Recently, the Indian government signed a MoU with the United States aimed at strengthening development of bio fuels in India. Focused on advancing first and generation fuel crops, conversion technologies, and decentralized production processes the MoU suggests a promising outlook in India. But bio fuels in India has had a bumpy path. Indian officials have sought bio fuel avenues in their pursuit to reach energy security and strengthen its agriculture sector role yet there have also been significant policy setbacks which have prevented a unified national policy.
Lack of political unity and regulation towards bio fuel mission
Poorly structured regulations and politics have limited the bio fuel potential in India. Despite regulations in place to promote blended fuels, problems with state to state tariffs have made this regulation more of a hindrancethan a catalyst for bio fuels producers. In the past two years, the Government sought to establish a national bio fuel policy with an ambitious agenda such as requiring a 20% ethanol blend in petrol and diesel by 2017. The policy faced significant struggles in the political arena over the policy’s handling of commercialization of bio fuels. Since then, the mission has reportedly been shelved.
Windows of opportunity for bio fuels in India
To add, there is broader debate over promoting bio fuels as alternative energy sources in general. While biofuels can provide an avenue of energy security, reducing energy dependency on imported oil, they place significant pressures on natural resources (land, water, etc). Currently, bio fuels (predominantly ethanol-based) in India is mainly sourced from water intensive sugar cane crops. Proposals to encourage food crops for fuel production have been viewed negativelyby the Indian officials, yet the promotion of non edible crops such as jatropha have gained considerable favorable attention.
India’s government-owned railway system has encouraged the cultivation of jatropha on railway wastelands
through leasing schemes. Such a scheme has been viewed positively by some who believe making bio fuels work in India is a matter of thinking innovatively on various aspects of bio fuels policy: type of crop, land usage, and appropriate regulations including inclusion in CDM schemes. This is the view sought after private enterprise, Mission Biofuel India, which is seeking government approval for a jatropha-sourced biofuel refinery in the state of Orissa.
Indian officials need to better articulate the potential of bio fuels in India. This is no easy task as the debate over biofuels continues to be heated in scientific and political arenas. In this way the promotion of collaborative research and technical over bio fuels is welcoming. On another front, Indian officials must seriously review current policies including subsidy and tariff mechanisms at the national and state level that cover current/future bio fuel crops. This evaluation is needed because India has the opportunity to make certain bio fuel crops and processes advantageous but only through proper regulation which will ensure environmental safeguards and social benefits which currently is lacking.