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Published on: Nov. 4, 2021, 1:15 p.m.
Bioeconomy’s big role
  • The industrial biotechnology market in India has the potential to build ~$50 billion over the next five years

By Dr. Pramod Chaudhari. The author is Founder Chairman, Praj Industries

In addition to the pandemic, this year the world has witnessed several climate disasters. These include wildfires, excess rain, hailstorms, droughts, floods and cyclones. They have caused devastating effects on human lives besides adversely impacting ecology. Scientific studies and research have established that nature’s fury across the globe is nothing but the result of climate change.

Mapping climate disasters on a timeline reveals an alarming pattern. The analysis depicts substantial increase in extreme weather events in the last two decades compared to the previous 20 years. This is taking a heavy toll on mankind and causing enormous economic damage. 

This has triggered an immediate need to take climate action on a war footing. The World Economic Forum’s annual global risk report released in January this year has identified that four among the top five risks are related to the environment. Even the UNFCC’s intergovernmental panel for climate change report released in September 2021 stipulated an urgent requirement for minimising GHG emissions. 

There are many ‘naturogenic’ (natural) and ‘anthropogenic’ (human-induced) factors that contribute to climate change. Climate change has always occurred on earth, which is evident from the historic geological data; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring that is of great concern worldwide now. Human activity has increased Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, leading to more heat retention and an increase in surface temperatures.

Energy is the driving force for the industrial and economic growth of any nation. Although it is gradually changing, fossil resources continue to dominate the global energy landscape. Industry and transportation sectors are identified as the top two energy consumers, as well as GHG emitters. The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook (WEO) report released in early October 2021 issued an advisory on CO2 emissions & environmental adversities. IEA has once again stressed the importance of accelerating growth of clean and green energy. 

In a world threatened by climate change, the drive towards an environment-friendly economy is not an option, it is an obligation. It would be an eye-opening experience to understand how the bioeconomy facilitates sustainable climate action and how all of us can be a part of these efforts.

Bioeconomy in simple terms, is a knowledge economy that uses renewable natural resources to produce food, energy, products, and services. Bioeconomy utilises biological resources, available in abundance, to generate wealth from waste. Using bio-based products facilitates carbon recycling with no or minimal addition of new carbon in the atmosphere. This helps in curbing and decarbonising of emissions.

Besides, helping conserve environment solutions in the bioeconomy positively impacts society and the economy. While helping curb GHG emissions, they also help create jobs in rural areas and de-risk the economy from volatile crude oil pricing in the global market. Thus, the bioeconomy is fast emerging as one of the very promising ways to combat the evils of climate change.

 India’s progress in bioeconomy in recent times has caught the imagination of the world. Undoubtedly the government’s progressive strategic interventions have played a big role in it. The transportation sector, worldwide and also in India, is the second largest emitter of GHGs after industry. Decarbonisation of the sector as part of climate action then, is not a matter of choice but an imperative.

Also, today most of the chemicals and materials derived from fossil sources are neither eco-friendly nor biodegradable and they contribute to environmental degradation. Renewable chemicals and materials produced from bio-based feedstock are less toxic and are very effective in carbon recycling.

Conserving the environment and energy self-reliance are the major drivers of India’s sustained efforts to redefine the transportation fuel mix by increasing the share of biofuels. The slew of strategic policy interventions since the inception of 5 per cent Ethanol blending in 2003 are at the root of India’s spectacular achievements in the Ethanol Blending Program (EBP). A major milestone came in the form of the introduction of the National Biofuels Policy in 2018 that has helped develop a robust industry ecosystem besides encouraging the development of technology. Inclusion of starchy feedstock for Ethanol production in 2020 has given a fillip to EBP.

GOI’s goal for the E20 blending target has been advanced by 5 years – to 2025 from 2030. Further induction of progressive policy namely Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT), for propagating use of Compressed Bio Gas (CBG) in the transportation sector, has fortified the future of biofuels in India. 

One of the unique aspects of India’s growth story in biofuels is the strong capability in developing and deploying home-grown innovative technology solutions. These continuously improve techno-commercial viability and also act as game changers for the industry. The captive technology basket comprises of well-proven traditional biofuels using 1G technology, rapid commercialisation of advanced biofuels such as 2G ethanol, CBG, etc and the development of future fuels like Sustainable Aviation fuel, Marine biofuels and Bio-hydrogen, etc. 

Any nation’s growth strategy is built on the strength of the resources they possess. India is blessed with abundant bio-based feedstock that it must leverage. The availability of sugary & starchy feedstock along with crop residues & industrial wastes is a distinct advantage. Deploying bio-based feedstock in production of biofuels and bio chemicals helps the mainstream bioeconomy in India’s growth. India’s flourishing biofuels industry has developed a strong ecosystem across the value chain – from backward integration of the feedstock supply chain to forward integration of fuel take-off and dispense to end users. This is very critical to sustainability of the industry. In addition to developers, technology providers & financers, India possesses a strong network of government bodies, industry associations and academic institutions that form a robust industry ecosystem.

On the back of innovative technologies, progressive policies, robust industry ecosystem and abundant availability of bio-based feedstock, ethanol blending in petrol in India has pole-vaulted to 8.5 per cent today from 2.3 per cent in 2014. In the process, India is building network of decentralised self-sustaining bioenergy plants across the country. This is boosting the rural economy by creating jobs and business opportunities in the farming community. The industrial biotechnology market in India has the potential to build ~$50 billion over the next five years.

The future appears promising with the diverse feedstock available, along with a projected increase in 2G & CBG plants and the introduction of sustainable aviation fuel. This unfurling of growth opportunity with the quantum jump in the industrial biotechnology sector, will provide us with socio-economic & environmental benefits. Our sustainable efforts can help us achieve reduction in GHG emission of more than 16 MMT, saving a cumulative forex of $27 billion. That would result in creating more than one million job opportunities in different sectors.

At Praj we have always strived to make the world a better place by developing and deploying innovative technology solutions for sustainability and conservation of the environment. Our endeavours in bioeconomy are based on the bedrock of home-grown expertise in Feedstock – Technology- Product (F-T-P). Leveraging this strong foundation, we have pioneered a basket of innovative technology solutions in the form of BioMobilityTM for renewable transportation fuel and BioprismTM for renewable chemicals and materials BioMobilityTM. 

Climate Change is real, and scientists have predicted that its long-term effects will include – rising sea levels, melting of icebergs, an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heat waves, heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. As we face the future with enhanced risks, we have to be mindful of the potential legacy we will leave behind for future generations. 

Even after three decades of climate negotiations including landmark summits, Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2007) and Paris (2015), climate action outcomes have achieved precious little. All eyes are now on the COP26 Climate Change summit in Glasgow where climate experts and negotiators from over 200 counties will gather to decide future plans for climate action based on the Paris Agreement. Touted as the ‘Last Best Chance’ to avoid climate hara-kiri by US climate czar John Kerry, hopes are riding high about positive outcomes from the summit.

Expectations are, that developed nations will effect a credible climate finance plan whereas developing nations will commit to a serious decarbonisation plan. One thing, however, is for sure, Bioeconomy is all set to take centre stage alongside other solutions in effecting sustainable climate actions.

As per the popular proverb: ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,’ which states that we need to act if we want to pass on a world with a healthy environment to future generations.

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