Biofuel Sustainability and Transition Pathways

Biofuel Sustainability and Transition Pathways

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4995-8.ch008
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Movement from the usage of first-generation to second-generation biofuel has to consider the impact of such transition on the social, economic, and environmental domains of sustainability. The transition pathway has to be guided by an innovation system. Essential elements of this innovation system has to deal with the system of new knowledge development and its diffusion. Institutions will play a key role in such a diffusion process. The chapter throws light on these broad aspects to bring forth the relationship between biofuel sustainability and transition pathways.
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Global discussions on biofuels have been largely focusing on first and second generation biofuels. First generation biofuels are the ones that are produced from oilseeds, sugarcane, sweet sorghum through technological processes that generate few by products.Second generation biofuels are produced from agri residues, wastes using technological processes that generate large range of polymeric byproducts.

Transformation journey from one generation of biofuel production to another viz. first generation (say sugarcane based ethanol) to second (rice straw, wheat based biofuel) needs to internalize a holistic vision that encompasses sustainability domains; these domains include social, economic, governance, and environmental dimensions (IFPRI)1.

Sustainability in this transition pathway has to enmesh dimensions of social, economic, environment and governance paradigm. The important question to ask is what is actually transiting in the transition pathway when one moves from one form of biofuel generation to the other.

A transition pathway dealing with usage of biofuel can be sustainable only if it has the following characteristics. These characteristicswill include stability, durability, resilience, robustness of switching towards a biofuel production regime. Stability will be determined by coordination, incremental innovation, enforcement of operational margins, consolidated infrastructures, effective price signals, domestic self reliance.

Durability will be guided by directed innovation, management principles, and substitution of obsolete policy options. However, robustness is measured by systemic innovation, foresight and adaptive infrastructures. Resilience will be determined by the capacity to absorb, adjust, adapt and respond under certain situations (Mu, 2010).

An initial question to start with is – “In any new form of biofuel generation what actually goes through a transition”.

An easy answer to this question will be it is the technology that undergoes a transition. A critical component of this transition deals with upgradation of a niche technology for its wider application for large scale transformation. Policies will be required to facilitate this transformation. Successful transition towards a technology will happen only with the presence of proper technology diffusion and institutional frameworks to facilitate such diffusion. . Such adaptation will entail alignment of the network between entrepreneurs, policy makers, users and firms. This will also require an integration of the technical features of a conversion technology with several social dimensions. Transition can happen only when there is a scaling up of the existing technological processes engaged in biofuel production (IEA, 2011). A scaling up would mean that practices at the roots are upscaled and then they are mainstreamed in the cultural practices, institutional, organizational structures. In order to realize this it is critical to have a technological innovation process at the core of the transition system. Such an innovation process will involve the interplay of the interaction of all actors, institutions, civil society groups, governments.

Some of the factors that are essential in the transition pathway of biofuels are – financial support, adaptability to the new technologies, strategic intelligence, policy insights and its effective implementation. Deliberation, communication, participation and multiple actor engagement will be required in creating such adaptability towards new technologies. This creation will depend on how interactions are happening between all key actors at the micro, meso and macro level. Such key actors will include, village communities providing feedstocks, technology developers, biofuel producers, end users, policy makers.

It will also depend on the nature of functioning of the institutional frameworks, structures at these levels. Innovation systems at meso levels need to be strong to integrate and coordinate with the grass root as well as the macro level institutional frameworks, structures for creation of a transition pathway of biofuels. Implementation of policies will depend on functioning of these institutional frameworks, structures and actors at various levels. Instrinsic linkages between the policies and these institutions will be key in effectively establishing a transition pathway for biofuels.

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