Sustainable De-carbonization through Bio-mobility
Pramod Chaudhari
Founder and Executive Chairman
Praj Industries Limited

With the ever-rising energy demand and climate concern, Bio-mobility is all set to redefine the energy portfolio by using biofuels. The author, in this article, narrates various nuances of Biofuel and how can it foster Bio-mobility.

India has been seeing rapid industrialization as one of the world's fastest growing economies. The migration of people from villages to cities for employment and education opportunities, coupled with rapid industrialization and urbanization, have put a strain on the country's ever-growing energy needs. All this has contributed in making India the world's third largest primary energy consum er.

The country's energy mix today is dominated by conventional sources, mainly derived from fossil fuels. India is dependent on external resources, importing 80 percent of crude oil, while incurring high foreign expenditure.

The planet is being damaged irrevocably due to the pursuit of ever-rising energy demands driven by growth. This has led to concerns over the evils of climate change and global warming. India must strike the right ecological balance if it must grow sustainably. Currently, India's CO2 emissions stand at around 2.29 billion tons. As a signatory at the UN Climate Change Conference, India will use bioenergy to bring down its carbon emission by 30-35 percent, thus fulfilling its COP21 Paris Summit commitments.

One of the biggest energy guzzlers is the transportation sector which accounts for 20 percent (and rising) of fossil fuel consumption. The sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the health hazards arising from it.

'Bio-mobility' is the use of energy produced from bio sources for transportation, etc. Praj's advanced technologies are used to produce biofuels, a part of the bio-mobility industry. Our efforts in this space help conserve the environment, ensure energy security, and contribute to socio-economic development. To meet these objectives, Praj offers advanced technology solutions for the production of liquid and renewable gaseous biofuels.

Under liquid biofuels, Praj's 1G technology is used to produce ethanol from sugary and starchy raw material, while its 2G technology utilizes ligno cellulosic feedstock to produce ethanol. Both can be blended in gasoline, and since they have a renewable bio source, are more environment-friendly and carbon neutral than conventional fossil fuels. Praj has the technology to produce biodiesel from the used cooking oil and non-edible oil seeds. Biodiesel can be blended up to 30 percent -- as per current norms -- with diesel made from fossil fuel.

Praj has added Compressed Biogas (CBG) technology solutions to its bio -energy basket in line with the National Biofuels Policy 2018 and Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) policy. CBG uses biomass and different agrowaste as feedstock.

Bioenergy therefore plays a significant role in reducing GHG emissions, facilitating India's pursuit towards energy self-reliance and optimizing India's overall energy portfolio.

What is biofuel?
Biofuel is derived from agro-residue that can be readily replenished. Biofuel is a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

In the transportation sector, biofuel is one of the largest sources of renewable energy in use today. Derived from agricultural resources, biomass can be in liquid or in gaseous form.

1. Liquid: Bioethanol, Biodiesel, Biojet fuel
2. Gaseous: Compressed Biogas (CBG)

Ethanol is the most widely used form of biofuel in liquid form where it is blended with gasoline. Among gaseous form of biofuels, compressed biogas is the most preferred.

Biofuel as environmental, economic, and social enablers
  • As an environmental enabler
    Climate change is affecting monsoon patterns, and consequently, the agriculture economy. Uninhibited industrialization is having a detrimental impact on ecological balance. Increasing traffic and associated rise in pollution levels, and the burning of agricultural waste, (as evident in the recent brown clouding in northern India) are adversely affecting air quality and is a health hazard.

    Biofuels are carbon neutral and therefore combat these issues. Moreover, biofuels are renewable, cleaner in nature, are available as a captive feedstock in farms, and emit lesser toxic greenhouse gases.
  • As an economic enabler
    Being captive in nature, biofuels facilitate energy security. They also help reduce the country's high import bill and foreign exchange payout for crude oil. To that extent, they also help mitigate the spikes in pricing of crude oil in volatile situations caused by a mismatch in demand and supply.
  • As a social enabler
    The exodus from rural areas in the pursuit of education and employment is putting additional stress on already stretched urban infrastructure. India has to strive for inclusive growth especially in the rural sector for it to realise its ambition of reaching a five trillion dollar economy mark in five years. This is where biofuels can play a vital role in stepping up the rural economy.
Bioenergy offers an alternative revenue stream to farmers by way of using agro residue to generate fuel ethanol.
This can de-risk them from uncertainties in weather and crop pricing. Since ethanol plants are in rural areas and close to availability of feedstock, they provide employment opportunities to the farming community. Additionally , they also present entrepreneurship opportunities to rural youth in creating a robust eco system by way of feedstock supply chain.

