The world’s non-renewable energy (crude oil) reserve is entering into a declining phase while energy demand is increasing. Oil production is expected to decline in the coming one to ten decades. As a result of this awaiting energy crisis, both governments and private industry are exploring alternative sources of energy.
Oil consumption grows fastest in India
India has surpassed China to become the largest contributor to incremental oil NSE -1.72% consumption in 2016-18, accounting for 21.8 per cent of it, according to BP Statistics. In addition, industrial fuels contributed more to this growth than vehicular fuels, reflecting the shift to more efficient pet coke and away from coal and improving economic activity.
India’s oil consumption grew 8.3 per cent to 212.7 million tons in 2016-18 compared with global growth of 1.5 per cent, making it the third-largest oil consuming nation in the world after overtaking Japan in the previous year, accounting for nearly 4.8 per cent of total consumption.
Increasing energy demand, limited fossil fuel resources and climate change have prompted development of alternative sustainable and economical fuel resources such as crop-based bio-ethanol and bio-diesel.
Oil prices in India have begun to rise again, spurring fears that increasing fuel costs may spur inflation and take a toll on share prices. The uptick is largely seen as caused by the escalation in global crude oil prices, which are now more than $80 per barrel.
People protest against recent price hike of fuel in Kolkata, India, on May 24, 2018. According to a rough estimate, India has the highest retail prices of petrol and diesel among South Asian nations as taxes account for half of the fuel-pump rates.
Biofuel: Green savior
Biofuel is derived from biomass, that is, plant or algae material or animal waste. Since such feedstock material can be replenished readily, biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas.
Biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price hikes, the need for increased energy security, and concern over greenhouse gas emissions from bio-fossil fuels.
Liquid biofuels are of particular interest because of the vast infrastructure already in place to use them, especially for transportation. The liquid biofuel in greatest production is ethanol (ethyl alcohol), which is made by fermenting starch or sugar.
Brazil and the United States are among the leading producers of ethanol. In the United States ethanol biofuel is made primarily from corn (maize) grain, and it is typically blended with gasoline to produce “gasohol,” a fuel that is 10 percent ethanol. In Brazil, ethanol biofuel is made primarily from sugarcane, and it is commonly used as a 100-percent-ethanol fuel or in gasoline blends containing 85 percent ethanol.
Unlike the “first-generation” ethanol biofuel produced from food crops, “second-generation” cellulosic ethanol is derived from low-value biomass that possesses a high cellulose content, including wood chips, crop residues, and municipal waste. Cellulosic ethanol is commonly made from sugarcane bagasse, a waste product from sugar processing, or from various grasses that can be cultivated on low-quality land. Given that the conversion rate is lower than with first-generation biofuels, cellulosic ethanol is dominantly used as a gasoline additive.
Third Generation Biofuels
Biofuel from algae can lessen dependency on petroleum
When it comes to the potential to produce fuel, no feedstock can match algae in terms of quantity or diversity. The diversity of fuel that algae can produce results from two characteristics of the microorganism. First, algae produce an oil that can easily be refined into diesel or even certain components of gasoline. More importantly, however, is a second property in it can be genetically manipulated to produce everything from ethanol and butanol to even gasoline and diesel fuel directly.
The list of fuels that can be derived from algae includes: Biodiesel, Butanol, Gasoline, Methane, Ethanol, Vegetable Oil, Jet Fuel.
Microalgae are an ideal biodiesel feedstock, which eventually could replace petroleum-based fuel due to several advantages, such as high oil content, high rates of production, less land, etc. Currently, algal biodiesel production is still too expensive to be commercialized. Due to the static costs associated with oil extraction and biodiesel processing and the variability of algal biomass production, cost-saving efforts for algal oil production should focus on the production method of the oil-rich algae itself. This needs to be approached through enhancing both algal biology (in terms of biomass yield and oil content) and culture-system engineering.
National Policy on Biofuels – 2018. Biofuels in India are of strategic importance as they augur well with the government’s ongoing initiatives, such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and Skill Development.
©BforBiotech by Bedadyuti Mohanty, Assistant Managing Editor by Profession and Bio-technologist by heart.