IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


20th June, 2024 Science and Technology


Source: Hindu

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  • The recent development of a superhydrophobic catalyst by a global team of scientists promises to revolutionize biodiesel production, significantly reducing costs and enhancing efficiency.
  • The development involved scientists from Assam, Odisha, China, and the United Kingdom, highlighting international collaboration in advancing sustainable energy technologies.


About the Catalyst

  • Superhydrophobic Nature:The catalyst is designed to be superhydrophobic, mimicking natural surfaces like lotus leaves. This property is crucial as it prevents water from interfering with the catalytic process, ensuring the catalyst's active sites remain effective over multiple uses.
  • Cost Reduction:Current biodiesel production costs approximately $1.2 per liter in India. The new catalyst is expected to slash this cost to about 37 cents per liter, making biodiesel much more competitive with conventional diesel fuels.
  • Efficiency and Reusability:The robustness of the catalyst allows for repeated use, enhancing overall efficiency. This reusability feature contributes to cost-effectiveness and sustainability in biodiesel production.

Composition and Source

  • Derived from Biomass:The catalyst is derived from biomass, specifically cellulose. This source material is ecologically benign, abundant, and affordable, aligning well with sustainable practices in energy production.
  • Environmental Benefits:The use of biomass-derived catalysts supports green synthesis strategies, offering a sustainable method for biomass waste disposal and potentially reducing reliance on more resource-intensive materials like graphene or carbon nanotubes.

Impact on Biodiesel Production

  • Global Relevance:This breakthrough is expected to have global implications for biodiesel production, making sustainable energy solutions more accessible and economically viable worldwide.
  • Potential Adoption:The enhanced efficiency and reduced costs could lead to broader adoption of biodiesel as a substitute for fossil fuels, thereby contributing to environmental sustainability goals.


  • Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning alternative fuel derived from natural fats or vegetable oils.
  • It can be used as a substitute for or blended with conventional diesel fuel derived from petroleum.

Production Process of Biodiesel

Feedstock Selection:

  • Biodiesel can be produced from a variety of feedstocks, including:
    • Vegetable oils (soybean, canola, palm, etc.)
    • Animal fats (tallow, lard, etc.)
    • Recycled cooking oils

Transesterification Process:

  • The most common method to produce biodiesel is transesterification:
    • Preparation:Feedstock is cleaned and processed to remove impurities.
    • Reaction:The feedstock is reacted with an alcohol (usually methanol or ethanol) in the presence of a catalyst (such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide).
    • Separation:The mixture is then allowed to settle, separating into two layers: biodiesel and glycerin.
    • Washing:Biodiesel is washed to remove impurities and residual catalyst.

Advantages of Biodiesel

  • Renewable Resource:Biodiesel is produced from renewable biomass sources.
  • Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions:It typically produces lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel.
  • Biodegradability:Biodiesel degrades faster than petroleum diesel, reducing environmental impact in case of spills.
  • Compatibility:It can be used in existing diesel engines with little or no modification.

Disadvantages of Biodiesel

  • Feedstock Availability:Depending on the feedstock, there may be competition with food production or land use.
  • Cold Weather Performance:Biodiesel can gel in cold temperatures, affecting engine performance.
  • Storage Stability:Biodiesel has poorer oxidative stability compared to petroleum diesel, requiring careful storage and handling.

Applications of Biodiesel

  • Transportation:Used as a fuel for trucks, buses, and other diesel-powered vehicles.
  • Stationary Power Generation:Can be used in diesel generators to produce electricity.
  • Heating:Can be used as a heating oil substitute in some applications.

Biodiesel Initiatives by the Government of India

  • National Policy on Biofuels (2018):This overarching policy sets a target of 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030. It outlines various measures to achieve this, including:
    • Feedstock diversification:Encouraging the use of non-edible oilseeds, used cooking oil (UCO), and short gestation crops for biodiesel production, reducing reliance on imported palm oil.
    • Production incentives:Providing financial assistance for setting up biodiesel production units, particularly those utilizing UCO.
    • Pricing mechanisms:Offering higher purchase prices for biodiesel compared to traditional first-generation (1G) biofuels to incentivize production.
  • Biodiesel Purchase Policy (2006):This policy mandates Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) to purchase a specific quantity of biodiesel for blending purposes.
  • Direct Sale of Biodiesel (2015):This initiative allows bulk consumers like railways and state transport corporations to directly buy biodiesel (B100) for blending with regular diesel. Subsequently, in 2017, this permission was extended to all consumers.
  • Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO) Program:This program promotes the collection and conversion of UCO into biodiesel, tackling waste management and promoting a sustainable feedstock source.
  • Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana (2019):This scheme aims to create an ecosystem for establishing commercial 2G ethanol projects, fostering research and development in advanced biofuel production technologies.

Biodiesel Classification in India

1.Based on Feedstock:

  • 1G (First Generation) Biodiesel: Produced from edible vegetable oils like palm oil, soybean oil, or jatropha oil.While readily available, these sources raise concerns about "food vs. fuel" competition and land-use change.
  • 2G (Second Generation) Biodiesel: Derived from non-food sources like used cooking oil (UCO), waste animal fats, and non-edible oilseeds like Jatropha curcas (non-fruiting variety). This category is considered more sustainable as it doesn't compete with food production.
    • Used Cooking Oil (UCO) Biodiesel: A primary focus area due to its abundance and potential to address waste management issues. The government actively promotes UCO collection and conversion programs.
  • 3G (Third Generation) Biodiesel: Under development, this category explores potential feedstocks like algae oil,which offers high yields and doesn't require dedicated land use. However, commercially viable production technologies are still being researched.

2.Based on Blending Ratio:

  • B100: Pure biodiesel, rarely used directly due to its higher viscosity compared to diesel.
  • BXX: Biodiesel blended with fossil diesel, with "XX" representing the percentage of biodiesel (e.g., B20 is 20% biodiesel and 80% diesel). The current target in India is to achieve 5% blending (B5) by 2030.

3.Based on Production Standards:

  • Biodiesel conforming to Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) specifications: This ensures quality and compatibility with existing engines.




Q.  Biodiesel represents a promising alternative to petroleum diesel, offering environmental benefits and potential economic advantages. Critically analyse. (250 Words)