural communities), even as it cuts down our import dependence for energy.
Ethanol supplies have improved from 380 million litres in 2013-14 to 1.89 billion litres in 2019. Offers of about 3.5 billion litres from both sugar/molasses and grain-based distilleries are expected this year. In addition to sugarcane, ethanol is also produced from damaged food grains, B-heavy molasses and sugarcane juice. This translates into a sum of nearly Rs 35,000 crore in the past six years — money that has flown back to farmers through sugar mills and distilleries as oil marketing companies (OMCs) provide off-take guarantee at fixed prices. This arrangement also improves the health of the payment cycle to farmers since OMCs settle their ethanol dues to distilleries in 21 days instead of the months that the farmers had to wait for their payment from sugar mills.
With regards biodiesel, the National Policy on Biofuels in 2018 targets 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030. The policy encourages setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, used cooking oil and short-gestation crops. These crops can be easily cultivated in various states on land that is barren or not fit for edible crops, thus boosting farm incomes. Biodiesel procured by OMCs for blending high speed diesel has increased from 11.9 million litres in 2015-16 to 105.5 million litres last year.