Global Biofuels Alliance gains traction as nations rally for cleaner energy

Global Biofuels Alliance
With 24 countries now on board, the Global Biofuels Alliance is setting ambitious standards and expanding markets to harness biofuels as a solution amid climate change concerns.

India’s initiative for promoting biofuels globally is gradually gaining traction with the Global Biofuels Alliance adopting a work plan focused on assessing country landscapes, drafting policy frameworks, and conducting biofuel workshops. Although GBA currently lacks a charter or a permanent secretariat, the alliance is expected to review the progress made so far in July.

Despite the initial momentum, the GBA still faces significant structural challenges. The absence of a permanent secretariat and a formal charter has left some ambiguity around the alliance’s operational framework and decision-making processes. This gap may hinder the alliance’s ability to effectively coordinate and implement the ambitious policies laid out in its work plan. Establishing a robust governance structure will be critical to ensure that the GBA can function efficiently and meet its objectives.

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All about Global Biofuels Alliance

With 24 countries participating, the Global Biofuels Alliance seeks to reshape the biofuel market by setting standards, and increasing the adoption of such fuels amid the escalating climate crisis. Launched on the sidelines of the 2023 G20 summit in New Delhi in September 2023, the GBA has sparked particular interest among African nations. In addition to G20 member South Africa, non-G20 nations like Kenya and Uganda are on board, with Tanzania expressing interest in joining. Presently, India and Brazil are the primary drivers of the GBA, with Brazil hosting the current G20 summit and pushing the initiative forward.

The alliance’s member countries include the US, Singapore, Argentina, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. The US is the world’s largest and Brazil the second largest biofuel producer. Alongside these nations, 12 international organisations including the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank are also part of the alliance, working to expand the use of sustainable biofuels. The collective goal is to facilitate advances in biofuel technology.

The enthusiasm among African nations about joining the GBA highlights the global recognition of biofuels as a viable alternative energy source. This interest is driven by the potential for biofuels to significantly contribute to energy independence and economic development in these regions. By engaging non-G20 nations and fostering an inclusive approach, the GBA is positioning itself as a pivotal player in promoting sustainable energy across diverse economic landscapes.

What are biofuels

Biofuels are gaining traction as a potential solution to several pressing issues and could be key to accelerating the transition to net-zero emissions in various industries. Biofuels are liquid fuels created from organic materials, such as biomass and natural waste. Typically, crops like sugarcane, corn, and soybeans are used to produce these sustainable fuels. While traditionally used for transportation, biofuels may also be employed for heating and electricity generation.

Biofuels differ from fossil fuels as they have a lower emissions intensity and thus can play a crucial role in decarbonising transport. This is particularly relevant for sectors such as aviation which are challenging to decarbonise.

Biofuels could also be a game changer in the energy transition. Compared with switching to electric vehicles, biofuels can often be used in existing vehicle engines, with minimal or no modifications needed. When blended with traditional vehicle fuels such as petrol and diesel, biofuels can help reduce emissions from these fuels.

Biofuels can promote the diversification of energy sources as they can be produced from various plant sources. By reducing vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of any single fuel source, biofuels can enhance energy security. Countries across the globe faced severe disruptions of crude oil supplies following the Ukraine war. As these countries scrambled to find alternatives to their reliance on petrol and diesel imports, biofuel emerged as a lucrative prospect. This is particularly significant for India, which imports 87% of its crude oil, a major drain on the country’s reserve currency.

The strategic move to accelerate the ethanol blending target to 20% by 2025 demonstrates India’s proactive approach to integrating biofuels into its energy mix sooner than planned. This advancement is not just about enhancing energy security but also about reducing the environmental impact of its transportation sector. The shift indicates a significant policy pivot that could serve as a model for other nations aiming to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Due to the promising prospects offered by biofuels, India now seeks to double its ethanol blending in gasoline to 20% by 2025, well ahead of its earlier target set for 2030. However, there are limitations to the use of biofuels as well. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, biofuels can negatively impact food crops and land use. According to the European Environment Agency, increased use of crops for generating these fuels may lead to a decrease in the availability of crops for food production.

Additionally, incentivising the production of more crops required for biofuels may lead to the conversion of land, such as forests and wetlands, into agricultural land. This could cause higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by reducing the presence of natural carbon sinks.

A key distinction is emerging within the biofuel sector, with experts emphasising the development of second-generation biofuels derived from waste materials like used cooking oil and agricultural residues. This focus on sustainability addresses concerns regarding first-generation (1G) biofuels, which are produced from food crops like corn and sugarcane and can compete with food production, potentially leading to land-use changes and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of the alliance must be to balance the urgent need to combat climate change with ensuring food security and minimising environmental harm.

The second-generation biofuels do not compete directly with food crops for arable land, thereby addressing one of the major criticisms of biofuel production. The move towards non-food biomass and waste materials for biofuel production could potentially transform waste management practices globally and create a more sustainable bioeconomy.

The alliance needs to fund R&D for exploring alternative ingredients for biofuels such as algae. The Alliance also needs to ensure that production rises by an average of 11% a year this decade to put the world on track for net zero, according to the International Energy Agency. The three founding members of the GBA— the United States, Brazil, and India—produce 85% of global biofuels and consume about 81% of it.

The IEA predicts that about two thirds of the global biofuel demand will come from three emerging economies: India, Brazil, and Indonesia. To meet this demand, these countries must have ample domestic feedstocks, additional production capacity, relatively low production costs, and a package of policies they can leverage to increase demand.

India also has other motives with the GBA. New Delhi hopes that the alliance will position India as a climate and sustainability champion and further bolster the country as the voice of the Global South. To that end, India is also helping lower and middle-income countries to start their biofuels programmes.