Global Biofuel Alliance – An opportunity for indigenous technologies to fulfil the renewable energy goal

India has surplus biomass residues in the range of ~200 million tonnes that can be converted into biofuels, writes Dr Syed Shams Yazdani

About Author: Dr Syed Shams Yazdani. Group Leader, Microbial Engineering Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi. The brain behind India’s first-of-its-kind R&D facility to perform deep research in the area of biofuels at the molecular level, Dr Yazdani has made phenomenal progress in such technologies within a short time span. His recent achievements include development of the most potent enzyme preparation for use in the 2G-ethanol process with the use of synthetic biology and genome editing tools in the fungal system.

The Global Biofuels Alliance was announced on the sidelines of the latest G20 meeting in New Delhi. The major aim of the GBA is to bring together biofuel producers and consumers with the intent to strengthen the global biofuels trade for a greener, sustainable future. To ensure energy security, affordability, and accessibility for the future, the GBA will facilitate global collaboration, supporting the development and deployment of sustainable biofuels.
India imports 85% of its oil needs, which impacts majorly on its forex. To cut imports, India has already achieved 10% blending of ethanol with petrol and has advanced the target date for achieving 20% blending by five years to 2025-26. This is also in line with the IEA forecast related to climate change, which states that biofuel production must triple by 2030 to progress on a net zero trajectory.
India gears up to tap opportunities
The global ethanol market was valued at $99 billion in 2022 and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 5.1% to achieve $162 billion by 2032. In this context, India has an opportunity to play an important role in the international market via the Global Biofuel Alliance.
India’s ambitious new blending target of 20% by 2025-26 can be achieved via 2G ethanol production using biomass residues. India has surplus biomass residues in the range of ~200 million tonnes that can be converted into biofuels with suitable technologies. India also has an estimated potential to produce more than 1000 million tonnes of biomass in the near future, which will open an avenue to export biofuels to other countries as well. In fact, the first commercial level 2G ethanol refinery that will produce 100,000 liter of ethanol per day is already at an advanced stage of commissioning at IOCL refinery, Panipat.

New GM fungal platform developed and scaled-up at DBT –ICGEB Bioenergy Centre
  • Bioprospecting and genome engineering done for high titer cellulase
  • Enzyme technology has been scaled-up to 15000L scale
  • Produced ~100 kg of finished cellulase enzyme
  • Enzyme got validated by 2G-ethanol producer

Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, had initiated several energy bioscience programs more than a decade before, which has led to the maturation of multiple technologies that are at the pilot or pre-commercial scale. This included the establishment of 5 Centre of Excellence in energy Biosciences – DBT-ICT Centre for Energy Biosciences, DBT –ICGEB Bioenergy Centre, DBT-Indian Oil Corporation Limited Bio-energy Centre, DBT-PAN IIT Bioenergy Centre and DBT-TERI Center for Advanced biofuels and Bio-commodities.
Advanced technologies will guide us to future
DBT –ICGEB Bioenergy Centre, a joint venture between DBT and International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, has made several innovations in the 2G and 3G biofuel sectors, relying on its deep strength in genetic engineering and biotechnology.  Among the major technologies that reached higher TRL are – engineered fungal enzymes for 2G ethanol demonstrated at 15,000 liter scale and an intensified CO2 capture technology using an algal platform for higher lipid production. Both these technologies have reached TRL 5-6 and are currently being evaluated by the relevant companies for further exploitation.
“India’s ambitious new blending target of 20% by 2025-26 can be achieved via 2G ethanol production using biomass residues.”
Some other promising technologies that are in the pipeline of development include advanced biofuels, such as hydrocarbon (green paraffin) and green hydrogen. The bacterial platform has been genetically engineered to produce hydrocarbons, such as alkanes of C13-C17 chain length, similar to aviation fuel and diesel range. These hydrocarbons have higher energy density and can be used as drop-in fuel. The biological production of hydrogen has also been achieved using dark fermentation. Efforts are going to improve the titer and yield of these promising molecules to fulfil the future need for renewable energy.

*This article was first published in the October 2023 edition of BioVoice eMagazine. Views expressed by the author are his own.