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Sustainability of Waste Food Grain-based Bio-Ethanol

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that around the world, about a third of food intended for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to over a billion tons of food and $940 billion in economic losses annually, leading one in nine people remains undernourished. Consequently, by reducing food waste by just 1%, we could feed 2,70,00,000 people.

Biofuels Generation.
Biofuels Generation. Source: Khan N. et al. Role of Biofuels..., Green Economy and Carbon Neutrality. Sustainability 2021.

To date, waste grain generation in India is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences. In India, between 10% and 40% of all food grain produced is wasted i.e. 20,00,00,000 to 40,00,00,000 tons of food annually. For ease in quantification, the food grain losses have by agriculture stages like pre-harvest, harvest, and post-harvest losses. Pre-harvest losses are due to factors involving the utilization of pests, food diseases, and inadequate storage facilities. Harvest losses are during harvesting due to inefficient methods or poor infrastructure. Post-harvest losses are the losses are the most significant, and they occur during storage, transportation, and processing. Inadequate storage facilities, poor handling practices, and a lack of proper transportation infrastructure contribute to post-harvest losses.

Food Waste Management.
Food Waste Management. Sahoo A. et al, Insights into the... Environ Sci Pollut Res, 2023.

Recently, India has ambitious plans to blend 20% ethanol with Petrol (E20) by 2025 to meet the E20 requirements of 1,016 crores liters of ethanol annually. India's Bioethanol production capacity stands at around 7 billion liters, with most coming from sugarcane-based molasses and some from grain-based distilleries. To bridge the gap, increasing bioethanol production from grain waste holds immense potential.

Sustainability of Waste Food Grain-based Bio-Ethanol

In continuation of food grain losses in India, post-harvest food grains losses of 10-25% of annual production are significant, wasting about 20,00,00,000 to 25,00,00,000 tons of food annually. These food waste grains include broken rice, damaged wheat, unsold surplus, and food grains unfit for human consumption. Utilizing these wastes for bioethanol production offers a sustainable solution for managing waste, fostering energy security, and boosting farmer income. With appropriate logistics and collection systems, India can efficiently collect and transport food waste grain from diverse locations, but this remains a challenge.

Further, the environmental benefits of bioethanol production from waste food grain depend on the entire lifecycle, including cultivation, transportation, and processing. Sustainable practices throughout the chain are essential to minimize environmental impact. However, one should consider that Social factors, like land use and food security, are carefully addressed to ensure that bioethanol production from waste grain does not have unintended negative consequences. The dictated policies and incentives from the Indian government, like the National Policy on Biofuels and the Ethanol Blending Programme, to provide financial support and promote second-generation (2G) technologies are well promising. However, consistent policy support and market stability are crucial for attracting investments.

Bioethanol Production from Biomass.
Bioethanol Production from Biomass. Source: Hebbale D. et al. Third-generation bioethanol...Elsevier-Academic Press, UK, 295-309, 2022.

Being a Technology Developer, when talking about available Technologies in India, we have experience with first-generation (1G) technologies for the production of bioethanol from starch-rich grains and 2G technologies for the production of bioethanol where still scaling up requires research and development efficiently break down lignocellulose biomass for bioethanol production. Some Public Sector Units (PSUs) were already working on third-generation (3G) technologies for bioethanol production.

Utilizing food waste grain for bioethanol production in India presents a promising way to achieve clean energy goals, manage waste, and support farmers. However, utilizing food waste grain can also lead to food insecurity. Moreover, overcoming logistical and technological hurdles while ensuring long-term policy support can be the key to unlocking the full potential of this sector in India. EnviroChem Services is one of the sustainable technology providers aiding clients in Bio fuels Projects to overcome said hurdles.

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