India proposed the formation of the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) to enable low-carbon pathways and to underscore the importance of adopting clean technologies. In the short- to medium-term, biofuels can minimise dependence on fossil fuels. The GBA should aim to develop high-potential markets for the sustainable production of biofuels.
A priority area for the GBA should be implementing standard settings across the biofuels value chain to ensure that there is no added environmental damage from biofuels. This would include formulating clear guidelines and standards for feedstock.
The GBA should work towards enabling enhanced participation of the private sector in developing a robust global biofuels market. Along with the information repository that the GBA intends to be, the alliance can focus on disseminating information on nascent and established technologies for second generation biofuels.
The Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA), formally launched at the G20 Summit in Delhi this year, aims to create strong biofuel markets. The alliance, proposed by India, was launched on 9 September 2023, along with leaders from Singapore, Bangladesh, Italy, the United States of America (U.S.), Brazil, Argentina, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A total of 19 countries and 12 international organisations have agreed to join the alliance.
The alliance will facilitate global biofuel trade and enable policy lesson-sharing by serving as an expert hub and a catalytic platform. Biofuels can help countries dependent on fossil fuel imports in finding a cleaner alternative for energy security in the short-to-medium term. However, incorrect technologies and processes can lead to land use changes, increased carbon and methane emissions, and add to the climate change mitigation challenge.
GBA can steer the global market
India, during its G20 Presidency, proposed the formation of the GBA to enable low-carbon pathways and to underscore the importance of adopting clean technologies. In the short- to medium-term, biofuels can minimise dependence on fossil fuels, especially for countries like India that rely on fossil fuel imports for meeting their energy needs.
Many biofuels can be produced from waste and serve as a direct substitute for fossil fuels. For instance, biogas can be generated from press mud, animal waste, crop residue and municipal waste, and after purifying, is equivalent to natural gas. It can also be stored and distributed in any form as natural gas via pipelines, compressed and stored in cascades or liquefied like liquefied natural gas (LNG), a fuel that has shown excessive price volatility.
A priority area for the GBA should be implementing standard settings across the biofuels value chain to ensure that there is no added environmental damage from biofuels. This would include formulating clear guidelines and standards for feedstocks, and ensuring that there is no diversion of fertile land for energy crops. In the midstream, standards would be required for conversion technologies, and measuring and containing emission leaks in production. Guidelines for the distribution and use of biofuels would help ensure that they are not used as tools to propagate fossil fuels. The GBA must also call for a complete life cycle assessment of biofuels, which goes beyond the reduction in end use emissions, to understand if biofuels are bringing down carbon emissions.
This would align with the priority areas identified by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to support GBA’s efforts to expand biofuel adoption. These areas include developing high-potential markets for the sustainable production of biofuels, accelerating technology deployment and establishing performance-based sustainability assessments.
Influencing private participation would be a win
Working towards enabling enhanced participation of the private sector will assist the GBA in developing a robust global biofuels market. Along with the information repository that the GBA intends to be, the alliance can focus on disseminating information on nascent and established technologies for second generation biofuels. It is imperative to focus on second generation biofuels as they are derived from agriculture, municipal and animal waste, used cooking oil, waste water etc.
The interest of the private sector can be piqued in biofuels as in many instances, they can serve as a direct substitute for fossil fuels, for which there are ready consumers. GBA can play a role in identifying these opportunities and provide guidance on distributing and aggregating clean fuel for seamless availability to end consumers.
The GBA must also build on the work done by similar consortiums, such as the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) and the Clean Energy Ministerial Biofuture Platform. The GBEP was initiated in 2006 and has 80 members – 53 countries and 27 international organisations. The GBA could use GBEP’s set of 24 science-based sustainability indicators for bioenergy to enable informed decision-making. The Clean Energy Ministerial Biofuture Platform is a 23-country grouping that was initiated in 2016 to promote innovative and scalable low-carbon bioeconomy by promoting best policies and enabling transformative financing mechanism.
Country feedstock assessment could be a challenge
The most prevalent biofuels globally are ethanol and biodiesel, which have triggered the food vs fuel debate, and have resulted in land use changes with increased cultivation of water-intensive crops. A whole life cycle analysis would show that this has intensified carbon emissions rather than lowering them.
This would also mean that it is important to focus on waste as feedstock or develop advanced technologies for third generation biofuels. The availability of waste and feedstock would vary by country and that could be a challenge for the GBA. It would need to encourage biofuel producing countries to undertake country assessments of waste feedstock that can be mapped to production and use. A model assessment supported by the GBA at a national or subnational level could be helpful in this regard.
According to the IEA, “There are sufficient sustainable feedstocks available to support the tripling of biofuel production by 2030 within strict sustainability bounds.” The proposed expansion of biofuels and opening of new markets are also expected to increase the availability of sustainable feedstock.
Overall, the GBA must take a holistic view for the implementation of biofuels in a manner that serves the purpose of climate change mitigation and steers the global biofuels market in the right direction.
This article was first published in EPR Magazine.