Various technologies for producing biofuel:
Biofuels can be derived from sugar and starch-based feedstock; and various technologies are available based on them.

a. 1G Technologies
First generation biofuels, also known as conventional biofuels, are made from sugary feedstock (sugarcane juice, syrup, B heavy molasses, C molasses ), starchy feedstock (grains like sweet sorghum, corn, etc.) or vegetable oil. First generation biofuels are produced through well-established technologies and processes like fermentation, distillation, and trans -esterification.

With decades of experience and expertise in setting up end-to-end ethanol plants, Praj has established itself as a market leader on the back of cost and energy efficient technology solutions.

b. 2G Technologies
For India to fulfil its 10 percent ethanol blending mandate (EBM), it must look beyond 1G technology solutions due to limitations in feedstock availability, etc.

Praj has developed and deployed 2G technology for lingo-cellulosic feedstock like wheat straw, paddy straw, rice straw, and various other agricultural residue.

Praj's 2nd Generation bio-ethanol technology converts agro-waste into fuel grade ethanol. This alternate solution helps farmers earn from stubble that is otherwise burnt, become an additional source of revenue besides farming and create employment opportunities through collection of agro-waste and managing supply chain of feed-stocks.

Praj's 2G integrated smart bio refineries based on 'enfinity' technology process multiple feedstock/biomass like corn and sugarcane residue, rice or wheat straw, and various lingo-cellulosic biomass. They produce fuel grade ethanol, bio chemicals, bio CNG, liquid CO2, bio fertilizers, and power that are exported to the grid.

c. Compressed Biogas
Agro-waste can be used as a raw material or feedstock to produce not just for biofuel such as ethanol, but also for compressed bio-gas (CBG) which can complement compressed natural gas (CNG). Praj has indigenously developed cutting edge technology solutions that help convert agrowaste into CBG which - unlike fossil fuels - are carbon neutral and therefore do not contribute to GHG emissions.

Concept of a biorefinery
Just like a petrochemical refinery transforms and refines crude oil into more useful products such as petroleum naptha, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, etc, a Biorefinery converts biomass to biofuels, biochemicals, and other beneficial products.

Praj has developed several advanced technologies to convert agrowaste into valuable products in the form of biofuels and bio chemicals.

Praj has set up India’s first integrated biorefinery demonstration plant based on its proprietary platform technology - "enfinity" for manufacturing ethanol from a variety of agro-waste. Praj's 1 MLPA capacity 2G bio-refinery demonstration plant is in operation for over three years. It is capable of processing a variety of agro-residue like rice and wheat straw, cotton stalk , bagasse, cane trash, corn cobs & stover, etc.

Renewable chemicals
Multi feedstock help produce a variety of fuels. Advanced refineries can generate not only biofuels but also renewable chemicals from 1G and 2G sources.

Renewable chemicals are another segment that has huge potential in the coming future. At Praj Matrix R & D centre, the scientists are developing different renewables and oleo-chemicals such as Furfural, Xylitol, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E, etc. These renewable chemicals find applications in growing industrial segments such as health and wellness, cosmetics, and nutraceuticals.

Challenges in achieving the potential of biofuels

Setting up a robust ecosystem for the smooth functioning of supply chain management of biofuel feedstock is still work in progress. Securing funding at various stages of the project lifecycle is proving to be a challenge, and various statutory clearances and permissions are taking longer than expected.

There is a need to create awareness and educate farmers about supplying agroresidue for advanced biofuel projects. The Government may consider making available suitable bio-mass aggregation machinery and announcing a minimum support price (MSP) for agro-residue which will address the feedstock concern.

Bio-mobility is all set to redefine the transportation energy portfolio where biofuels are poised to play a bigger role. Being an economic, social, and environmental enabler, biofuels have the potential to make definitive contribution in ushering sustainable decarbonization through a circular bio -economy. As a market leader in the bio-industrial space, Praj, with its innovative technology solutions, is at the forefront of reducing GHG emissions, facilitating India's pursuit towards energy self-reliance and optimizing the country's overall energy portfolio.