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Biofuels expected to bolster India’s diversified energy transition approach

In early February 2024, the India Energy Week conference was held in Goa, India and several initiatives around the country’s growing energy needs were discussed, including how biofuel growth will be part of its energy transition.  

One of the topics discussed at the conference was how India is planning to approach the energy transition through multiple types of fuels such as biofuels in addition to traditional fossil fuels. The Indian economy is quickly emerging, and a well-positioned strategy consisting of a diverse range of fuel options would likely be a wiser plan than a strategy involving a flip of the switch to full renewable fuel relianceIndia does indeed plan to continue a partial reliance on traditional fuels on the road ahead, as noted during the conference by Secretary of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas Pankaj Jain when he said that "coal will continue to matter, oil will continue to matter and so will gas."However, Mr. Jain also stated that "[w]e have to start learning to operate and work with additional fuels whether it is ethanol, compressed biogas, renewables, biodiesel . . . at the end, the movement from one fuel to another has to be as least disruptive as possible." 

One way that India is working towards its energy transition is to increase its bioethanol production, and the country is planning to push forward with its second generation (2G) bioethanol development2G bioethanol is a second-generation biofuel that has a wider feedstock source than first generation bioethanol with feedstocks consisting of biomass from inedible parts of crops like straw, beet pulp, bagasse, and from byproducts like lawn cuttings, used paper, wood chips, sawdust, etc.  India has some advantages for 2G bioethanol production since the country already has a considerable potential capacity for these feedstocks. With this in mindthe country began planning twelve 2G bioethanol plants earlier this decade with the first of the group reaching startup in 2022 for IOCL in Panipat.  

In terms of biodiesel production, India set a National Biofuels Policy in 2022 that implemented a target of 5% biodiesel blending by 2030 despite concerns by consumers over its quality and consistency in recent years. Biodiesel is being counted on by the Indian government for use in diesel vehicles and for addition to biojet fuels by way of better support through government initiatives and clearer standards. The largest producer of biodiesel in India is the Aemetis-owned Universal Biofuels Plant in Kakinada, which is currently able to produce 60 million gallons of biodiesel annually and is expected to reach 100 million gallons per year in the mid-decade.  

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is currently targeted by India’s National Biofuels Coordination Committee to blend 1% of sustainable aviation fuel with jet fuel in 2027 and double to 2% in 2028, and IOCL is developing the country’s first commercial scale SAF plant in Panipat for production as early as 2026. Additional SAF plants are being considered and demonstration plants are being developed currently as well.  

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