Sustainable biofuel production strategies and second-generation options involving woody biomass and tall grasses that do not need additional land can help India realise its green targets, a review says.
India needs to minimise any adverse impact and promote potential synergies with respect to reclamation of degraded lands, creation of rural livelihoods and promotion of energy security, the review by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) said.
First-generation biofuel crops include sugarcane, grains and vegetable crops, while examples of second-generation feedstock are biomass, tall grasses and crop residues such as bagasse from sugarcane, straw, leaves, and nut shells.
India imports over three-quarters of its petroleum needs, pegged at 56 million metric tonnes in 2007. The International Energy Agency estimated in 2007 that India’s oil imports will rise to six million barrels per day by 2030; making it the third largest importer of oil.
In 2009 the country announced a national biofuel policy aimed at substituting 20 per cent of fossil fuel consumption using non-edible oilseeds by 2017. It also launched a programme to promote biofuel production, particularly by growing Jatropha on wastelands.
The IISc team analysed the socio-economic implications of the biofuel programme, given the country’s huge population density — 350 persons per square kilometre —; limitations of land availability for food and fuel production; and dependence of rural population on agriculture, grazing land and water resources for food and livelihoods.
The team found that between 3.82 million and 93.26 million hectares of land would be needed to grow biofuel crops, depending on petroleum use, while greenhouse gas emissions would range from 11 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to 334 metric tonnes.
The team’s review, which will published in Energy Policy, said more field experience and evidence are needed before interpreting the impacts with certainty.
N. H. Ravindranath, professor at the centre for sustainable development at IISc and one of the report’s authors, told SciDev.Net that more research was needed ‘’on plant breeding, soil conditions and watering requirements” before large-scale cultivation could be undertaken.
“We also have limited land unlike Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, even Indonesia, because we could eat into land meant for food production in India with large-scale biofuel production,’’ Ravindranath said.
By. Marianne de Nazareth