With India being lauded and celebrated for hosting The G20 Summit 2023 in New Delhi, the discussion on distinguished subjects that took place amongst the 20 member nations has ignited layered interests in the minds of the general public. One of them is Global Bio-Fuels Alliance, launched on the second day of the Summit i.e., September 9. Drawing its inspiration from the India-France led International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015.

From Test Tube to Test Drive and Field to Fuels

Global Bio-Fuel Alliance – An imperative Instrument in Tackling Climate Change

The subject of ‘climate change’ was one of the most mulled-over topics at the Summit, and thus the Global Bio-Fuels Alliance (GBA) was dealt with great seriousness and severity. The Global Bio-Fuels Alliance launched on the second day of the Summit i.e., September 9. Drawing its inspiration from the India-France led International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015, the now GBA had its seed sown earlier this year with a press release issued by the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas dated 11th February 2023 emphasizing the need for intensifying the use of sustainable fuels, including but not limited to the transportation sector.

The press release entailed that India, Brazil and the United States being the leading biofuel producers and consumers, shall be working together in furtherance of developing a Global Biofuels Alliance.

Accentuating the urgency of developing the Alliance, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas conducted a special Ministerial Session, GBA: Consultations and Recommendations on 22nd July 2023, headed by the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Hardeep Singh Puri. Following the consultative process, 15 countries and 12 international organizations have since indicated their interest in becoming members of the Global Biofuel Alliance, along with four other countries who have vouched to be the observer countries. The peaked interests of multiple countries and organizations led the Energy Ministers of various countries to recommend the establishment of a multi-stakeholder Global Bio-fuel Alliance to the G20 leaders.

Why the Global Bio-Fuel Alliance is crucial for India?

According to the International Energy Agency, global demand for biofuels is projected to increase by 28% by 2026. Thus, during India’s presidency in the G20 Summit, the Global Bio-fuels Alliance (GBA) has empowered the Indian Government to bolster the energy sector and diversify its energy sources. Leading Indian companies like Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum, and GAIL (India) are enthusiastic about this alliance, which is aimed at fostering a greener and cleaner future. In a statement on the micro-blogging site X, Bharat Petroleum highlighted that the GBA has the potential to enhance India’s existing biofuel programs and create income opportunities for farmers and cultivators. This optimism stems from the fact that ethanol, a prominent biofuel, is derived from sugarcane, and India, being the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, is poised to benefit farmers by promoting their upscaling thereby reducing the gap between supply and demand.

India had already unveiled the world’s first fully ethanol-powered car equipped with a flex-fuel engine on the popular Innova HyCross on August 29 by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, thereby signaling the country’s intent, seriousness and clarity.

Global Bio-Fuel Alliance Membership

Acknowledging the imminent need to have a global platform that can address the underlying challenges and foster greater international cooperation to unlock and realize the untapped potential of sustainable bio-fuels, a total of 19 countries and 12 international organizations have joined the GBA. With Brazil, India and the US being the initial signatories of the GBA, countries like Canada, Italy, South Africa and Argentina have joined hands in this cause. World organizations such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and the International Energy Agency also united with the alliance.

However, this alliance along with several other initiatives does not involve China. Tellingly, this is not a mere coincidence as the strategic competition between India and China has intensified manifold ever since XI Jinping assumed office in 2012. The persistent notoriety of China through its economic and military heft, trying to limit India’s behavior and choices is one of the reasons why this India-led GBA should be considered as a disguised response to China’s diabolical plans as this draws the US and its allies along with the IBSA group by agreeing them to work on multilateral development fronts.

What are Biofuels and what does the future behold?

As much as the GBA endeavor oozes and permeates unwavering confidence, it is also essential to highlight the challenges that the bio-fuels pursuit might have.

Bio-fuels have been the most primitive ways of generating energy in the history of mankind and have only gained popularity in recent decades for their potential to deliver cleaner energy than other conventional sources. Bio-fuels are a form of energy that is generated from organic and agricultural materials, helping in reducing emissions and therefore contributing to net zero carbon emission targets. Bio-fuels are categorized based on their source. The primary source contains biofuels that are sourced from food crops like corn, and sugarcane while the secondary source includes fuels derived from inedible vegetation and agricultural waste. Lastly, the tertiary source consists of biofuels derived from algae.

The primary source is the one that has propelled the synthesis and use of ethanol in designing India’s first flex-fuel engine. Now, while this looks like a promising start, it is imperative to understand that extracting biomass from their sources and synthesizing them into complete fuels to finally substitute the existing energy source is not as much of a unilateral paradigm. Synthesis and manufacturing of bio-fuels are rather layered processes and also a bit detrimental as well. Various energy analysts have opined that if looked at the full circle of producing biofuels, the fuels are not entirely clean. These fuels indicate the land that could have been used for agricultural cultivation and food production is instead used for energy. In addition, such vast expanse of lands used for the production of energy fuels also adds to deforestation when land is cleared for their production. Thus, destroying natural forests may add to the destruction of large carbon sinks. It was the same reason that was adopted by the European Union regulations that led to the banning of the sale of palm oil and other commodities when a notion of it getting linked to deforestation, surfaced.

 Hence, such issues do cloud the picture of sustainable biofuel dependence as the option is not entirely direct and unambiguous and the skepticism as to whether the bio-fuels are inherently clean is significant.