The U.S. Invests in Social Innovation in India to Find a New Generation of Biofuels

As its consumers struggle to cope with rising petrol prices, India is turning to social innovation to find a new generation of biofuels derived from agricultural waste. It is also part of the country’s ambitious science and research program to revive blending ethanol with gasoline, as its policy roadmap still aims to replace up to 20% of gasoline with ethanol in transport fuels by 2017. India is also keen to reduce its huge oil import bill as well as cut pollution.

Biofuels is being given a significant market in India. This April, the U.S. launched a five-year, $125 million alternative energy research project with India, aimed partly at developing biofuels from non-food crops. This new endeavour is called the ‘Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Centre’ (JCERDC) and also includes solar and energy efficiency components led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The biofuels part of this social innovation project totals approximately $21 million for a team that includes the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, Virginia Tech, Montclair State University, Texas A&M University, Show Me Energy Cooperative and Green Technologies. The Indian team is headed by the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.

The social innovation project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and is part of a larger attempt that provides America a chance to leverage private sector investment in an international fund focused on developing South Asia’s alternative energy resources.

This particular new project aims to boost the U.S.’s ambitious biofuel program which President Obama announced in 2011. It was a social innovation initiative designed to help create sustainable economic growth in rural communities through new biofuel crop farming, transportation and refining operations.

Back in India: the country produces more than 600 million tons of agri-biomass a year, all which can be exploited by using new social innovation technology for biofuel production. Yet all this hinges on these fuel-producing industries continuing to receive the right government support, and that the government also creates a proper system for the collection of crop debris and waste material, since farmland parcels are widely scattered and the cost of collecting the raw material is expensive. Industry experts remain sceptical and say that it is likely to take years before second-generation biofuels start being manufactured in India in large quantities. So, at the moment, India’s biofuel future is a just a glimmer, with the potential to look much brighter...

Photo Credit: The Independent India