Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How an Indian flight could run on biofuel—but India cannot

In August 2018, SpiceJet airline made history in the Indian transportation sector. A journey of about 285 kilometres from Dehradun (in Uttarakhand) to New Delhi was completed with a fuel which had its origins in the farms of Chhattisgarh. A successful flight of about 45 minutes added India in the list of few nations (like the US and Australia) who have used biofuel for flying airplanes.

That flight did not only take 20 people to the sky but also inflated the hopes of the Indian biofuel sector.

Rapid urbanisation and an increasing population compel India to accommodate more vehicles on the roads, which indirectly means more crude oil imports and carbon emissions. India’s smart move to tackle this dual problem was to launch a policy which could reduce the crude oil import along with handling the environmental crisis. Biofuel, which is a mixture of ethanol (sourced from plants and other wastes) with petrol or diesel is much cheaper than unblended fuel and emits less carbon.
The biofuel-propelled flight was not a sudden development. The history of ethanol production in India can be traced back to 1948, with the enactment of the Indian Power Alcohol Act. During the 1970s, research was conducted to find the feasibility of ethanol and in 2002, a notification mandated the blending of 5% ethanol with petrol by oil marketing companies (OMCs) in nine states and four union territories of the country. In 2008, the national biofuel policy (NBP) was adopted in an effective manner to regulate the market with standard legal guidelines. The NBP 2008 targeted to mix 20% ethanol in petrol and 20% biodiesel in diesel by 2017.

A few days before the SpiceJet plane took flight in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a speech on World Biofuel Day on Aug. 10. He emphasised that biofuel is the link between India’s economics and environment and mentioned that the government targets to save more than Rs20,000 crore ($2.67 billion) in foreign exchange by biofuel blending. Apart from this, focus on employment generation, increasing farmer’s income, rural development painted a very progressive image of biofuels.
11/08/20 Monika Mandal/Quartz

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